Gochujang – Korean Chili Paste

A Container of Gochujang
A Container of Gochujang

Gochujang is a chili paste made with red chili powder, glutinous rice flour, fermented soybeans (often in powdered form), and some sort of sweetener such as sugar, honey, or malted barley powder. It is an essential ingredient in Korean cuisine.

A brief introduction to Gochujang

The name ‘gochujang’ simply means hot pepper paste and is clearly cognate with the Mandarin, làjiāo jiàng (辣椒醬), the characters for which appear on the front of the container pictured above. The product, when made in traditional Korean fashion, is somewhat similar to many Chinese fermented chili pastes, except that it tends to be a bit sweeter and less salty.

An Open Container of Gochujang
An Open Container of Gochujang

There are scores of different Gochujang varieties available commercially, and many of them are packaged in the same red plastic container pictured here. The same container, although brown in color, is also commonly used to package ‘Doenjang’, the fermented soy bean paste that is the Korean equivalent of Japanese Miso. Indeed, since the manufacture of Gochujang involves fermented soy bean paste as a significant component, one can accurately view it as being a sort of chili-enhanced Miso.

Appearance and Taste

A small dish of Gochujang showing the color
A small dish of Gochujang showing the color

Gochujang has a vibrant deep red hue, with almost a hint of purple in it sometimes, and it is probably one of the prettiest of all chili paste products.

The aroma is a little surprising, in contrast to many other chili condiments, in that it is less pungent and has more of the mild, umami warmth of plain soy bean paste. It does have a vaguely spicy aroma, but not with the clear chili presence of many Malaysian, Thai, or Chinese varieties.

When tasted right from the container, however, the chili component is definitely apparent, but usually of a strength that varies, depending on the brand, somewhere between the mildness of Jalapeños, and the more fiery Thai Bird’s eye chili.

As mentioned, the paste tends to be quite sweet, and there is generally 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.

How to Store Gochujang

Once a package of gochujang is opened, it is best to store it in the refrigerator, where it can last for many months. You are less likely to have it get mouldy, or otherwise go ‘off’, than you are to have it dry out. If that happens, you need not despair unless the color has faded (which would mean the taste will have been compromised). As long as your dried-out Gochujang still has a good, vibrant color, you can reconstitute it by adding hot water a little bit at a time and stirring until the original consistency is restored.

Can I use Gochujang for making Kimchi?

Many people who read traditional Kimchi recipes want to know if the Gochugaru (Korean Red Pepper flakes or powder) used to make the spice paste can be substituted with Gochujang. The answer to this is essentially that you can (and many people do), although you might occasionally run in to a problem if you are using a commercial blend that contains preservatives that would inhibit fermentation. The texture of Gochujang is stickier than a simple paste made with chili flakes, and the sweetness will change the ultimate result, but, other than that, it works pretty nicely.

Other Culinary Uses

Really, you can use Gochujang in virtually any culinary preparation calling for chili paste, and the fact that it tends not to be overly salty makes it especially versatile.

Other than making kimchi at home, the paste is indispensable making for a huge range of Korean soups, stews, and other classic preparations such as ‘Bibimbap’, ‘Tteokbokki’, and ‘Bulgogi’. Last, but by no means least, it is works as a terrific marinade and dipping sauce, either by itself, or with the addition of such other things as vinegar and sesame oil. Nowadays, it is not uncommon to see it added to mayonnaise and served alongside such things as sweet potato fries, or even as a burger condiment.

Recipes and Dishes Using Gochujang

A Banchan of Octopus in a Gochujang based sauce
A Banchan of Octopus in a Gochujang based sauce
Basic Cabbage Kimchi
Basic Cabbage Kimchi made using Gochujang
Spicy Dried Squid Banchan
Banchan of Dried Squid in Spicy Gochujang

Comments, questions or suggestions most welcome!