Tua Nao: The Plant-based Alternative To Shrimp Paste You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

The centuries-old Thai condiment that will elevate your dishes

Tua Nao, which roughly translates to “rotten beans” are fermented soybean cakes that have been used as a seasoning in the north of Thailand, and Laos, for hundreds of years.

Tua Nao has a distinctive, toasty and nutty smell and delivers a big hit of umami in whatever it’s added to — similar to shrimp paste.

The north of Thailand is an interesting melting pot of cultures and influences from the neighboring countries of Myanmar (Burma), China (Yunnan), and Laos.

“In the old days, people would grill those [Tua Nao] and crumble them over rice and I think that was pretty much what a meal was for some people, 80 or 90 years ago” — Austin Bush

Boil, mash, ferment, repeat

The paste starting it’s 3–5 day fermentation journey | Credit: Alex Heery

You can even split the batch and ferment the two differently for some A/B testing.

“If you drive around Mae Hong Son in the morning or the evening, you’ll definitely smell it. It’s still a fundemental part of the cuisine there.” — Austin Bush

My first attempt was a little rough — the disks didn’t quite work, so I ended up with chips.

The case for bad beans

So by fermenting soybeans, we’re producing a flavor that hints at the complexity of shrimp paste.

Cook and food writer based in Mexico City. Talking food and all its intersections | IG: https://instagram.com/_alexheery

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