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Jan 10, 2014 08:01 AM

Chinese hot bean paste versus hot bean sauce

I've been cooking from Chinese cookbooks for many, many years. Here's a question that has nagged me for almost as long. What is the difference between two Chinese condiments, hot bean paste and hot bean sauce. At least one company, based in the US, makes both, so they are not the same, even though the ingredient lists pretty much match.

I do not have the benefit of a Chinese upbringing, so nobody taught me about this in the kitchen of my youth. I can read only a very few Chinese characters, and do compare labels on various jars and cans, but that does not seem very helpful. I have seen examples where the labels match in Chinese but one says "Hot Bean Paste" in English and the other says "Hot Bean Sauce". Clearly the Chinese name on the label should be taken as authoritative, but even if I had the right characters for either ingredient stored in my iPhone (so I could match that against the labels), I still would love to understand the difference between the two ingredients.

Thanks in advance for your help!

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  1. According to Irene Kuo in "The Key to Chinese Cooking," they contain essentially the same ingredients but one form (sauce) uses whole beans and the other (paste) uses ground beans. She also says that bean paste is often labeled as "sauce."