The Three ‘Jangs’ of Korean Cuisine

Youn Seng Min

Hello guys and girls! Another great week I hope. As we are nearing the end of the semester I have started paying for the crimes of my proscrastinations past. I really hope that I will eventually stop procrastinating. I am really looking forward to not having to deal with the three-hour commute everyday…

Anyway, today’s article is going to be about the basis of all Korean dishes: Gochujang, Doenjang and Ganjang. Without these three fermented goods, Korean cuisine wouldn’t be anything like the one we know today. I’m sure many of you have been wondering about the sauces that nearly always end up on your table when you dine out in Korea. Unlike most western sauces which are oil or stock based, Korean sauces are made through fermentation of legumes or grains. Let me introduce to you the three ‘mother sauces’ of Korean cuisine and how they are made.

1) Doenjang(된장: which roughly translates to “thick sauce”) is actually a byproduct of ‘soup soy sauce’ production. Believe it or not this brown yellowish paste is made entirely from fermented soybean and brine! Making Doenjang used to be a huge part of Korean culture. During the early days of November, mothers would get together and create something called ‘Meju’. ‘Meju’ was made by pounding soybeans (soaked overnight then boiled in salt water) in to a mortar or coarsely grouding them in a milestone. Once the soybeans were battered into firm, chunky bricks, the bricks were left to dry and firm up in the cool shady parts of the house. Once the ‘Mejus’ were completely hardened rice straws or hay were used to tie them up for fermentation. Then, during the first month of the lunar year, these fermented bricks were washed(as mold often forms on the exterior of fermented products) and then sun-dried. After the drying process, these bricks were aged in jangdoks(the Korean pots you see in the picture aboce) with brine. Charcoal and chillies were often added for their antiseptic qualities. Once the fermentation is complete, the soy bricks are extracted and mashed into soybean pastes. This paste complements many Korean dishes. For instance the paste can be mixed with garlic and other condiments to create something called Ssamjang(쌈장) which is the sauce you most often see at Korean bbqs. The paste is also used to make one of Korea’s most iconic dishes: Doesjang Jjigae(Doenjang soup).

2) Guk-ganjang(국간장: which roughly translates to soup soy sauce) is a type of Korean soy sauce that is used as a fundamental seasoning for many Korean cuisines. When the brine from the abovementioned process of making Doenjang is boiled, it essential becomes Guk-ganjang. The name Guk-ganjang comes from the fact that this type of soy sauce is often used to season soup. Ganjang also serves as the base sauce for many dishes that are popular amongst foreigners such as Gablbi and Bulgogi.

3) Gochujang(고추장: red chili paste) is the base sauce of most of the red Korean dishes you have seen. It is a spicy fermented cocoction made from chili powder, glutinous rice, meju powder barley malt powder and salt. All the ingredients are mixed and placed into a jangdok and left to ferment for even years. Now adays, most Koreans opt to just buy mass-produced Gochujang from a grocery store. From Tteokbokki to Bibimbap, red dishes in Korea are seldom without Gochujang.

Indeed, these sauces are so painstaking to make that even making demi-grace seems like a stroll at the park. Perhaps now you know how they are made you’ll be able to better enjoy it the next time you see a dish that contains one of these sauces!

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