Is doenjang gluten free?

Is doenjang gluten free?

Doenjang (된장) is a Korean fermented bean paste. It’s considered one of the essential sauces in Korean cooking. Most modern varieties of doenjang aren’t gluten free, but there are some types that are safe for Celiacs! Below we’ll get into the history of doenjang, how it’s used, and the reason it usually contains gluten. We’ll also include links to gluten free doenjang, plus some doenjang recipes.

Doenjang Origin and Uses

Fermented beanpastes are found in many cultures, and you’re likely familiar with the Japanese type called miso. Doenjang is stronger, sharper, deeper, and more salty than miso. The history of fermenting soybean products in Korea can be traced way back to the Three Kingdoms Era (57 BC - 668 AD).

Traditional doenjang is made with only soybeans and brine, but factory-made varieties are made with wheat flour, which is why most doenjang sold in stores is not gluten free. Doenjang is a byproduct of making soup soy sauce (guk-ganjang), but there are a variety of ways to make doenjang that will result in slightly different types. Kimchi Mari has a great article about the different types of doenjang, if you want to know more.


Ssambap from Bulgogi Hut

Doenjang is used on it’s own as a dip or spread, but it’s more often mixed with sesame oil, garlic, and gochujang to make ssamjang (쌈장). Ssamjang is eaten with rice and wrapped in lettuce to make a dish called ssambap. Doenjang is also used to make a stew called doenjang jjigae (된장찌개).

Gluten Free Doenjang

Although miso makes a pretty good sub for doenjang, you won’t get the quite the same result because they have very different flavor profiles. If the recipe also includes some chili, a more similar sub would be gluten free gochujang. For authenticity’s sake, we highly recommend you just buy some doenjang instead. It’s pretty cheap and will be worth it to make tasty gluten free Korean food at home.


Image from Fusion Craftiness

DIY Doenjang

If you like fermentation projects and want to make your own traditional doenjang, then these recipes are for you!


Meju (soybean cakes used to make doenjang) from The Epoch Times

Recipes That Use Doenjang


Ssamjang from Serious Eats

* Title image courtesy of NYtimes.

- Further Reading -