There is a Korean saying that goes something like, “jang and friends are best if kept for a long time.” Jang, in the word gochujang, refers to fermented condiments that keep for seemingly forever. It is used in Korean cooking for adding savory flavors to dishes. Gochu means “chili pepper”—gochujang is a fermented chili paste used to add intense spicy, salty, and sweet notes to marinades, sauces, dips, and stews.
I cannot recall a time in my life when a red flip-top tub of gochujang didn’t sit on the top right corner inside my fridge. Gochujang is essential to many Korean dishes—I’d even say, critical.
What is Gochujang?
Gochujang is made with Korean red chili peppers that have been ripened on the plant until glossy and cardinal red. The peppers are sun-dried, crushed, and fermented with sugar, salt, soybeans, and glutinous rice (a sticky sweet rice).
Traditionally, gochujang ferments in earthenware called jangdok, large black-brown clay pots that are stored outdoors. It can take up to six months to properly ferment and it can be stored in the jangdok continuously, scooping out what you need for the week into a smaller container for the fridge. My halmuni, grandma in Korean, used to make our family’s gochujang—I wish I would have watched her more closely before she passed away. Now we buy it from the grocery store.
Buying and Storing Gochujang
At my local H Mart, a supermarket chain that specializes in Asian food, there are a dizzying variety of gochujang brands in the condiments aisle. Flip a few different brands over to reveal the nutrition facts and buy the one with the least amount of sodium. This will give you some wiggle room to control the salt to your liking in the final dish.
Order it online if you can’t find it nearby, but the best bargain will be at your local grocery store or Asian market. If you’re buying it online, I often use this one from Chung Jung One. This company also makes a version called Sunchang that’s pretty tasty. Gotham Grove sells high-quality artisanal gochujang that’s worth the splurge.
You’re looking for the paste, not gochujang sauce, which is thinned out with water, vinegar, soy sauce, and other seasonings.
Although sometimes sold in cylindrical glass jars, gochujang paste is almost always found in a red rectangular plastic tub with a flip-top lid. Pop the lid open and peel back the foil seal to uncover the dark, glossy, almost tar-like gochujang.
I can hear my halmuni’s voice in my head, so I will pass her message along to you: Do not peel off and discard the foil seal. Leave it partially attached and cover the leftover gochujang with it before flipping the plastic lid back on. Once open, store gochujang in the fridge. It’s a fermented product that will last up to one year in the fridge, but air will oxidize it. Covering it with the layer of foil will keep it fresher for longer.
Gochujang is a linchpin ingredient in a well-stocked Korean pantry. It tastes spicy (some brands more than others), sweet, salty, and a little funky. The paste isn’t used on its own—the flavor is too intense and quite salty. Think of it as a seasoning you use by the teaspoon or tablespoon, not by the cup, to flavor your food. It isn’t a condiment, like sriracha or bottled hot sauce, you splash on eggs, rice, or fried chicken.
How to Use Gochujang
Gochujang is a pungent ingredient used for its spiciness—there is nothing subtle about it. Added to any dish, it will be the most assertive flavor you’ll get. Here is some inspiration to get you started:
- Gochujang Green Beans
- Air Fryer Chicken Wings
- Grilled Korean BBQ Pork Ribs (Dwaeji Galbi)
- Dakgangjeong (Sweet and Spicy Korean Fried Chicken)
- Bibim Guksu (Korean Spicy Cold Noodles)
There is no substitute for gochujang. If you don’t have any, earmark the recipe for when you can get your hands on some!