Gochujang: Putting the Spice into Korean Food

 

Gochujang (고추장, hot pepper paste) is one of the most beloved spices in Korea. Whether it’s used to dip a green chili pepper in, or resting upon a bowl of Bibimbap piled high with vegetables, gochujang is just the thing to whet your appetite.

Gochujang is Korea’s traditional fermented condiment. It is a red hot paste made of steamed rice or barley, rice cake powder, or rice porridge mixed with fermented soybean powder, salt, and red pepper powder.

The true taste of gochujang lies in the balance of sugary rice and malt, and tasty soybean paste and spicy red pepper. Aside from having its own unique taste, gochujang is a perfect complement to any food and adds an extra special something to a variety of dishes, from salads to roast meat and fish.

 


Although Korean cooking is often associated with other condiments like doenjang (된장, soybean paste) and ganjang (간장, soy sauce), gochujang is the most quintessentially Korean condiment of them all. Gochujang came into existence in the late 16th century and was widely used in Korean food in the late Joseon Dynasty. It is still being used today as the key ingredient to give Korean dishes that special taste that we all know and love.

Gochujang, along with kimchi (year earlier), has been registered with the Codex Alimentarius Commission, an organization that aims in part to maintain and promote food quality on an international level.

 

The Health Benefits of Gochujang

 

Gochujang contains abundant nutrients benefiting the human body: protein, fat, vitamin B2, vitamin C, carotenes, and more. Capsaicin is the naturally-occurring compound found in peppers: it’s what gives gochujang its spicy taste. Capsaicin is believed to have anti-bacterial effects, prevent diseases and facilitate recovery by helping cleanse out body systems, reduce body fat, and prevent obesity. In addition, the beta-carotenes and vitamin C found in gochujang are believed to have anticarcinogenic and antimutagenic properties.

Koreans love the spicy taste of gochujang and often eat it as part of a meal when they feel stressed out or down in the dumps. Often, eating spicy food causes sweating and makes one feel refreshed, a feeling associated with the chemical processing of capsaicin in the body.

 

Dishes Using Gochujang

 

Gochujang is widely used in all kinds of Korean food to give them their signature taste. Specifically, it is an important ingredient in bibimbap, tteokbokki (rice cakes in hot sauce), gochujang stew, and bibimguksu (noodles with vegetables and gochujang). Gochujang is also a key component in a number of other Korean stews, fried foods, and salads that are grabbing the attention of food lovers worldwide.


Shopping Tips

Types of Available Gochujang

 

Gochujang is sold either in a plastic tub or a tube in portions varying from 200g to 2-3 kg. Some manufacturers offer products that have different degrees of spiciness, usually with the categories: mild, slightly hot, moderate, very hot, or extremely hot.

There are different types of gochujang, too. For instance, "fried gochujang with beef" is used for bibimbap and chogochujang (gochujang with vinegar) is used to flavor sliced raw fish or bibimguksu. If you aren’t sure which product is right for you, ask a sales assistant.


Expiration Date and Storage

 

The average expiration date of gochujang sold in the market ranges from 12 to 18 months. It needs to be stored in a cool and dry place and must be refrigerated after opening.