You can find almost anything online and the range of Korean products, both edible and not, can be too numerous to count. For anyone who wants to try making Korean dishes at home or want to inject a little Korean flavor into their dishes, you may become overwhelmed by the sheer number of products online, especially if you can’t read the Korean characters.
That’s okay. We did all the decoding for you, and we focused on the most popular of the sauces and pastes that are ready for you to just mix in to create a delicious Korean-inspired dish.
There are actually about a handful of important sauces and paste that you need to know about to truly get the feel of Korean flavors. Learn all about these Korean sauces and pastes, and find out which is which with this easy guide on what these sauces actually are, plus how to use it when cooking:
1 Gochujang Paste
The most popular and best selling of the pastes is the gochujang, or hot pepper paste. This is a fermented chili paste made from gochugaru, the Korean red chili flakes, soybeans, rice flour, barley, salt, a rice syrup, and purified water. It takes months of fermentation to create the deep, dark red color of the paste. Once it’s made, the result is a spicy paste that has both heat and a delicate fruitiness to the kick.
How To Use It: To use in recipes, it’s just a matter of scooping up what you need or want to add to your dishes to make it spicy. It easily dissolves in liquids, especially hot liquids, but is soft enough to be spreadable. This is what tops bibimbap bowls and what makes tteobokki and spicy Korean chicken or buldak look like delicious neon red-hued bites.
2 Doenjang Paste
Doenjang or soybean paste is also another fermented paste. Unlike the gochujang, this is made with soybeans and is a salty condiment. This is very similar to the Japanese miso paste. Some say it’s actually even stronger, deeper flavor than miso paste and isn’t quite as perishable because it’s been fermented for a longer period of time.
How To Use It: Just like the gochujang, this paste easily dissolves in liquids and is the common ingredient in mapo tofu and the Korean version of the miso soup, doenjang guk.
3 Ssamjang Paste
If you frequent ssamyupsal or Korean barbecue, you should know this paste. This is ssamjang, or the chunky soybean paste that is actually a combination of gochujang and doenjang plus a few other aromatic and delicious ingredients. (Sesame oil makes it super aromatic.) This is commonly used as a dip or paste to spread on lettuce leaves. While it has both salty and spicy flavors, the saltiness is the predominant flavor in this paste.
How To Use It: This is fantastic to use as-is for your Korean barbecue nights but for those who want to add both an intense saltiness with a little heat to a dish, this is a great alternative to having both pastes taking up space in your refrigerator.
4 Tteokbokki Sauce
Contrary to popular belief, those long rice cakes you love as snacks are not called tteok-bokki. Tteokbokki is the spicy dish that is commonly served as streetfood that has the garaetteok. Tteok means rice cake and those long cylindrical rice cakes are actually called garaetteok. Tteokbokki is frequently served with eomuk or fish cakes and boiled quail eggs.
How To Use It: This sauce can be found as either a sauce or a powder that you can dissolve in water to create the signature spicy red sauce.
5 Bulgogi Sauce
When it comes to your first introduction to Korean cuisine, we wouldn’t be surprised if it was the beef bulgogi that first met your taste buds. This is sweet, savory barbecue sauce is addictive! For those who love spicy barbecue, some bulgogi sauces come complete with gochujang stirred in to make seasoning it unnecessary. Made from a base of soy sauce hence the familiar savoriness of the sauce, it’s also got peaches and pears added to the thickened sauce to give it not just sweetness but also a tenderizing quality that’s perfect for beef.
How To Use It: To use this premade sauce, prepare your meat as desired (usually thinly sliced beef). Add enough bulgogi sauce to coat the meat and marinate at least 30 minutes to 1 hour or up to overnight before cooking on the grill or in a frying pan.
This premade sauce is perfect for beef but its flavor is versatile enough to be used for almost any other meat, too, including chicken and pork. There are bulgogi sauces that are made specifically for other meats so peruse the shelves and glance at the labels to see if you have the right one for the meat you want to cook.
6 Kalbi or Galbi Sauce
You might wonder what the difference is between bulgogi and kalbi sauces since both are essentially barbecue sauces. The big difference is really that the kalbi (or galbi as it’s sometimes called) is made specifically for beef short ribs while bulgogi is most popularly made with thinly sliced beef. Another big difference is that kalbi is almost always grilled or broiled, but never fried.
How To Use It: Use this like you would bulgogi sauce: To use this premade sauce, prepare your meat as desired (usually thinly sliced beef). Add enough kalbi sauce to coat the meat and marinate at least 30 minutes to 1 hour or up to overnight before cooking on the grill or in the oven.
7 Japchae Sauce
This glass noodle recipe is a famous side dish. This is what you order when you’re craving some pasta with your Korean fried chicken. Japchae (or chapchae as it’s sometimes called) is made from noodles made from sweet potato starch which gives it that signature translucency. The sauce meanwhile is a simple combination of bulgogi sauce for the meat in the dish plus soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and veggies. The result is a simple pancit-like recipe that’s fast and easy to make.
How To Use It: Since this too is a premade sauce, prepare your japchae recipe as stated in the recipe. When ready to toss the noodles with the rest of the ingredients, pour in enough sauce to season the entire noodle dish as desired.
All these Korean products can be found in the Asian aisle of your local major supermarket, at Korean groceries, or online groceries including via Lazada and Shopee.
Thinking about what to cook next? Join our Facebook group, Yummy Pinoy Cooking Club, to get more recipe ideas, share your own dishes, and find out what the rest of the community are making and eating!
Got your own version of the classic dishes? Pa-share naman! Get your recipe published on Yummy.ph by submitting your recipe here!