Gochujang, the Spicy Korean Sauce You're Seeing Everywhere
Gochujang, a type of spicy, salty, slightly funky sauce from Korea, has been around for hundreds of years, but a few different trends are converging to make it more popular in America. namely, there's a greater appreciation for Korean food in general, a love of spicy food, and more widespread interest in fermented foods. Lucky us, because gochujang also happens to be crazy-delicious. Here are a few things to know before you start cooking with it yourself.
What does gochujang taste like?
So, what does gochujang taste like? To compare it with two popular sauces that almost always comes up in the same breath, gochujang is like the love child of sriracha and miso—spicy like the former, pungent like the latter—with a hint of sweetness. You could probably guess this from the color and flavor, but chilies (specifically, a type of dried chile powder called gochugaru) are one of the main ingredients, along with salt, glutinous rice (aka sticky rice), and fermented soybeans.. Traditionally, all of these ingredients are mixed together in an earthenware jug and left to ferment for months at a time, making a concentrated, flavor-packed paste with a hint of sweetness thanks to the glutinous rice starches that convert to sugars over time. In Korea, it's typical for each household to have their own jug, and make it from scratch once a year.
Even if you don't think you've tried gochujang, it's likely you have. Many Western-style restaurants sneak it into barbecue sauces and seasonings to give food more flavor, and label the dish "spicy Korean-style" without calling out gochujang specifically. More classically, gochujang is an essential element in bibimbap, the iconic sizzling rice dish, and is usually served as a condiment at Korean barbecue restaurants.
How to start cooking with gochujang
On its own, gochujang is quite pungent, so it's usually mixed with other ingredients to balance its intensity. In Korea, it's typically stirred into marinades for meat, stews, and stir-fries, or cut with vinegar or oil so it can be served as a sauce. You'll also find it on Korean fried chicken.
Take your lead from these traditional preparations, or use it in many of the same ways you'd use sriracha. Add some to your brisket, pour on to poached eggs, whisk it into salad dressing, mix it into compound butter for steaks, or add it to mayo for an amazing burger or sandwich. It also livens up starchy foods like rice, noodles, and potatoes.
Just remember, a little goes a long way. It's best to start with a teaspoon of gochujang, and work your way up from there according to taste.
The surprising ways gochujang can help your health
Historically, Korean doctors would tell patients to eat gochujang if they were having digestive issues, and there's some science to this: Thanks to the fermentation process, gochujang is rich in good bacteria, so it can help foster a healthy gut.
Beyond helping your tummy feel better, gochujang can help maintain good health long term: It has antioxidant properties, and the compound that makes peppers spicy, capsaicin, can help boost your metabolism, too.
Where to find it
These days, many large supermarkets have gochujang. You'll find it in a red, rectangular tub in the refrigerated section of your supermarket, generally with other international foods; depending on how small your grocery store is, you might have to go to an Asian market. It's often labeled "hot pepper paste" (jang actually means "fermented paste" in Korean), and some common brands are Mother in Law and Haechandle. Just be sure you're not buying gochujang sauce, which usually has a bunch of other ingredients in the mix. Also make sure not to confuse it with doenjang, another popular Korean fermented paste that comes in a beige square tub in the same section.
After you open a tub of gochujang, it'll last in your fridge for about two years. But once you see how delicious it is, it'll last for much less time than that.