What Does Gochujang Taste Like? (and How to Use It?)

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Did you know that gochujang (that bright red Korean paste commonly served with samgyupsal) is a labor of love? Yes, it is! It takes 1 to 2 years of the fermentation process to produce this famous Korean paste. (*)

If you haven’t tried it, you might be wondering how special gochujang is and what does gochujang taste like?

Here’s the answer: Gochujang has a bold salty, pungent, spicy, and slightly sweet flavor with a distinct funky taste.

Gochujang is one versatile sauce that you can use in different recipes, thanks to its complete flavor profile. So how do you use gochujang? Read on to find out!

In this article, you’ll also learn about the following:

  • What is gochujang (and how to use it)?
  • What does gochujang taste like? (a more detailed answer!)
  • Is Gochujang spicy?
  • … and frequently asked questions about it!

So what are you waiting for? Let’s get this party started!

What is Gochujang?

The definition of gochujang is already in its name: gochu means chili, while jang translates to fermented sauce or paste. In short, gochujang is a fermented chili paste widely used in Korean cuisine.

Did You Know?

Gochujang is one of the three mother sauces that make up Korean cuisine. The other two sauces are doenjang and ganjang. Among the three jangs, gochujang is the one that packs the heat in most Korean dishes.

The classic spicy paste recipe comprises only a few ingredients, including red peppers, glutinous rice, salt, and fermented soybeans. But to pack in more flavor, updated recipes now include aromatics like sesame, garlic, onions, and sweeteners such as sugar and other types of sweet syrups.

How to Use Gochujang?

With its bright red color and an even brighter red container with pictures of red chili peppers all over, using gochujang seems more like a dare. But the truth is it’s probably one of the most versatile sauces that you can have in your arsenal.

Here are the most common uses of gochujang:

  • Amping up the intensity of dipping sauces (like Ssamjang)
  • Adding flavor to soups
  • Base for stews (Dakgalbi, Budae Jiggae, Tteokbokki, and many more)
  • Marinade for meats
  • Livening up pasta sauces

Warning
There are plenty of uses for gochujang, but there’s an exception. Unlike Tabasco or sriracha, gochujang wouldn’t work well as a finishing sauce as its flavor is too strong.

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What Does Gochujang Taste Like?

You already know the ingredients and how to use gochujang, so it’s about time that we answer the most critical question of all—what does gochujang taste like?

While its fiery red shade will make you think that this sauce is all about the heat, this paste has more flavor depth than you think.

Simple answer: Gochujang tastes funky, spicy, salty, sweet, and has a strong umami flavor.

The paste owes its full flavor profile to its ingredients and preparation method. During the fermentation process, the starches in the glutinous rice are converted to sugars which gives the paste its slight sweetness.

On the other hand, the chili peppers deliver the lingering heat that the paste is known for, while the fermented soybeans give it its funky and umami flavor. 

Is Gochujang Spicy?

Aaahh. This is the million-dollar question to which everyone wants to know the answer. But, unfortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. This is because the heat level of the paste varies depending on the amount and kind of peppers used in the recipe.

Pro Tip: If you want to know how hot the paste is, look for gochujang containers with heat indicators.

If you’re not a fan of spicy condiments, you’ll be happy to know that this paste is more than just a hot sauce. The paste’s sweetness and funkiness cut through the heat and give the paste a more well-rounded flavor.

Good news: For those sensitive to spice, you can always choose to go for a mild gochujang. It’s also best that you try out different gochujang recipes and brands to determine which one will best suit your preference and taste.

Frequently Asked Questions About Gochujang

If you have more questions about gochujang, you might find some of the answers here:

1. Does it taste like sriracha?

While both condiments add heat to dishes, they don’t taste the same. This is because their main ingredients are different.

Sriracha has garlic as its main ingredient, while gochujang is made up of fermented soybeans and glutinous rice. Because of this, sriracha has a trademark sweet and garlicky flavor far from the umami-filled and funky taste of gochujang.

2. Can you eat gochujang on its own?

As mentioned, the flavors of gochujang are quite intense. Since it’s already quite pungent, it works well when consumed with other dishes and ingredients that can help mellow down its flavors. However, eating it on its own may not be the best way to consume it.

3. Can you make gochujang less spicy?

In addition to using a mild gochujang, there are two ways how you can tame its heat level. These are as follows:

Add something sweet to it.

Sugars can help neutralize the heat. (*) That’s why simply drizzling honey or adding a sprinkle of sugar can make the paste less spicy.

Pro Tip: Make sure to add the sweetener gradually and taste it from time to time to prevent it from becoming too sweet.

Mix it with an acidic ingredient.

One of the best acidic ingredients you can use to combat heat is tomatoes. If you’re preparing a tomato-based dish, you can try adding either tomato ketchup or sauce to reduce its spice level.

4. Which is spicier—gochugaru or gochujang?

Since gochugaru is simply dried chili flakes, its heat level may be higher than gochujang.

When you use gochugaru, it will add just heat and a smoky flavor to your dish. On the other hand, gochujang will infuse a more in-depth taste into your meals. It will inject acidity, sweetness, spiciness, and funk into your recipes.

The Bottom Line

What does gochujang taste like? It’s packed with salty, sweet, spicy, and funky flavors. You name it, and you can get it from this paste!

Truly, gochujang is not like any other condiments that you’ve tried. So what are you waiting for? Go out, grab that bright red tube, and start your Korean cuisine journey!

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