Seasonings draw out the unique flavors of a dish’s ingredients, and various seasonings are used to create unique flavor combinations. Seasonings primarily consist of condiments and spices. Condiments are ingredients that contain salty, sweet, sour, spicy and bitter flavors. Spices lend their own scent to a dish, and spicy, bitter and crispy pastes can remove certain odors or enhance an ingredient’s original flavor.
Doenjang (soybean paste)
Doenjang and Ganjang are traditional Korean sauces that are made by fermenting soybeans. Their ingredients are rather simple: soybean, water and salt.
Soybeans, harvested in November and December, are boiled in water, pounded and then shaped into rectangular blocks called meju. These blocks of meju are dried throughout the winter for the first stage of fermentation. When meju is appropriately dried, Bacillus subtilis activates to prompt the fermentation process.
Then the fermented meju is put into a large clay jar with salt water. When the jar of meju has been stored for four to six weeks, it is then taken out and stored separately for more fermentation called ripening. The solid part of the meju becomes Doenjang, and the remaining liquid in the first jar becomes Ganjang.
Doenjang is primarily used to flavor Doenjang-guk (soybean paste soup) or Doenjang-jjigae (soybean paste stew). It also makes for a great dip like ssamjang for vegetables.
Japan’s miso is similar to Doenjang. Japanese miso has small particles and a sweet taste, while Korean Doenjang has a slightly rougher texture and a more earthy, salty flavor.
Ganjang (soy sauce)
Ganjang is used along with salt to season dishes, but since it is a fermented sauce, it is more mature and savory than salt. The leftover liquid from the jars that were used to make doenjang is then used to make soy sauce.
There are different kinds of Ganjang. Jin-Ganjang is used for braised or stir-fried dishes like Bulgogi. Guk-ganjang is suitable for seasoning soups and stews, as well as vegetable dishes.
Gochujang (red chili pepper paste)
Spicy Korean food comes from Gochujang and Gochugaru.
Good quality red chilies are dried under the autumn sun and then ground into a powder which is Gochugaru. This is mixed with a powder of meju (fermented soybean block), rice starch and salt water. The mixture is then stored for fermentation.
Its sweetness comes from fermented rice; its freshness is derived from beans; its spiciness originates from red chili pepper and its saltiness comes from salt.
It is used as a seasoning in various Korean dishes including seasoned vegetables, braised and grilled meat; it is used to improve the flavor of stews. Gochujang is used as a sauce in Bibimbap.
Chilies found in Vietnam and Thailand are much stronger than their Korean cousins. The heat of Koreanchili is subtle with a sweet aftertaste.
Gochugaru (red chili pepper powder)
Red chili pepper powder is the most widely used spicy flavoring in Korean cuisines, and the texture of the powder used depends on the dish.
Chamgirum (Sesame oil)
Sesame oil is produced by roasting sesame seeds and is widely used in combination with many ingredients and cooking methods. In particular, sesame oil improves the flavor of seasoned vegetables and meat seasonings. This oil is also used to imbue fresh food with its strong flavor and scent.
Ssam is a wrap with vegetables, grilled meat or cooked rice. Ssamjang is made with Doenjang and Gochujang, mixed together with assorted seasonings including onion, garlic, sesame oil and sugar. Combined, these ingredients make for a jang rich in flavor. Ssamjang is easier to eat as raw sauce compared to Doenjang and Gochujang. As it is eaten as raw sauce instead of heated, its nutrients or probiotics are kept better.