Kitchn Love Letters

The 2 Korean Pantry Staples I’m Constantly Buying in Bulk

published Sep 16, 2022
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Credit: Photo: Paola + Murray; Food Styling: Barrett Washburne

Earlier this year, I shot a video for Kitchn highlighting my top five essential Korean pantry ingredients. Half of the commenters were appalled that I didn’t include gochugaru or gochujang. Truthfully, I didn’t include these two ingredients because they are so iconically Korean that they need no introduction, or to be included in a list, because they are THE list. 

My kitchen is never without a bag of Taekyung gochugaru and the biggest bright-red tub of Choripdong gochujang. I’ve tried the wide variety of gochugaru and gochujang products over my many years as a home cook and former pop-up chef — relying on phone calls to my mother whilst standing in the grocery store aisles — to eventually hone in on these two favorites.

What’s So Great About Taekyung Gochugaru and Choripdong Gochujang?

Gochugaru is made by drying Korean red chile peppers, deseeding them, then pulverizing them into a powder. Removing the seeds sets gochugaru apart from your standard red chile flakes, resulting in a less spicy, more smoky-subtly sweet flavor profile. 

Taekyung gochugaru uses peppers that are dried in the sun to create that signature smoke and flavor. You can see this labeled as “sun-dried,” or “taeyangcho” in Korean. To maximize freshness, I store my gochugaru in the freezer — you don’t want to use it if the burnt red color of the red pepper flakes start to get dull and brown.

Gochujang is a fermented Korean red pepper paste made by combining gochugaru with fermented soybean powder, malt barley, and salt. The spice level of gochujang can vary, and that info is usually indicated on the label on a scale of one to five. I prefer to using one on the low- to mid-spice level, so I can adjust the heat as needed. Store gochujang in the fridge to preserve it indefinitely. It will continue to naturally ferment, getting thicker, darker, and more concentrated in flavor.

Credit: Irene Yoo

What’s the Best Way to Use Taekyung Gochugaru?

There are two different kinds of gochugaru: coarse, which is often used for making kimchi, and fine, which is often used for making gochujang. Which kind you choose for general cooking is up to you. I like to have both on hand, so I can garnish a scallion salad with a sprinkle of coarse gochugaru and make a super-smooth sauce for ddukbokki (spicy rice cakes) with the more finely ground type. Another option: Use a mix of both!

Buy: Taekyung Gochugaru Korean Red Pepper Powder, $7.99 for 1 pound on Weee!

What’s the Best Way to Use Choripdong Gochujang?

Gochujang is the basis for many Korean soups, stews, and spicy dishes. I use Choripdong gochujang as both a flavoring and thickening agent, after which I can adjust the heat level as needed by adding gochugaru or other spices. A dollop of gochujang can go a long way in a kimchi or doenjang jjigae, or even in a bowl of instant ramen. The uses expand outside of the Korean food realm as well — it’s my secret ingredient for a deeply flavored Bolognese sauce

When using gochujang, don’t just dollop it onto a sandwich like a condiment; the paste will be too rich and salty. Gochujang works best when it’s melted into a sauce or stew. Make a quick dipping sauce by whisking gochujang with a splash of rice vinegar and a sprinkle of sesame seeds, or dissolve a spoonful into some simmered beans to add depth and a little kick.

Buy: Choripdong Gochujang Authentic Korean Hot Pepper Paste, $16.99 for 1.1 pound on Amazon

What pantry staples do you stock up on all year round? Tell us in the comments below.