What is Gochujang?

Buying, Uses, and Recipes

Gochujang paste

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Gochujang is a spicy fermented paste made from dried ground chiles and glutinous rice. It has a sweet, spicy, savory flavor, and is widely used in Korean cooking.

Fast Facts

  • Made from dried ground chiles and glutinous rice.
  • Has an intense, spicy, sweet, umami flavor.
  • A popular ingredient widely used in Korean cooking.

What Is Gochujang?

Gochujang is a fermented chili paste made from ground chiles, glutinous rice, fermented soybean powder, barley malt powder and salt, along with a fungus called Aspergillus oryzae, or koji in Japanese. Koji is regarded as Japan's "national fungus," and is used in the manufacture of soy sauce, miso and numerous other Japanese foods.

Gochujang has a bright, brick-red color and a spicy, sweet, umami flavor, accompanied by the tangy, funky flavor characteristic of fermented foods such as kimchi and kombucha.

How To Cook With Gochujang

Gochujang packs a bold, spicy punch, so it's used as an ingredient in sauces, braises, marinades, dressings and soups, rather than as a condiment or finishing sauce that you might squeeze onto your bowl of noodles, like you might with sriracha sauce, or sprinkle over your eggs, like Tabasco. You can, however, make a sauce out of it. This Korean dipping sauce is made from gochujang along with honey, sugar, rice vinegar, sesame oil and garlic.

A teaspoonful of gochujang will liven up a stir fry. Combined with mayonnaise it makes a spicy sandwich spread. It pairs as well with tomato-based ingredients as it does with dairy-based ones.

Gochujang paste

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Braised meat with gochujang

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Korean tteokbokki with gochujang

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Noodle soup with gochujang

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What Does It Taste Like?

Gochujang has an intense, spicy, sweet, umami flavor combined with the characteristic tangy funk that comes from the traditional fermentation process. A little goes a long way, as they say.

Gochujang Vs. Gochugaru

Gochujang is a fermented chile paste made from ground chiles and other ingredients, while gochugaru is the name for the chiles themselves, often dried and ground into a powder. Gochugaru is also used as a seasoning in Korean cooking, but it's a form of chile powder, not a fermented chile paste.

Gochujang Substitute

If you can't find gochujang you can DIY a substitute by combining ordinary red miso paste with red pepper flake paste, sriracha sauce or Thai chili paste. If you've never tasted the actual thing, it will be hard to know if your substitute is close or not, but it will probably still be good. 

Gochujang Recipes

Gochujang is a staple of Korean cooking, so you'll find it used in any number of Korean recipes, including the three below. Note that each of these recipes includes the word "spicy" in its title, which tells you something about gochujang.

Where To Buy Gochujang

Depending on where you live and where you shop, you might be able to find gochujang in the Asian food section of your regular supermarket. Otherwise, try an Asian or Korean grocery store if you live near one of those. It's also available online.

Gochujang Storage

Fermented foods tend to have a long shelf life, and gochujang is no exception. Gochujang does not really need to be refrigerated, but our Western sensibilities tend to want to refrigerate condiments and sauces. If you store it in the fridge, keep it tightly sealed. It will stay good for a year or two. If it develops a layer of white mold on top, scrape it off. As long as the paste underneath is still bright red, it's still good to use. The main issue with gochujang is that it can dry out, especially in the fridge, so be sure to keep it tightly sealed.

Gochujang Varieties

Different manufacturers use different recipes and ingredients in different proportions, so one brand might be sweeter or more spicy than another. However, essentially there is only one variety of gochujang.