Gochujang: Everything you need to know

Gochujang is used in many of our favourite Korean dishes.
Gochujang is used in many of our favourite Korean dishes. Photo: iStock

What is it?

Gochujang is Korea's favourite condiment. A thick, spicy paste made with barley malt powder, sweet rice flour, fermented soybean, dried hot peppers and salt, it is the base of the sauce used in Korea's national dish bibimbap.

Many food historians believe the red peppers it is made from arrived from South America, like other chillies used in Asian cooking, with Portuguese and Spanish traders in the 1500s. But Koreans have a different understanding, believing the punchy little red peppers evolved independently in Korea.

Why do we love it?

With the colour of red velvet drapes, gochujang has the sharp kick of heat from chilli combined with a mellow sweetness, tangy saltiness and a lingering umami sensation. Combined, these elements stimulate every taste bud, creating a wall of flavour that would make Phil Spector proud.

It's used in many of our favourite Korean dishes and can be easily transposed onto other food cultures with delicious results.

Who uses it?

"It sits at the heart of our cuisine," says Korean-born chef Joanne Chang from Mrs Kim's Grill in Melbourne's Carnegie.

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"I remember my grandparents would dry the peppers on mats to make homemade gochujang. This is a revered gift and something that is treasured in the kitchen although we use it in the kitchen everyday," she says. "It is a staple you will find in every Korean's fridge alongside garlic, sesame and kimchi."

Korean fried chicken. To be used for upcoming recipe pages for Epicure/Good Food. Recipe by Karen Martini. Picture by Marcel Aucar, please credit. Styling by Marnie Rowe, please credit.

Gochujang (right) is essential for Korean fried chicken. Photo: Marcel Aucar

How do you use it?

  • Gochujang is a major ingredient in ssamjang, the spicy dipping sauce to go with lettuce rolls filled with beef. Ssamjang is a blend of one part gochujang to two parts fermented soybean paste (doenjang) with sesame oil, sesame seeds and garlic with various regional additions.
  • Gochujang is an essential ingredient in bibimbap sauce in which it is blended with sesame oil and vinegar and used in countless Korean soups and stews.
  • At home you can mix gochujang with tomato sauce and a little Japanese soy (shoyu) to make a dipping sauce for Korean fried chicken. This same sauce can be brushed over chicken wings or lamb ribs before barbecuing.
  • Use in stir-fries and add just a tiny bit to sauces and gravies for umami and a little chilli hit.
  • 25 more ideas with gochujang

Where to get it?

South Korean manufacturers understand that there is now a global market for their spicy paste and are making slightly less hot versions. Coles stocks the entry-level Ottogi brand.

Head to Asian supermarkets for Jongga Vision and Sempio brands.

If you want to make your own, you can buy the gochugaru chilli flakes from Essential Ingredient.

Artisan gochujang, which has been cellared for three or more years, can sell online for close to $200 for a small jar.

Suggest an ingredient via email to brainfood@richardcornish.com.au or tweet to @foodcornish.