Bean paste, or bean sauce, varies in color, texture, and composition and is a popular ingredient in many dishes in Asian cuisines. Some common varieties of include miso, and red, yellow, brown, and black bean pastes.
Miso is a dense paste made from soybeans and a grain such as barley or rice, fermented with yeast mold. This mixture is combined with salt and water and aged for a period of months or even years.
There are perhaps hundreds of types of miso, classed into two basic categories: shiro miso and aka miso. Shiro, or white, miso is on the sweeter side, whereas aka, or red, miso tends to be stronger and saltier. Miso is added to soups, broth, sauces, marinades, and dressings as a flavoring.
Red bean paste is made from boiled, mashed adzuki beans and is sweetened with sugar or honey. The paste may be smooth or may contain bits of mashed beans for texture. It is used in Chinese, Japanese, and Korean cuisine, primarily for dessert items such as cakes, pancakes, moon cakes, glutinous rice balls, and sweet soups.
Yellow bean paste is similar in texture to the red type. It is made from cooked, de-hulled mung beans, which are sweetened and mashed. This type of paste is commonly made into ice cream and other dessert items, such as a filling for moon cakes.
The term yellow bean paste is also sometimes used as a synonym for a salty yellow-brown soybean sauce that comes in a bottle and is used as a condiment.
Brown bean paste or sauce is made from fermented soy beans, water, salt, and flour. It can be thick or thin, smooth or chunky. It may be flavored with garlic, chilies, or other spices. It is generally used to flavor stir-fries, vegetables, and tofu dishes as well as pork, duck, and fish.
Black bean paste or sauce is made from salty, fermented black beans. It is used as a condiment or cooking sauce and may be flavored with spicy chile paste or garlic.
Although bean paste and bean sauce products are available in cans and jars from Asian grocers and some large supermarkets, some cooks prefer to prepare their own. If you purchase your bean sauce in a can, be sure to transfer it to a jar once you open it. Stored in a jar, it will keep in the refrigerator indefinitely.