What are Korean jangs?

These fermented sauces form the essential flavour of Korean cuisine. Know your gochujang from your ganjang with our handy explainer (with some recipes, too).

By Lisa Featherby
The history of Korean cuisine and indeed the Korean state itself has its roots in jangs and fermented foods. Paul Lee, of Korean fine foods importer Table 181, gives us the lowdown.

1. Eojang: fish sauce

Eojang, made from fermented and brined oily fish, is punchy and salty with a complex fish note. It's made with a single species, so there are mackerel eojangs, anchovy eojangs alongside hundreds of other varieties. The flavours vary but they're all made in basically the same way: fish are fermented whole, packed with 25 per cent of their weight in salt and left for 12 months. Flavours such as kombu, dried citrus peel, shiitake and dried radish are then added, and it's left for another two months.
Eojang packs a fishy punch used raw, but when it's cooked it can cede the foreground to other ingredients, boosting their flavour.

2. Ganjang: soy sauce

Traditional Korean soy, ganjang (gan means "to season" in Korean) contains only soy beans, salt and water, and takes a minimum of eight months to make. The beans are boiled, crushed and dried, then after about a week, shaped into blocks bound with rice straw (the straw encourages mould growth), and left to ferment for two or three months.
The resulting soy-bean bricks are then washed, brined and stored in onggi (Korean earthenware crocks). The initial result is virgin soy sauce, which is clean, yet rich and, though unconventional, incredible with Iggy's bread and butter. If aged, it becomes thicker, darker and more rounded. Double-brewing, meanwhile, sees the previous year's soy added to the new soy to brew further.

3. Doenjang: fermented bean paste

Doenjang, which resembles miso, is the fermented soy bean paste left over from making soy sauce: the solids at the base of the soy-sauce pot become doenjang bean paste.
Doenjang has a strong, pungent, salty flavour that's tangy and bitter raw – not unlike Vegemite – but when added to dishes as a seasoning it adds savoury richness with an aromatic backbeat. Doenjang can also be made from black beans, and is a key ingredient in many soups and stews.

4. Gochujang: chilli bean paste

Gochujang is a fermented chilli paste made from glutinous rice, Korean chilli powder and a little dried ground fermented soy bean (ground from the same fermented bean bricks used in soy sauce).
Gochujang has a relatively mild heat – serve it with Korean pancakes, deep-fried dishes or meat. It can also form the base of other jangs, such as cho-gochujang, a versatile vinegary sauce made by combining gochujang with soy sauce, sugar (or maesil-cheong, a sweet plum extract), sesame oil and vinegar. This sauce is great with raw fish and oysters and raw beef, or used as a salad dressing.

5. Cho Ganjang: soy-vinegar sauce

Cho ganjang is a common household sauce in Korea, though each household will have their own version. It goes very well with Korean pancakes, deep-fried dishes, and meat, but it really comes into its own served with raw fish.
To make it:
  • Dissolve 2 tbsp caster sugar in 250ml virgin soy over gentle heat,
  • Add 1 tbsp rice vinegar, and
  • A pinch of sesame seeds or ground pine nuts.
The sugar doesn't act as a sweetener here so much as a counterpoint to the salty taste of the soy.
Recipe by Idylle Lee.

6. Yangnyeomjang: seasoning sauce

Yangnyeomjang is the great all-rounder. It's well-suited to congee, bibimbap, tofu dishes and noodles, and also works in marinades or with banchan, Korean side-dishes. As with cho ganjang, every household will have their own recipe.
To make it
  • 60ml virgin soy
  • 2 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1 tbsp chopped spring onion
  • 1 tbsp each finely chopped red and green chilli
  • ½ tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • 2 tsp Korean chilli powder.
    Season to taste with salt.
Recipe by Idylle Lee.

7. Ssämjang: spicy dipping sauce

Ssämjang is the jang commonly served with bo ssäm, barbecued meat served with leaves for wrapping. It's made with a blend of roughly equal parts doenjang and gochujang, with the addition (among other things) of spring onion, garlic, and sesame oil, all sweetened with grated Korean pear or clear corn syrup. Apart from its traditional pairing with bo ssäm, try it with bulgogi or simply over vegetables.