Considered one of the backbones in Korean cooking, gochujang is a fundamental condiment that adds heat and a savory depth of flavors to anything it’s added to. Unlike other condiments, gochujang has a combination of flavors. With a bright, brick-red color and a spicy, sweet, umami flavor, accompanied by the tangy, funky flavor characteristic of fermented foods such as kimchi, gochujang is gaining popularity as one of the new global food trends.
Gochujang is a thick paste made from red chile pepper flakes, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, barley malt powder, and salt. Oftentimes, gochujang is cut with other ingredients such as sesame oil, crushed garlic, sugar, or soy sauce to help balance some of its intensity. The paste delivers a rich, umami miso-like flavor with a more reserved heat and a slightly sweet finish.
Gochujang varies in its level of heat; how spicy the gochujang is depends on the kind of peppers that the paste is made of and the amount that’s used. Gochujang is very concentrated and pungent in flavor, and because it is a product of fermentation, it has that quintessential funky flavor note. Due to the fermentation, the paste has a subtle sweetness that is a nice counterbalance to the spiciness and salty, umami flavor.
Similar to miso paste, gochujang is very versatile, and a little goes a long way. Gochujang’s sweet-hot-salty flavor shines when it’s used in moderation to add depth to all kinds of dishes, from stews and braises to marinades and sauces. Add gochujang to stir-fry, starchy foods, dipping sauces, chicken wings, seafood, or vegetables.
Start with a teaspoon at a time to make dishes more complex and to make a big impact. Unlike Sriracha or Tabasco, gochujang isn’t meant to be used as a finishing sauce on its own, as it’s too aggressive. You can, however, make a sauce out of it with other ingredients such as honey, sugar, rice vinegar, sesame oil and garlic or combine with mayonnaise to make a sandwich spread.
Gochujang’s combination of flavors make it unique; it’s one of those flavor-packed condiments that should always be in the pantry to help liven up a meal.