By Kim Hyelin and Hahm Hee-eun
Photos = Korea Tourism Organization
Korea’s representative fermentation recipe, ‘Jang Damgeugi (Making Soybean Paste)’ is designated a national intangible cultural property.
Jang damgeugi refers to the whole process of fermenting soybeans, starting with boiling the soy beans and mashing them to make bricks and drying the bricks for storing. According to the Cultural Heritage Administration on Nov. 1, the traditional fermentation recipe is now accepted as a national intangible cultural property. The custom has been recognized for its long-standing history and for having been passed down from generation to generation. It is also highly valued for the fact that it can open up a variety of ways to research Korean food culture.
An officer at the Cultural Heritage Administration explained, “After the preliminary designation as a national intangible cultural property, the final decision will be made by an examination of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage.”
Korea, like other Northeast Asian countries such as China and Japan, has a food culture of fermenting soybeans. It is known that jang, the fermented soybean paste, has been made and enjoyed since the Three Kingdoms of Korea (57 B.C. – A.D. 668). During the Joseon-era (1392-1910), there was a separate storage area at court and a court lady only for jang, showing how it was treasured by the royal families.
Jang damgeugi starts with boiling the soybeans and mashing them to make them into bricks, called meju. Mejubricks are hung up for natural-air drying. Once they’re dried, they are stored and marinated with salted water in an earthenware pot. Through periods of fermentation, the salted water turns into ganjang (soy sauce) and the remaining chunks of meju become doenjang (soybean paste). Making both ganjang and doenjang through the same process is what makes Korean fermentation recipe different from China and Japan.