Despite its name, the paste is not yellow in color; it ranges from light to dark brown, or even black. The name comes from the fact that it is made from yellow soybeans, called huángdòu (黄豆) in Chinese. Although it would seem that the complete name in Chinese should be huángdòu jiàng (黄豆酱; literally "yellow soybean paste"), the word dòu (豆) is generally not used when referring to this paste.
Yellow soybean paste is used most notably in the noodle dish called zhajiang mian. Though outside Beijing sweet bean sauce or hoisin sauce are often used as substitutes. In this dish, the yellow soybean paste is fried together with ground pork, then poured over the top of thick wheat flour noodles. Unlike sweet bean sauce, yellow soybean paste is salty rather than sweet.
In recent years, a new form of yellow soybean paste, called "dry yellow soybean paste" (干黄酱, pinyin: gān huángjiàng; or 干酱, pinyin: gān jiàng), has been developed, and is widely available in plastic packages. Its texture is drier than that of regular yellow soybean paste (due to its lower water content), allowing for easier transportation and keeping. Dry yellow soybean paste is used in a similar manner as regular yellow soybean paste, but, when using the dry form, water is first added to dilute it, and then it is added to the dish; if it is added directly to a dish, the amount of water added to the dish should be adjusted accordingly.