Korean Sauces: How To Use Them In Your Dishes
Pic credits: Pinkybird on Unsplash
Have you ever been to Korea? A fascinating country with bustling streets and a vibrant economy home to a variety of delicious food. You can walk down nearly any street in Korea and be exposed to incredible smells and aromas of nearly every kind of food. Hundreds of restaurants and food stands line nearly every street and street corner. People can be seen eating delicious meals everywhere you look.
The native Korean food is rich in spices and unique flavors. Most of them are on the spicier side. If you’ve never sampled Korean food in your country before, try to find a Korean restaurant in your area. Chances are you’ll find a Korean barbecue-styled place. Chances are it will be busy!
In Asian countries, Korean barbecue places (also known as yakiniku in Japanese) have an all-you-can-eat option which is extremely popular. There is usually a time limit for how long a party can stay at their table, usually from 60 to 120 minutes. So each table in a restaurant will be occupied for that long. This leads to long waits at these restaurants. Reservations are a must! It can also be rather expensive depending on the quality of the course you select.
So if your local Korean barbecue joint has a line out the door every night, or if you are unlucky enough to live somewhere that doesn’t have one of these places at all, what are your options? Buy a plane ticket to Korea? (You could, but lines in Korea are just as long as anywhere else!) Why not try to recreate the restaurant experience at home? To do that, first, you’ll need the proper ingredients. Here are some special Korean sauces to try in your kitchen!
Pic credits: Maangchi
Doenjang is a basic soybean paste similar to miso paste from Japan. It’s made from the same basic ingredients found in soy sauce. Soy sauce is liquid, whereas doenjang is a thick brown paste. Its thick texture is due to the graininess of the ground-up fermented soybeans within. It’s a salty, earthy taste that seems more complex and thicker than Japanese miso paste.
Doenjang is often used as the Korean equivalent of miso soup (doenjang jjigae) and many other Korean dishes. It can be cooked into thin chunks of pork to make Maekjeok, or dissolved into garlic and corn syrup to create Gochu Doenjang Muchim. Doenjang Ramyun is a style of Korean ramen with doenjang, garlic, red chili pepper flakes, pork, egg, green onion, and bean sprouts.
Eating dishes with doenjang can give you some health benefits. It has anti-obesity, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory properties and can also help prevent high blood pressure. It can support good digestion and help suppress dementia. Doenjang even helps prevent heart disease and brain tumors due to its blood-purifying properties.
If you cannot read Korean and are not sure how to shop for doenjang in your local Asian market, fret not. Doenjang typically comes in a tan plastic tub similar to a butter tub in style. The simplest English translation would be ‘soybean paste’. It usually comes in 170g sized tubs, although there may be other sizes available depending on where you shop.
Pic credits: Love and Lemons
Both spicy and sweet at the same time, gochujang is another staple of Korean cuisine. It’s like a heavier version of Sriracha. It consists of chili powder, barley malt powder, fermented soybean powder, rice, and salt. Think of it as a spicier version of doenjang (it’s even made from the same fermented soybean base).
Gochujang is used as a crunchy coating to Korean fried chicken, as a topping sauce for bibimbap and salads, mixed into Korean rice cakes (tteokbokki) and kimchi fried rice, and many more delicious dishes. If you prefer more kick to your Korean cooking, extra spicy styles of gochujang are sometimes available. There is also a beef seasoned version.
Dishes with gochujang can also offer various health benefits. In fact, it contains zero fat and contains many antioxidants. The sauce can also help stabilize blood sugar levels and increase metabolism. Gochujang contains the compound capsaicin, and studies have shown that gochujang can serve as a natural fat burner and can also help prevent heart disease.
Translated in English, look for ‘red chili paste’ in your local Asian market. Gochujang usually comes in a red tub similar in size to doenjang.
Pic credits: Serious eats
Ssamjang is a thick spicy red paste composed of onion, garlic, green onions, gochujang, doenjang, sesame oil, and sometimes brown sugar. The name ssamjang comes from ssam (wrapping) and jang (fermented condiments like doenjang and gochujang). There are many types of wrapped food in Korean cuisine, and Korean culture generally associates wrapped food with good fortune.
Ssamjang is best known as a dipping sauce served with Korean barbecue. It is often served with Korean barbecue staples like bulgogi and galbi. Just like its name, it is also used in Korean lettuce wraps. Steamed cabbage wraps lined with ssamjang and rice are also popular. Ssamjang can be used in both cooked and uncooked recipes. The wraps are easy to make: just take a lettuce leaf and pile on toppings of rice, meat, ssamjang, and nearly anything else and roll it up.
There are many different versions of ssamjang available, and some are spicier than others. Some versions of ssamjang include finely chopped nuts or sesame seeds. Many Koreans prefer to make their own fresh ssamjang, but if you need to buy some, it generally comes in a bright green tub at Asian markets similar to doenjang and gochujang.
Doenjang, Gochujang, and Ssamjang are just three of the many different Korean seasonings and condiments that are used in Korean cuisine. If you really like Korean food and plan to prepare it a lot but don’t have an Asian market near your place, buying wholesale could be an option. Online wholesalers like Trustana⁴ offer these condiments and many more.