Is Sambal Oelek the Same as Gochujang? (The Spicy Truth)

image of sambal oelek vs gochujang

If you’re a spicy lover, two condiments you need to add to your arsenal are no other than Sambal Oelek and Gochujang.  

They are both spicy, red, yummy, and actually quite popular.

With all their similarities, a lot of people wonder—is Sambal Oelek the same as Gochujang?

Quick answer:

No, Sambal Oelek is not the same as Gochujang.

Now that we’ve got that figured out, we’re sure there are a lot more questions that come to mind.

  • How different are they?
  • When should you use Sambal Oelek and when should you use Gochujang?
  • Can you use them in place of one another?

We’ll answer all these in this article, so keep on reading..

img of is sambal oelek the same as gochujang?

Is Sambal Oelek the Same as Gochujang?

No, Sambal Oelek is not the same as Gochujang.

It’s true that these two spices have a lot in common. First off, they both have an eye-catching bright red color.

Additionally, they both contain chili peppers which give them the spicy kick a lot of people love. Last, but not least, they both work well as a base for stews, curries, soups, dressings, and sauces.

However, these are the only similarities that the condiments have. These ingredients are actually different in a lot of ways.

The most notable difference is Sambal Oelek is a spicy Indonesian paste while Gochujang is a popular Korean chili paste.

But wait, there’s more, and we’ll discuss these in detail in the next section.

Sambal Oelek Vs Gochujang: How Do They Differ?

If you’re confused about how these condiments compare, don’t worry! We’ve rounded up all their major differences below:


The condiments are both made from chili peppers, but the type and variant of chili pepper used for each sauce are different. 

Gochujang is made with dried Korean red chili pepper called Gochugaru while Sambal Oelek contains hot red peppers.

That’s not all. The rest of their ingredients are quite different as well.

Sambal Oelek’s other main ingredients are salt and vinegar, and it’s sometimes flavored with lemon, onion, and sugar.

On the other hand, Gochujang is made of glutinous rice, salt, fermented soybean powder (meju), and barley malt powder (yeotgireum). Special variations of the paste may also include pumpkin, jujube, and sweet potato. It may also contain some sweeteners like honey, syrup, or sugar.

Taste/ Flavor

Since the sauces have varying formulations, it’s expected that they’ll have different flavors as well, and they totally do.

With the simplicity of its ingredients, Sambal Oelek’s flavor profile is pretty simple too. With that said, Sambal Oelek tastes sweet, slightly tangy, and a bit salty and spicy.

On the contrary, Korean paste has a complex flavor profile brought about by the fermentation process and its extensive ingredient list.

Having said that, Gochujang tastes spicy, salty, and savory with a slight sweetness and a whole lot of umami.

It owes its smoky and spicy flavor to Gohucgaru, the slight sweetness from glutinous rice, and the funky umami flavor from the fermentation process.

Spice Level

Between the two, Sambal Oelek is spicier. Since Gochujang contains a whole lot of other ingredients, it has other flavors that can overpower Gochugaru’s spiciness, dilute its capsaicin, and reduce its heat.

Not only that, the Indonesian sauce is considered to have medium heat while the Korean paste is known to have only mild heat.

Pro Tip:

Gochujang is available in five spice levels: Mild, Slight Hot, Medium Hot, Very Hot, and Extreme Hot. To determine the paste’s spice level, you can check out the Gochujang hot-taste unit (GHU) indicated on the packaging label. (*)


Aside from flavor, another obvious point of difference between the sauces is their texture.

To make the Indonesian sauce, its ingredients are ground into a paste using a mortar and pestle. As a result, Sambal Oelek has varying textures, ranging from a coarse puree to a smooth sauce which closely resembles stewed tomatoes.  

On the other hand, the glutinous rice content gives Gochujang a thick and sticky texture—similar to that of tomato paste.


At first glance, you can already easily spot which is which. This is because the sauces have slightly different colors due to the type of chili pepper they contain.

Here’s how they differ: Sambal Oelek features a bright red to orange color while Gochujang has a darker crimson shade.


Because of its thick consistency, Gochujang works best as a dipping sauce since it easily sticks to food. And since it’s only mildly hot, it’s also a good option if you only want to give your dishes medium heat.

Conversely, Sambal Oelek’s thin texture is perfect for dressings and sauces. Its medium heat makes it a great choice for making meals that need moderate acidity and more intense chili pepper heat.

Shelf Life

Of the two condiments, it’s gochujang that has a longer shelf life.

Unopened gochujang can last for years while Sambal Oelek will only be good for 6 months. Once opened, the paste will retain its quality for up to 2 years while the sauce will only last for 1 month.

Pro Tip:

The sauces are stored in the same way—in a cool, dark, and dry place (unopened) and refrigerated (opened).

Can You Sambal Oelek in Place of Gochujang (and Vice Versa)?

Yes, you can use Sambal Oelek in place of Gochujang and vice versa.

Since they both have red chili peppers as their main ingredient, you can use them in place of one another in delivering heat to dishes.

But with their different textures and flavor profiles, it’s important to make the necessary adjustments to make them good substitutes for one another.

Given that gochujang is thicker and has a more complex flavor, you should use only ½ teaspoon of the paste for every 1 teaspoon of the sauce the recipe requires. You can also thin out its consistency simply by adding water to it.

On the other hand, you’d have to add a sweetener and miso paste to Sambal Oelek to mimic Gochujang’s flavor profile. You may also have to mix in rice flour to give it a thicker texture.  

Learn more:

Final Words

Is Sambal Oelek the same as Gochujang? No, it isn’t. In fact, the sauces have a lot of points of difference, including their taste and texture.

The good news is, you can use them as substitutes for one another despite their differences. All you need to do is follow our recommended tweaks and you’re good to go.

Up Next: Is Gochujang The Same As Sriracha?

About The Author

Scroll to Top