If you’re a lover of sauce, at some point you may stumble into the world of Korean dipping sauces. Welcome to paradise. The Koreans have a long history of using flavorsome condiments as part of a dish, or for dipping other ingredients into.
Two of the more common sauces are ssamjang and gochujang. In cooking, they have similar uses, but are they essentially the same thing? We’re about to take a close look at how they compare and if any significant differences exist.
A comparison of ssamjang and gochujang
Ssamjang is a salty, spicy sauce that is a mix of gochujang and duenjang, combined with sesame seed, garlic, and sesame oil. It has a mildly sweet and nutty undertone, but the dominant flavor is pungent umami – the result of fermented soybeans. It has a very smooth texture, although you’ll sometimes find bits in it, such as chili seeds.
Like most sauces, there are many different recipes for making ssamjang. A range of additional ingredients can be used to make the sauce, including anchovies, brown sugar, ground beef, or dried shrimp. However, they always have the core ingredients: gochujang and duenjang.
Gochujang is a Korean fermented chili paste that is a mix of hot, sweet, and savory all rolled into one. Although it does have a kick of heat, it isn’t overwhelming like some others, such as ghost sauce.
It has a smooth texture, making it ideal for use as a flavorsome dip. Gochujang ingredients will vary depending on who makes it; however, the main components are chili peppers, fermented soybean paste, rice powder, and salt. We previously wrote about the best substitutes for gochujang in case you need an alternative.
Find out what the best ingredients are if you need to replace sambal oelek in a recipe.
Comparing their uses in cooking
Ssamjang is commonly used as a dipping sauce. Barbecued meat and vegetables will both benefit from this condiment’s spicy, umami flavor. Also, fried octopus benefits from the addition of ssamjang – this dish is called jjukumi ssamjang.
A favorite use is to make Ssam, a popular dish in Korea. Leaves from lettuce or cabbage are used to wrap small pieces of meat, rice, and a little dollop of ssamjang paste. Everything is rolled into a ball, making it easy to eat out of hand – the ideal street food.
Gochujang is excellent in stews, soups, dips, and as a marinade on meat dishes. One of its best-known uses is in bibimbap, Korea’s national rice dish. It is a plate that includes rice, gochujang, soy sauce, kimchi, and a selection of chopped vegetables. An egg is usually added to the plate for extra color and flavor.
Defining the sauces
Ssamjang: Ssam means “to wrap,” and jang means “paste.”
Gochujang: Gochu means “chili pepper” and jang means “paste”.
What is Doenjang?
Doenjang is a brown paste that is made from fermented soybeans and shares similar flavor characteristics to miso. However, doenjang has a punchier flavor than miso. Although it is used as an ingredient in ssamjang, it is excellent for adding depth of flavor to rice, vegetables, meat, or soup.
What brand is best to buy?
Chung Jung One is a South Korean producer that make ssamjang. Their brand is a mild version, ideal for Korean rib, barbecue meat, or bulgogi. You can check Chung Jung One out here, along with loads of customer reviews.
If you’re in need of gochugang then this Korean Chili Sauce is a great option. Perfect for adding to chicken wings, bibimbap, or as a dipping sauce.
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Can I use ssamjang instead of gochujang?
Both are spicy Korean sauces that have similar uses in the kitchen. A Korean who’s grown up with these sauces could quickly tell the difference between the two; however, the average newcomer to Korean sauces would never know the difference. Each sauce could be used interchangeably in recipes. Indeed, you wouldn’t ruin your food by replacing one with the other.
Ssamjang and gochujang are both Korean bbq sauces that are delicious used for dipping or to spice up vegetables and meat. They have similar flavors, with around half of ssamjang being made of gochujang.
So which one should you buy? If you’re looking to make bibimbap, or want a dipping sauce that’s spicy with a hint of sweetness, choose gochujang. Need to make ssambap or enjoy pungent, umami flavored dipping sauces? Then opt for ssamjang.
There’s no need to over-think these sauces, though. They are similar in appearance, texture, and taste. For most non-Korean eaters, the differences would go unnoticed at the dinner table.
Have you tried either of these sauces? Let us know what you think of them in the comments below.