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Sichuan Chili Bean Paste (Sichuan Pixiandouban Co. Brand)

It is almost impossible to conceive of Sichuan cuisine without healthy lashings of broad bean paste as the condiment is even more characteristic of the regional flavor palate than are the famous Sichuan Peppercorns. The basic article consists of broad beans fermented in salt, often with flour added, and thus it provides the same sort of umami fillip as does the more widely known soy-based Miso in Japanese cookery. In Chinese, the condiment is represented by the characters 豆瓣酱, which are pronounced dòubànjiàng, but it is common to see it represented in cookery books, or on jar labels as ‘toban djan’, ‘toban jang’, or ‘toban dian’.

Even more ubiquitous than the plain old Toban djan is the spicier, chili laden version known, in Mandarin, as là dòubànjiàng (辣豆瓣酱), or hot (spicy) bean paste. There are many brands available, both from Sichuan and elsewhere, and there is even a Lee Kum Kee Chili Bean Paste widely available in the west. Amongst those from Sichuan, however, the best are widely considered to be manufactured in the county of Pixian, and the variety you see above, made by the Sichuan Pixiandouban Co. Ltd., is one of these…

Purists will insist that a proper Toban Djan contain nothing but broad beans, chili, wheat flour and salt but, in practice, most you will likely encounter will have other additives such as sugar and additional spices, while commercial brands will invariably contain oil and some sort of preservative. As you can see on the label, this particular brand does not contain sugar although it does, however, specify ‘Spices’. One can hardly expect a commercial concern to disclose trade secrets, but it would be nice to know exactly what these might be…

Appearance and Taste

The color of commercial chili bean pastes can vary from a brilliant and vibrant fresh chili color (the Lee Kum Kee variety is one of these), to a very dark, almost purplish brown. As you can see, the Sichuan Pixiandouban product is somewhere in the middle, although I will say that the slightly orange tint to the red color is something of an artifact of my camera and not quite as apparent in natural light.

Some chili bean pastes are exceptionally sweet, almost to the point of being cloying, and while this current variety is not (lacking added sugar), it is very salty indeed, so this needs to be taken into consideration when adjusting for total salt content in recipes. The heat is not exceptional, being hotter than Jalapeno preparations, but it is less fiery than those containing Thai Bird’s eye Chili, for example. It is difficult to determine what other spice are used but there is a slight anise quality that could suggest anything from fennel to star anise.

Culinary Use

A major, not to say essential, use of chili bean paste is in the famous Sichuan ‘fish fragrant’ dishes, as I illustrated in the, somewhat non-standard interpretation, I called Fish Fragrant Pork with Pineapple. Beyond that, it would be hard to make a comprehensive list of dishes in which the paste is used because it is so versatile and employed, not only as the flavor base for many preparations, but as a condiment added both at the final stage of cooking and at the table. Really, the best way to characterize the versatility is to say that the paste can largely be used in the same manner as any other chili paste or sauce.

In the near future, I will be using my current chili bean paste in a lamb preparation I have in mind and, once our daikon harvest is ready, I will be making a very rich and hearty Sichuan variety of a common Chinese dish known as ‘red-cooked beef’.  I have a few other uses in mind as well, but, as the opportunity arises, I will also take a look at some other commercial brands for comparative purposes…

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love chili sauces, chili oils, etc. They can be salty, though, like fermented black bean salty. Nice review!

    September 27, 2012
    • Thank you … I have another variety from Pixian that comes in a foil pouch I will be trying shortly.

      September 29, 2012
  2. I love this stuff, but my family is Cantonese so I’m basically the only one with a love for spice. Thanks for the review!

    September 29, 2012
  3. We’re a gaggle of volunteers and opening a brand new scheme in our community. Your website offered us with useful information to paintings on. You have performed an impressive activity and our entire community shall be grateful to you.

    January 9, 2013
  4. The Sichuan Pixiandouban Co. Ltd plastic jar in your photo contains MSG, I am told by the manager of a Chinese food shop. I have seen several different importers labels which use terms like “taste” and “spice powder”. This makes me wonder if their flat packs have MSG too.

    February 12, 2015
  5. Patrick Ramsey #

    I live in Los Angeles and have read about the Sichuan Pixiandouban Co. Ltd. bean paste in a couple of places. Can you tell me where I can buy it?

    August 31, 2016

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