The Hype About Korea’s Red Pepper Paste

What is Gochujang?

Most if not all Korean restaurants and homes have this dark red Korean chile paste stocked in their refrigerators. It’s called gochujang (pronounced go-chu-jung) and it’s worth having this flavor-enhancer because just a spoonful of it adds sweet umami-packed spiciness to soups, marinades, sauces, and more. It’s made from chile peppers, sticky rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. It can be found at any Korean market, Whole Foods, or on Amazon.

Popular in Korea for centuries, as far back as the 9th century, it first appeared in the west about 100 years ago. Demand for this unique condiment has increased significantly in the past thirty years. This fermented, rice-based condiment has a garlic and chili flavor that makes it an ideal sauce for both Korean and non-Korean dishes. The original gochujang was something like pepper paste, but after the introduction of chili peppers to the region in the 16th century, this Korean staple got a boost.

So what’s the recipe for preparing gochujang?

The standard ingredients in most varieties include fermented soybean paste, red chili powder, glutinous rice, water, garlic, salt and a sweetener, either honey, sugar or corn syrup. Soy sauce and seed malt may be added to some variations, and special types may even include pumpkin, sweet potato, whole wheat kernels or barley. The variations depend on the region where it is produced, as well as the ingredients available.

How is it used – traditionally in Korean rice bowls called bibimbap, it gives kimchi its red color, in soups in place of tomato paste, toss with jarred tomato sauce to add complex flavor to pasta dishes, or mix with ketchup to create a gochujang dipping sauce for fries. It also melds well with barbecue flavors or stirred in with marinades.

Is gochujang gluten-free?

Not always: sometimes it has added wheat, so it’s best to check the label. Gochujang paste is not the same with store-bought Gochujang sauce, which might have additional ingredients mixed in. It will last up to two years in the refrigerator. Sriracha can be a substitute for gochujang, although thinner and has much more garlic flavor.

A single serving is about 20 grams or represents 45 calories. Nutritional benefits are from its base ingredients, though most are in small quantities. But studies have found that it also contains certain probiotics and the compound capsaicin, along with small amounts of fiber, sodium, and protein. Health benefits? They include its beneficial effects on gastrointestinal health, the immune system, energy levels, stress, and cardiovascular health.

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