Ssamjang and gochujang are two of the most widely known Korean seasoning pastes. They both bring many of the same qualities to dishes but to differing degrees, which means that they are not always interchangeable. To learn more about how ssamjang and gochujang compare, check out the SPICEography Showdown below.
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How does ssamjang differ from gochujang?
Let’s start with the fact that ssamjang and gochujang are made up of different ingredients. Ssamjang consists of a fermented soybean paste called doenjang. Gochujang consists of chili powder, the same kind of fermented soybeans used to make doenjang as well as rice or other grains like barley.
Because they contain different ingredients, ssamjang and gochujang have different flavor profiles. Ssamjang has a stronger earthiness and umami when compared to gochujang. Gochujang’s flavor focuses more on its sweetness and the chili pepper flavor, even though it does have a subtle umami note.
Because gochujang typically contains a sweetener and doenjang (the other ingredient in ssamjang) won’t, ssamjang may be less sweet than gochujang. It will still have a subtle sweetness, but it will be diluted by the savory doenjang. Ssamjang will also contain sesame oil, garlic, and other seasonings that you might not get from the typical gochujang.
Their appearances also differ. Because ssamjang and gochujang both contain chili peppers, they are both red; however, ssamjang leans more toward the rusty orange shade of red while gochujang is a deeper red that is almost maroon. The consistencies of the two sauces also differ, with ssamjang being lumpy and coarse while gochujang is closer to smooth. Ssamjang has a looser, wetter consistency, while gochujang is thicker and denser.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
Ssamjang is a good substitute for gochujang because they contain similar ingredients, even though those ingredients are present in different proportions. Ssamjang’s flavor profile is usually formulated to focus more on the umami aspect of the sauce’s taste. Like gochujang, ssamjang is available in different heat levels, so it is possible to replace a mild gochujang with a mild ssamjang.
Gochujang can be an effective substitute for ssamjang since it has chili flavor and color backed up by umami from the soybean it contains. The problem is that gochujang is sweet, and the fermented soybean flavor is not as much to the forefront as it is with ssamjang. Equally noticeable will be the difference in the consistencies between the two. It will make a decent substitute in applications like marinades where it will be combined with other flavorful ingredients and the consistency may not be an issue.
When should you use ssamjang, and when should you use gochujang?
The classic way to use ssamjang is in the lettuce, perilla leaf or cabbage wraps called ssam from which the sauce gets its name. Ssamjang is a versatile sauce with a host of applications that go beyond that one dish. You can use it as a condiment for other popular Korean dishes like bibimbap or in the marinades for grilled meats. It works well when seasoning American-style barbecue, since it can provide heat along with a little umami that is similar to the flavor that soy sauce provides.
Use gochujang primarily as a dipping sauce. It works best as a spicy condiment. Think of it as hot miso. It also works well in marinades for the spicier Korean favorites like Korean fried chicken and tteokbokki.