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Ssamjang: Unveiling the Versatility and Substitutes of Korean Spicy Sauce

Exploring Ssamjang: The Versatile Korean Spicy Dipping Sauce and Its Substitutes

Ssamjang, a popular Korean spicy dipping sauce, is a delightful combination of gochujang and doenjang, enhanced with garlic, scallions, sesame oil or olive oil, and a touch of sugar. With its rich and robust flavors, Ssamjang is a versatile condiment that adds a delightful kick to a variety of dishes.

In this article, we will delve into the origins, uses, and versatility of Ssamjang, as well as explore some substitutes for this beloved Korean staple.

What is Ssamjang

Ssamjang is a traditional Korean condiment that elevates any dish it accompanies. It is made by combining gochujang, a Korean spicy fermented red chili paste, with doenjang, a fermented soybean paste.

These two ingredients are the backbone of Ssamjang, giving it a distinct umami flavor and a perfect blend of heat, sweetness, and depth. Garlic, scallions, sesame oil, or olive oil, and a touch of sugar are added to enhance the flavors and round out the taste profile of this wonderful sauce.

Uses and Versatility of Ssamjang

The versatility of Ssamjang knows no bounds. It can be used as a dipping sauce for fresh vegetables, such as cucumber sticks, carrot slices, or radishes.

The sauce adds a delightful spiciness and depth to raw vegetables, making them more enjoyable to eat. Ssamjang is also commonly used as a condiment for wraps, whether it be lettuce wraps filled with marinated meats or traditional Korean ssam (wraps) made with various grilled meats.

In addition to being a dipping sauce and a condiment, Ssamjang shines in cooked dishes as well. It adds a burst of flavor to kimchi-jjigae, a traditional Korean stew made with kimchi and pork.

Ssamjang can also be used as a glaze or marinade for grilled meats, providing a tantalizing combination of spiciness, sweetness, and umami. It brings depth and complexity to stir-fries and salads, and even finds its way into seafood pancakes, known as haemul pajeon, where it provides a zesty kick.

Substitutes for Ssamjang

If Ssamjang is not readily available, fear not, as there are several substitutes that can create a similar flavor profile.


Gochujang, the primary ingredient in Ssamjang, can serve as an excellent substitute on its own.

This hot pepper paste is made from Korean red chili peppers and fermented soybeans. It brings both heat and sweetness to dishes and can be used as a marinade or a base for sauces, such as a Korean-style BBQ sauce.


Another substitute for Ssamjang is doenjang, a fermented soybean paste. Although doenjang lacks the spice of Ssamjang, it is rich in savory flavors and can add depth to dishes.

It works particularly well as a marinade for meats or a base for sauces.

Sambal Oelek

Sambal Oelek, a chili pepper paste, is another substitute that can bring a burst of flavor to your dishes. Made from chili peppers, salt, and vinegar, this paste offers a mild heat alongside its sweetness and richness.

While it may not have the complexity of Ssamjang, it can still provide a satisfying experience.

Chili Garlic Paste with Sesame Oil

For those seeking a bit more spice, chili garlic paste with sesame oil can be an excellent substitute for Ssamjang. This paste combines the heat of chili peppers with the robust flavor of garlic and the umami notes of sesame oil.

It can be used as a condiment or as an ingredient for stir-fries.

Miso Paste with Sesame Oil

Miso paste, combined with sesame oil, can also be used as a substitute for Ssamjang. Miso paste is made from fermented soybeans with the addition of salt, koji, and sometimes rice vinegar.

The resulting paste offers a unique umami flavor that works well as an all-purpose seasoning. When combined with sesame oil, it creates a delightful and versatile alternative to Ssamjang.

Unique Flavor of Ssamjang

Ssamjang boasts a distinctive flavor profile that sets it apart from other condiments. The combination of doenjang and gochujang creates a harmonious blend of savory, spicy, and slightly sweet notes.

Doenjang, with its fermented soybean base, introduces rich umami flavors to the sauce. On the other hand, gochujang adds a kick of heat with its fermented chili pepper base.

Together, these ingredients create a depth of flavor that is difficult to replicate. The unique taste of Ssamjang comes from the fermentation process of its key ingredients.

Fermentation not only enhances the flavors but also adds nutritional benefits to the condiment. During fermentation, the natural enzymes break down the proteins and complex carbohydrates, making it easier for our bodies to digest and absorb the nutrients.

Difficulty in Finding Ssamjang and Substitutes as Alternatives

Although Ssamjang is readily available in Korean grocery stores and increasingly in mainstream supermarkets, it may be challenging to find in certain areas. Those living in regions with limited access to Korean ingredients may struggle to locate Ssamjang.

In such cases, it’s helpful to be aware of suitable substitutes that can recreate the flavors and experience of Ssamjang. When looking for substitutes, it’s essential to consider the similarities in flavor, texture, and overall profile.

While no substitute can perfectly mimic Ssamjang’s unique combination of ingredients, several alternatives come close in delivering an enjoyable eating experience.

Gochujang, for example, captures the spiciness and sweetness of Ssamjang, albeit without the added complexity of doenjang.

Doenjang itself can also be used as an alternative, contributing its distinctive savory flavor to dishes while lacking the spice of Ssamjang.

Assurance of Flavor Enhancement with Substitutes

While it may be disappointing not to find the exact Ssamjang, these substitutes offer a level of flavor enhancement that can still satisfy your cravings.

Gochujang, with its fermented chili pepper base and soybean undertones, provides a similar heat and sweetness to Ssamjang.

Its versatility makes it a suitable substitute, allowing you to enjoy the spicy kick and umami richness it adds to various recipes.

Doenjang, as a standalone substitute, adds depth and complexity to dishes, especially when used as a marinade or incorporated into sauces. Its earthy flavors lend themselves well to grilled meats, stews, and Korean-style BBQ dishes.

While it may not provide the spiciness of Ssamjang, it offers a robust flavor profile that can enhance many savory dishes.

Sambal Oelek, a chili pepper paste made from ground chili peppers, offers a simpler alternative that still imparts heat and a touch of sweetness. Although lacking the fermented complexities of Ssamjang, it can provide a vibrant burst of flavor to dishes.

It works well as a condiment or as an ingredient in marinades and sauces, particularly when paired with aromatic ingredients like garlic and ginger. Chili garlic paste with sesame oil provides another substitute with a spicy and robust flavor profile.

The combination of chili peppers and garlic creates a piquant and zesty taste that can add excitement to any dish. The addition of sesame oil brings depth and umami, enhancing the overall experience.

Miso paste combined with sesame oil offers a more savory alternative reminiscent of Ssamjang. The fermented soybean base of miso paste provides a rich umami flavor that works well as an all-purpose seasoning.

When combined with sesame oil, it creates a delightful substitute that can provide the depth and complexity associated with Ssamjang.


Ssamjang is a beloved Korean dipping sauce that brings a unique blend of flavors to any dish. Its combination of gochujang, doenjang, garlic, scallions, sesame oil or olive oil, and a touch of sugar creates a sauce that is both versatile and delicious.

However, if Ssamjang is not available, there are suitable substitutes such as gochujang, doenjang, sambal oelek, chili garlic paste with sesame oil, and miso paste with sesame oil. These substitutes can add depth and flavor to your dishes, allowing you to still enjoy the essence of Ssamjang even without the original sauce itself.

So go ahead and explore the rich and spicy world of Ssamjang and its substitutes – your taste buds will thank you!

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