Salted Soya Beans, safe to eat?
August 5, 2020 8:32 AM   Subscribe

[Non-Western culture filter] I have a jar of **opened** salted soya beans in sauce, similar to this. My Chinese mother opened the jar 3 months ago, and says it can be kept at room temperature because it's fermented and salted, i.e. preserved. It does say "refrigerate after opening" though. Can I cook this and eat it? Safe to eat? Only answers from people who know fermentation or salted soya beans please.

Please do not link me to a best practice food safety advice from CDC / other Western government bodies. I REALLY do not care to listen to modern Western perspectives here. If you have advice from this perspective, please feel free to answer some other question.

These words are more aggressive than it needs to be because I get a lot of POC-splaining and Other-ing in my life (i.e. how to cook rice, kimchi has a lot of probiotics, you need to wash your rice pot even though you are cooking plain white rice i.e. see previous ask Mefi question), and I really do not need this right now. Your perspective is not helpful, downright offensive, and will be flagged.
posted by moiraine to Food & Drink (10 answers total)
Given that fermentation and salt are excellent preservation methods, and that the jar was commercially produced (I'm assuming, since you didn't say otherwise), it's probably okay to use. I've only ever kept/used salted soya beans in the fridge after opening them, though, because the brand I use says to do so. I'm not sure I personally would take the risk but I'm really susceptible to food poisoning in various forms so I'm pretty risk-averse when it comes to stuff like this.

Has your mom always kept soya beans like this at room temp? If so, and your family has always eaten them/cooked with them in those conditions, it would be far less worrisome to me to use them, you know? But I'm also not sure how good they'll taste after three months; I always use mine up too fast to know how long is too long. :)
posted by cooker girl at 8:50 AM on August 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would have no qualms about trying it. If it looks okay (no visible mold or discoloration) and smells okay, it's probably fine. The time to worry about bacteria with fermenting foods is at the beginning, before the fermentation has started its magic. After that, most danger comes from cross contamination. Botulism is highly unlikely--it's very rare with fermented foods as lactic acid is hostile to the spores, and the few cases associated with fermented soy products are linked to home fermentation, where there's a greater risk for errors in the fermentation process.
posted by lovecrafty at 9:11 AM on August 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would eat this. I like to ferment cabbage, vegetables, dairy, etc and would be fine with this. As lovecrafty says, fermented goods are most likely to go off at the beginning of the process when your bacterial colonies are becoming established. Once you have a dominant culture at work, it generally stays pretty stable unless something changes drastically in the environment.

That said, if you see any colored molds, off flavors or scents, then I'd assume your bacterial balance has changed and toss it*. Otherwise, you're good.

*On the other hand...I am white and Western and I pay attention to the authoratative gov't scientists, but I also adhere to Sandor Katz, who would tell you in a heartbeat to scrape off that mold and keep eating your beans.
posted by epanalepsis at 9:23 AM on August 5, 2020

Has it been opened repeatedly over time (with various implements used to scoop some out) and exposed to a lot of open air, or was it just popped open, closed, and left alone? If the latter, and it smells correct and has a normal texture, I wouldn't hesitate to use it. If the former I'd be a little more cautious. The salt gives me more peace of mind than the fermentation - the fermentation can go awry but salt is pretty much salt and keeps the beasties out.
posted by Mizu at 9:28 AM on August 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Chiming in from an asian couple - we'd eat it, if it smells okay. (But we leave meat out overnight to cool and do all kinds of sketchy food things).
posted by stray at 9:56 AM on August 5, 2020

CDC and other food safety bodies tend to be overly, and sometimes unreasonably, cautious when it comes to fermented foods. Trust your mother on this - soya beans fermented and salted should be safe to eat at room temperature (as long as the jar or the food wasn't cross contaminated in some way after opening). If you're still nervous make sure there are no signs of mold or putrefaction but this should be extremely unlikely as the salt should keep both bacteria and mold at bay. I'm guessing the "refrigerate after opening" is there mostly to slow the processes and to keep it "fresh". And probably to keep food safety organisations off their backs.

I say go for it and please share how you plan to eat them!
posted by Ashwagandha at 10:50 AM on August 5, 2020

Korean diaspora perspective.

Old school fermented soybean paste - doenjang - is kept outside in a crock.

My parents who live in Seoul sometimes get big vats of doenjang from their more homemaking savvy relatives and friends and have kept them out on the enclosed balcony.

I am too American and too urban, so I buy from the store and keep opened containers of fermented soybeans inside the fridge. Also I lived in a tropical environment for nearly a decade so I just erred on the side of caution for longterm storage.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:35 AM on August 5, 2020

If there's no mold, I'd eat it. It's designed to be salted, fermented, and preserved.

The rare times I have had trouble with this has been in very hot places, where I was away for a while and the apartment wasn't air-conditioned.

Mold is the one thing I don't mess with -- I don't scoop it off, if your preserves have mold on it when they're not supposed to, toss it.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 2:59 PM on August 5, 2020

I am native Asian and have eaten this exact brand of salted soya beans that you linked. I normally keep it in my refrigerator but my parents likes to keep fermented (like fermented tofu) and pickled stuff like vegetables outside though all of them are labelled "Refrigerate after opening".

So far, none of us have died from food poisoning and I'll agree with your mother that it's fine unless the color, taste, smell is off or there is visible mold.
posted by whitelotus at 10:32 PM on August 5, 2020

Thanks, all helpful perspectives so I have marked all as best answers. My mother, while wise in the ways of How Some Things Have Been Done For A Very Long Time, is sometimes maybe a bit tooo blasé about refrigeration so I thought I would ask around.

I have opened the jar, which had been sitting on a dark cool place, and tasted the beans. They were very salty and tasted fine. So that gave me confidence to eat it! However next time I will refrigerate the jar as an extra precaution.

Ashwagandha, the recipe as sent to me by my mother on Whatsapp texts goes like this: Marinate minced pork with pepper, soy sauce and rice wine. Fry green beans with garlic till soft. Add salted beans. Don’t burn it. Add pork. Add tofu.

No quantities given. I did also splash some water on the green beans when stir-frying to soften them. I am also guessing it’s white pepper (my mother is a bit cryptic) but I had none so black pepper it was.
posted by moiraine at 1:54 PM on August 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

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