I was introduced to this holy grail ingredient of Korean cuisine by the incredibly talented chef Marion Grasby. I made the classic Korean pork stir-fry using gochujang and it’s been a scandalously delicious affair from thereon. So, what exactly is gochujang?
Gochujang is a spicy paste traditionally made of red chili peppers (gochu-garu), fermented soybeans (meju), glutinous rice or sticky rice, and salt. Some recipes also use yeotgireum which is basically barley malt powder.
The fermentation process converts the glutinous rice into sugar, giving it a natural sweetness. However, many brands add refined sugar to achieve the right taste.
Traditional gochujang brings a prismatic tsunami of flavors to your food. Mind you, this stuff is remarkably hot. So use it in moderation.
Not sure which gochujang brand would be the right fit for you? Here are my top 5 recommendations:
5. Chung Jung One O’Food Gochujang Red Pepper Paste
My undying love for this brand is no secret to my family and browser history. Sweet, salty, savory – this medium-spicy gochujang is a bouquet of flavors.
Stir-fried pork, noodles, grilled chicken tasting flat despite doing everything right? Liven them up with just a spoonful of this paste. The flavors and level of spice are perfectly suited for palates that admire a subtle kick of spice with a lingering finish.
The paste includes rice syrup (not to be confused with corn syrup) which gives it an underlying sweetness. That being said, those who prefer more robust flavors will find it slightly lacking in umami.
4. CJ Haechandle Gochujang Hot Pepper Paste
Want to add some oomph into your tacos, sandwiches, meat, and seafood without alternating the flavor? I present to you CJ Haechandle gochujang, made in South Korea.
Depending on who you ask, the spice level is anywhere between moderate to throat-burning hot. I personally find it moderately spicy. I can fine-tune the outcome simply by adjusting the amount of gochujang. Those who have a very low spice tolerance should go for something milder than this.
Mind you that it’s a little on the sweeter side which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for certain dishes.
However, gochujang connoisseurs or people who have grown up eating spicy food might not find the flavors complex enough for their liking. The packaging could be better as well.
3. Sempio Gochujang Hot Pepper Paste
Wonderfully balanced taste with just the right amount of kick to elevate your dish- that’s Sempio gochujang in a nutshell. It’s a fantastic choice for kimchi, hot bibimbap, Korean-style pork, beef, chicken, and noodles.
It brings a great depth of flavors to barbecued dishes when used as a marinade or added to the sauce. Try making infusing a spoonful of it with mayo and lather generously on your burgers and don’t forget to thank me later.
This thing is like the Bordeaux wine of gochujang – not very sharp but splendidly flavorful and pairs well with just about anything. The quantity is huge and the quality justifies the price – that’s a win in my book.
2. Roland Foods Gochujang, Korean Fermented Hot Chili Paste
This chef-grade gochujang won’t burn your tongue off, instead, it will gently usher it to umami heaven. The addition of corn syrup gives it a palpable hint of sweetness, making it a worthy alternative to ketchup and basic hot sauces.
You can use it in practically every possible way gochujang can be used. I particularly enjoy cooking dishes like grilled chicken spicy beef bulgogi with it. You can also mix it with other sauces to spruce up the condiments for your burgers, sandwiches, and tacos.
The best kind of gochujang, according to me, is a well-balanced one and this is exactly it. All the prominent flavors in the paste are in perfect harmony which reflects in your dish.
If you want flaming hot, simply add more without worrying about altering the original taste of your dish. On the downside, if you are looking for something mind-blastingly hot, this ain’t it.
1. JeollaNamdo Gochujang Korean Hot Pepper Paste
For me, this brand of gochujang hits all the right notes. It’s loaded with, peppery, savory flavors and the addition of corn syrup does help to add a great deal of complexity to the paste.
Those who are used to eating spicy food will find the spice level medium at best. The super-balanced flavors of the gochujang make it a showstopping ingredient for ramen, bibimbap, stir-fried pork, kimchi, and a host of other dishes.
I even add a generous amount in my homemade barbecue sauce as well as pasta sauce when I’m feeling adventurous. To summarize, It’s hard to come across a gochujang paste as versatile as this one.
Conclusion – Do We Have a Winner?
News flash: taste is subjective. I can’t tell you which of the 5 above-listed brands would be perfect for you. Each one of them is great in ways others aren’t.
But just to give you a guideline – If your spice tolerance is one of your biggest flexes, give CJ Haechandle Gochujang a shot. It will be worth your while.
If you want something milder but loaded with flavors, I believe Jeollanamdo or Sempio would be the right choice. If you are a gochujang virgin and trying it out of pure curiosity, starting with Chung Jung might be a good idea.