What IS gochujang and why you should be obsessed with it

Gochujang is the little red box of funky awesomeness I can’t get enough of.

What IS gochujang and why you should be obsessed with it

Confession time: I’m a little bit addicted to gochujang. Hands down, it’s one of my most-loved – and most-used – pantry essentials. But what exactly is it? If you’re not familiar with it, gochujang is a Korean condiment, and is a thick paste made from red chillies (well, actually a type of dried chilli flakes called gochugaru), glutinous rice, salt and fermented soybeans, and has a gorgeous, bold crimson colour. Oh, and it’s deeply, deeply delicious.

What does gochujang taste like?

It’s a bit spicy, a bit funky, salty and all kinds of savoury. Gochujang traditionally also gets its gentle sweetness from its fermentation process, which takes place over several years (all good things to those who wait and all that). That process sees the starches in the rice convert to sugars, resulting in all kinds of boom-boom-pow-knock-your-socks-off addictive awesomeness. Then there’s the chilli component, which gives the paste its spiciness, but HOLD UP. There’s more. I’m talking a slight smoky flavour and a touch of uptown funk and a whole dose of umami sparkle. It’s… a lot to describe, I know. But I’m telling you this: gochujang is the SHIZ.

Korean-style Char-grilled Chicken

Oh hey, next-level barbecue fare, aka Korean-style Chargrilled Chicken.

Is gochujang spicy?

Not necessarily, so don’t let that get in your way. Heat levels can vary between brands, so you may want to check the packaging to see if there’s any indication of spiciness. Otherwise you might like to try out a couple of brands to find out your preference. Don’t forget as well that a little goes a long way – start with a small amount to begin. You can always add more in… but you can’t take it out once it’s in a dish.

Korean Army Stew

Also known as army base stew or budae jjigae, this is Korean Army Stew.

What dishes should I use gochujang in?

As gochujang is very concentrated, it’s typically used to add depth to dishes in collaboration with other ingredients, rather than as a standalone condiment. But hey, you do you, boo. No judgement here! Try it as a baste on chicken wings or pork ribs, or added to soup broths like in my Spicy Pork Miso Noodle Soup.

Gochujang can also be used in marinades for meat dishes like Korean bulgogi, stirred into dipping sauces, or used to punch up stews. It’s also surprisingly versatile in fusion and more European-inspired dishes – it adds a wonderful smoky intensity to my Quick(ish) Asian Ragu, for example.

Quick(ish) Asian Ragu

My Asian-spiked version of spag bol uses some untraditional ingredients, and is all the better for it.

Anything to avoid?

Experiment – it’s half the fun of cooking (the other half is eating, obviously!). The more you get familiar with gochujang paste, the more you’ll understand its unique taste profile and what it’s all about.

For me, it’s always within reach and I love injecting its heady mix of flavours into dishes that are a little unexpected. Because, IMHO, everything tastes better when it’s Asian. Case in point: Asian garlic bread. Cheesy baked potatoesPot pies.

Where can I buy gochujang?

Gochujang is readily available in Asian grocers, although you can also typically find it in many major supermarkets in the Asian aisle. It’s relatively inexpensive and, since you only tend to use it in fairly small quantities, it should last you quite a long time.

How do you store gochujang?

Once opened, keep your little red pot of wonder in the fridge. As it contains fermented ingredients (a bit like kimchi, in that sense), it typically has a long shelflife, but do check the packaging for a use-by date and be sure to finish it before then. If there tends to be a long time between uses, you might like to tightly wrap it in some clingfilm to help prevent it drying out. If you can’t find a date on the box, try and use the paste within three months of opening, provided it is kept refrigerated.

My favourite gochujang recipes

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