Doubanjiang and gochujang are spicy pastes used in Asian cooking. Both contain beans and are sources of umami and saltiness. You can use them to add deep and complex flavors to food. Doubanjiang is called the soul of Sichuan cooking, and gochujang is one of the fundamental elements of Korean food. Because they are both Asian bean pastes, you might be tempted to believe that they are the same and that you can switch them without consequences, but this is not always the case. The SPICEography Showdown below compares them so that you can see what each will bring to your table.
How does doubanjiang differ from gochujang?
Doubanjiang and gochujang are each made with different ingredients. Doubanjiang is made from fermented broad beans and chili peppers while gochujang is made from fermented soybeans that the Koreans called meju combined with dried red pepper powder (gochugaru), salt and rice flour.
Because each fermented bean paste has a different function in their respective native cuisines, doubanjiang and gochujang do have different flavor profiles despite having similar ingredients. Doubanjiang is saltier and has a more intense fermented flavor than gochujang, which is sweeter and tangier. Gochujang can have a range of different spice levels. Doubanjiang is typically relatively mild, unless it is labeled as la doubanjiang. The la in the name indicates that it is a spicy variety.
Along with the differences in flavor, the two pasts have contrasting consistencies with doubanjiang being chunky and gochujang smooth.
Doubanjiang will be easier to find in many Asian grocery stores in the West since many of these stores cater more to the Chinese immigrant demographic than to those from other Asian countries.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
Doubanjiang can be an effective substitute for gochujang, but only in marinades and similar seasonings for uncooked dishes. On its own, it is too salty and the flavor too pungent to be used in the same kinds of table condiment applications in which gochujang is usually used. Both pastes are typically diluted before use, but doubanjiang needs to be diluted more. It will also lack gochujang’s sweetness, but you may be able to compensate for this by adding a sweetener.
On paper, gochujang looks like a decent substitute for doubanjiang, but it lacks the same intense umami and is considerably sweeter. It can work, but the difference between the two will be noticeable in dishes that call specifically for doubanjiang. Note that gochujang will caramelize faster than doubanjiang because it contains a sweetener. Keep an eye on it to keep it from burning.
Doubanjiang and gochujang can be used interchangeably as long as you are not following established recipes. Their umami profile and heat can work in a variety of Western-style dishes, especially those cooked over an open flame. Use either to season ribs, pork chops or chicken before grilling them over high heat.
When should you use doubanjiang, and when should you use gochujang?
The higher salt level in doubanjiang and more intense savory flavor are a couple of the reasons that it is traditionally used to marinate uncooked food or added to frying oil and not as a table condiment. Traditional applications for doubanjiang include mapo tofu and Hunan chicken. Gochujang is used as a table condiment served with bibimbap. It can be used to season dishes before cooking them as well. Korean cooks add it to marinades for bulgogi.