I was wondering what type of flavour the black beans add to black bean sauce. Can they be switched for pinto beans or kidney beans? Is there a process such as fermentation that the beans undergo before adding to sauce.

I ask because UK supermarket black bean sauces seem poor. I was thinking that that the main source of flavour is soy, fish or oyster sauces. I was also beginning to think that all the beans did was to add bulk and to thicken (because soy is watery).

Are they are cheats/substitutes to achieve the same effect as fermentation? Links welcome.

  • You got it completely backwards. Soy sauce is extracted from bean paste, not the other way (bean paste = soy + bean) May 6, 2019 at 18:46

2 Answers 2


I'd say a resounding no.
ermm... or yes, depending on whether I'm answering your topic title, or the question in the question ;)

You cannot use substitute beans, because the key ingredient for black bean sauce is fermented black beans. Everything else is an aromatic additive; easily substitutable depending on recipe & intended result.

Leave out the Szechuan pepper, sure; more garlic, why not; different vinegar, yup: different soy, whichever you prefer...
leave out the black beans... it's no longer black bean sauce.

You can, if you're lucky, get fermented black beans in "the West".
I'd recommend a trip to eBay, Amazon, local Asian Supermarkets, etc, if you want to make your own.
Once you have those, recipes for home made black bean sauce are easily available on the web.

I'm not sure I'd tackle the fermentation myself - I'd leave that to the experts.

On a 'shopping' note - if you're in the UK look for makes like Lee Kum Kee which have a London distributor but are as 'authentically Chinese' as you can get. I have no idea whether they are comparatively good bad or indifferent to a Chinese person, but they at least have a definite origin on the labelling.
[no affiliation, just what I can find a lot of in my local Asda & it tases alright to me.]
As a rule I avoid the 'foreign food for Brits' aisles* when shopping for foreign food - but your local market forces will dictate how much footage a supermarket will devote to 'real' vs 'friendly English substitutes' stock.

*Apologies if this may be considered 'inverse-racism' against my own culture - no prejudice intended except in flavour terms - but I prefer imported to 'made in Milton Keynes' when shopping for foods from other areas of the world.

  • It's actually not black beans, but blackened soybeans. May 6, 2019 at 18:45

You cannot substitute out fermented black beans and end up with something that tastes like black bean sauce. They have a very strong taste. I can't speak to the UK, but here in the US every asian market I've ever been to carries them. They store quite well as they come "dried." They're used in every pacific rim asian cuisine, so you should be able to find them at most asian grocers.

I wouldn't try doing the fermentation myself. You could always try buying a pre-made sauce and adding stuff to improve the flavor.

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