“Korean moms hold it down,” says K.C. Kye, founder of K-Mama Sauce. “Hard work, a war-torn country, refugees.”
His mom’s hot sauce recipe is surely his inspiration, but you can hear in Kye’s voice that his mother inspires him, hot sauce or no.
“The spirit of tenacity and friendliness in the logo— I’m shouting out my mom and all Korean moms,” he says. “People get it. Sometimes they buy the t-shirt or the apron without even trying the sauce.”
The K-Mama logo is a red, blue, black, and white circle (the colors of the Korean flag) with a top-knotted lady in the center, grinning widely.
The sauce itself resonates with young Korean people, says Kye, because every Korean mom makes a version of gochujang. “It’s like how every Minnesota mom knows how to make a hot dish, with a little more potato or a little more of this or that.”
Having been raised on his mom’s version, and watching her go through the long process every time the household needed it, Kye thought it was time to learn the formula, tweak it for a new generation of eaters, and bottle it.
He’s done just that, and the Minnesota-based brand can now be found in 15 states, and possibly soon, in Korea. (“I get the chile paste from Korea and they send it here," he says. "Soon, I might be sending it back to them, so we laugh about that.”) He's still working on the 18-month shelf stability that would make the sauce store-ready for overseas.
K-Mama sauce is only five ingredients, one of the imperatives for Kye's take on the recipe. “I love Sriracha, but I don’t love the ingredients list,” he says. Kye says he has a predisposition for high blood pressure, so Xantham Gum, phosphates, and sodium are a no-go for him. Since he started out selling the farmer’s market circuit, he knows those things are a no-go for much of his customer base, too. His sauce only contains five ingredients, and it’s five ingredients that even children can pronounce, he says.
“Kids actually love this stuff. They put it on eggs, pizza, whatever.” He says he’s tinkered with over 100 versions of the sauce before he finally settled on this one, available in four iterations: original, spicy, gluten-free, and gluten-free spicy.
The sauce tends to resonate with anyone who knows and has grown up on traditional gochujang, says Kye. When he’s at trade shows and international students come and taste, they instantly recognize the flavor profile.
While the sauce is versatile enough to add to any food, it goes especially well with hoedeopbap, the seafood version of the very trendy Korean rice bowl bibimbap. Kye's mom, Sun, grew up in Busan, a large port city in South Korea, so she was raised eating a lot of seafood. The sauce is also great with poke, sushi, or even oysters.
Sun is pretty tickled about it all, though Kye says she went through a period of being flummoxed by the whole thing.
“She was baffled that I was selling her stuff for a living, but now she sells it too. She hustles harder than I do.” Of course she does. She's a mom, after all.
And here’s an additional deal-sweetener. K-Mama donates 30 percent of it’s profits to charity. Kye was a minister for 10 years and then worked in government, and his passion for social consciousness is at least as robust as his affinity for hot sauce.
For a full list of where to purchase K Mama, visit the website, kmamasauce.com