With a savory depth and miraculously “meaty” flavor, fermented black beans (dou si, in Cantonese) are a standout pantry staple. While they most likely originated in China at least 3,000 years ago, the ingredient is now widely used throughout East and Southeast Asian culinary traditions. When added whole to rich and fatty soups, stews, and stir-fries, these salted and semi-dried soybeans provide a pointed pop of bright salinity. When mashed or blended into a sauce, however, they infuse the whole dish with a rich (yet still plant-based!) nuance akin to fish sauce, salted egg yolk, anchovies, and parmesan cheese.

Find fermented black beans at your local Asian grocery store, or order them online; they keep well for at least several months in an airtight container in the fridge, but once you start cooking with them, we doubt you’ll have any trouble using up the whole bag. Read more about the ingredient’s history—and about how vegetarian cookbook author, Hetty McKinnon uses it to add a kick of umami to her plant-based home cooking—here, then check out some of our best fermented black bean recipes, below.

Morels in Black Bean Sauce with Fried Enoki Mushrooms

Morels with Fried Enoki Mushrooms and Tofu Skins
Wild mushrooms and silky yuba are dressed in a savory chile-black bean sauce in this recipe from NYC chef Thomas Chen. Joseph De Leo

Steamed Whole Fish with Dried Tangerine Peel and Fennel

steamed whole fish
This festive whole fish from chef Jonathan Wu is stuffed with fermented black beans and aromatics before steaming. Get the recipe here. Photography by Katherine Whittaker

Mapo Tofu

Spicy bowl of Mapo tofu
Fermented black beans and Sichuan red chile oil make up the saucy base for this classic dish. Get the recipe for Mapo Tofu here. Kat Craddock

Sichuan-Style Twice Cooked Pork Belly

Twice cooked pork
Savory dou chi, lightly sweet Shaoxing wine, and fiery chile sauce merge in this irresistible Sichuan classic. Matt Taylor-Gross

Tofu, Long Bean, and Crispy Shallot Salad with Black Bean Vinaigrette

Tofu, Long Bean, and Crispy Shallot Vinaigrette with Black Bean Vinaigrette
A bold yet delicate black bean vinaigrette dresses this fragrant chilled salad. André Baranowski

Jajangmyeon (Korean Black Bean Noodles)

Korean Black-Bean Noodles (Jajangmyeon)
Jajangmyeon is a Koreanized version of a noodle dish created by Chinese immigrants in Incheon, Korea. Get the recipe from Korean cookbook author and blogger Maangchi here. © Maangchi, courtesy of Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Stir-Fried Bitter Melon and Shrimp with Fermented Black Beans

Stir-Fried Bitter Melon and Shrimp with Fermented Black Beans
In Thailand a strongly flavored stir-fry like this would be considered more a condiment than a main dish, and should be served with plenty of hot jasmine rice. Bitter melon is available year-round in Asian markets. Get the recipe here. Kat Craddock

Green Beans with Black Bean Sauce

Green Beans Fermented Black Bean Sauce
Savory fermented black bean sauce is an irresistible condiment for just about any seasonal vegetable. Cookbook author Hetty McKinnon uses her homemade version to finish stir-fried vegetables like green beans, cauliflower, or broccoli. Get the recipe here. Hetty McKinnon