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Foodstuff: Gochujang – Korean Chili Paste

Gochujang 1

The range of chili pastes available to the adventurous cook is almost inexhaustible and many countries have their own traditional styles for making them. Some are fairly simple, containing little other than chili and salt, whilst others typically contain other more complex additions. Many are fermented to some degree.

The primary Korean chili product is a smooth, umami paste known as Gochujang. The name simply means hot pepper paste and is clearly cognate with the Mandarin, làjiāo jiàng (辣椒醬). The basic paste is made with glutinous rice flour and fermented soybeans (often as a powder) with some sort of sweetener such as sugar or honey usually being added before being aged. The process produces a unique result that makes for a very useful and versatile product in the pantry…

Gochujang 2

This brand comes in a very handy and convenient little container and, as you can see, consists of a very homogenously smooth, deep red paste.

Gochujang 3

The container only has the words ‘Red Pepper Paste’ in English. The rear label is written Korean, which I cannot read, and Chinese characters. The latter presented a bit of a challenge, but I was able to decipher the ingredient list as containing the following:

Glutinous rice, Wheat flour, salt, Ground Chili, Syrup and Potassium Sorbate.

There is no mention of fermented soybeans, and instead wheat seems to be used, which seems to suggest that this particular product departs somewhat from the traditional method of production.

Appearance and Taste

Gochujang 4

The color of the paste is a lovely deep rich red, almost with a purple hint, and Gochujang is probably one of the prettiest of all the chili pastes in my minds. The aroma, on the other hand, doesn’t really suggest a chili paste at all. There is a faint sharpness and a pungency in the background but there is also a warm, umami quality that is somewhat like bean paste even though soy is not apparently included. It is a vaguely spicy aroma, but not with the clear chili presence of Malaysian or Chinese varieties.

The taste of the paste right from the jar is most definitely a chili one, however. It is moderately hot; much more so than Jalapeno, for example, but not quite as fiery as the Thai Bird’s-eye variety either. The paste is quite sweet, presumably from the syrup mentioned on the label, and there is none of the acidic notes one gets with long-fermented chili pastes, or those with vinegar added. This feature, along with the minimal amount of salt, allows the paste to be used in a few places where a sharp taste might not be desirable.

Culinary Uses

Really, you can use Gochujang in virtually culinary preparation calling for chili paste, and not having to make too many allowances for an excess of salt is a bonus. One of the important uses in Korean cookery (and one we have used it for more than any other here) is in the production of the various types of Kimchi and other pickles. The paste also makes a great marinade or condiment, either alone, or with the addition of such other things as vinegar and sesame oil. I will be using some of our present supply in some upcoming posts so, stay tuned….


16 Comments Post a comment
  1. It’s a beautiful color! But you gave me an important clue in this post. You said it was moderately hot, much more so than jalapeno. Jalapeno is at least moderately hot to me…probably more than moderately! So now I know that when you say something is hot, it is probably HOT to me! 🙂

    December 8, 2012
  2. The packaging is great! The other day I enjoyed some Korean food at a local Asian mall in the Toronto area, and lunch came with a little tub of this tasty stuff. Very good indeed.

    December 8, 2012
  3. I bet this would be good in an Asian soup base too. I can browse Asian supermarkets for ages looking at this sort of thing (much to my wife’s annoyance!)

    December 8, 2012
  4. I love this stuff. I always keep a tub for emergency kimchi fried rice, or that Korean tofu stew that I can never remember the name of!

    December 9, 2012
  5. A ‘Jigae’ of some sort? You are right, the stuff is great…. I will be doing more posts featuring it 🙂

    December 9, 2012
  6. I assume that you dumped that amount in a dish just to show us its texture? It would be unhealthy to use that humungous amount for cooking a dish for less than 10 people.

    I use Lee’s chili garlic soy bean sauce. Then I have my Malaysian red chili paste-sauce which I only use a dab.

    I only make the comment about overuse is that anything with soy sauce base, is also alot of salt. I really stress: my mother has hypertension/ high blood pressure and was told by her Chinese-speaking doctor to lay off the soy sauce…15 years ago. That’s why there are low-sodium soy sauce choices.

    So my mother readjusted her cooking alot..but it still is Chinese cooking in technique, taste.

    Real Chinese home cooking does not require heavy use of soy sauce for taste.

    December 9, 2012
    • Actually, this particular brand is not soy based, which was a bit surprising. I also take a bit of issue with some of the dietary advice regarding sodium. My father, who is a doctor, says he always felt the medical profession has done a bit of dis-service to the public at large with some of the ‘hype’ over sodium use… His feeling is that, when consumed as sodium chloride, a moderate amount is not harmful as long as one balances it with adequate water intake.

      December 10, 2012

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