By Rachael Link, MS, RD
If you’ve tried kimchi or bibimbap, there’s a good chance you’ve tried gochujang. This spicy paste is common in many types of Korean food, and for good reason.
Besides bringing a unique flavor to the table, it is also jam-packed with health benefits. It’s good for your heart and waistline, can help stabilize blood sugar levels, and is even rich in antioxidants.
Plus, it can be used in many different dishes, from roasted vegetables to marinated meats, and can be conveniently purchased or made right from the comfort of your own kitchen.
What Is Gochujang?
Gochujang, or red chili paste, is a fermented condiment that is frequently used in Korean cuisine. It is known for its distinct flavor, which is equal parts sweet, savory and spicy.
Typical ingredients of red chili paste include gochugaru (red chili powder), glutinous rice, salt, mejutgaru (fermented soybean powder) and yeotgireum (barley malt powder).
This condiment is available in varying levels of spiciness based on a standardized measure called the Gochujang Hot Taste Unit (GHU). Gochujang products can range from “mild hot” all the way to “extreme hot.”
Gochujang is frequently used to spice up salads, stews and meat dishes. It can also be found in traditional Korean dishes like bibimbap. Also known as bi bim bap or bibimbop, this is a popular food that typically contains rice topped with vegetables, gochujang, soy sauce and fermented soybean paste, along with eggs and slices of beef.
In addition to being rich in flavor and versatile, gochujang is also high in beneficial compounds that can bestow some powerful benefits to your health.
Is Gochujang Good for You? 5 Gochujang Benefits
The top five benefits of gochujang include its ability to:
- Stimulate fat loss
- Help prevent heart disease
- Increases metabolism
- Decrease blood sugar
- Supply antioxidants
1. Stimulates Fat Loss
Besides adding a punch of flavor to just about any dish, some studies have found that gochujang may also be able to help trim your waistline and act as a natural fat burner.
One study from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Pusan National University in Korea treated fat cells with gochujang extract, which decreased fat accumulation and blocked the formation of new fat cells. (1)
An animal study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology in 2016 had similar findings, showing that gochujang decreased body weight and body fat and also inhibited certain enzymes linked to fat cell formation in rats. (2)
The fat-busting benefits of gochujang are likely due in part to the presence of capsaicin, a compound found in chili peppers that has been shown to increase the breakdown of fat to promote weight loss. (3)
2. Helps Prevent Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death, accounting for an estimated one in three deaths in the United States. (4) Research shows that gochujang may be able to reduce certain risk factors of coronary heart disease, helping protect and preserve the health of your heart and keep it working efficiently.
In one study, 60 overweight adults used a gochujang supplement or a placebo for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, not only did those who took the supplement see decreases in visceral fat, but their triglyceride levels also significantly dropped by approximately 18 mg/dL. (5)
The previously cited study published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology showed that gochujang decreased triglyceride levels by nearly 34 percent and bad LDL cholesterol levels by up to 47 percent in rats.
In combination with a well-rounded diet and regular exercise, incorporating a few servings of nutritious red chili paste into your meals each week could help keep your heart healthy and strong.
3. Increases Metabolism
In addition to revving up fat loss, gochujang and its components could also speed up your metabolism and help you lose weight fast.
A study out the Laboratory of Biochemistry of Exercise and Nutrition at the University of Tsukuba in Japan showed that including 10 grams of red pepper with a meal significantly increased energy expenditure directly after eating. (6) Other research, such as findings from the Department of Nutrition Science at Purdue University, shows that capsaicin, an active component in chili peppers, may be able to increase metabolism and energy expenditure as well. (7)
To maximize your weight loss and amp up your metabolism, make sure you’re also following a balanced diet and getting in regular exercise.
4. Decreases Blood Sugar
High blood sugar can cause symptoms like increased thirst, headaches, frequent urination and fatigue. Left untreated, chronic high blood sugar can cause serious damage to your organs and nerves.
Gochujang may be able to help you maintain normal blood sugar levels and sidestep these negative symptoms thanks to the beneficial properties of capsaicin, one of the active compounds in chili peppers. Both animal and human studies have shown that capsaicin can help decrease blood sugar levels while also increasing levels of insulin, the hormone that is responsible for transporting sugar out of the blood and into the tissues. (8, 9)
Keep blood sugar levels even lower by pairing your gochujang with a high-fiber, whole foods diet and plenty of low-glycemic fruits, non-starchy vegetables and healthy protein foods.
5. Contains Antioxidants
Antioxidants are powerful compounds found in your foods that act by neutralizing harmful free radicals. These are dangerous molecules that can build up and contribute to the development of chronic disease over time. Chili peppers are one of the main ingredients in gochujang and are brimming with beneficial antioxidants.
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and tea are other high antioxidant foods that you should include in your diet.
How to Make Gochujang
Making traditional gochujang at home can be a time-consuming and laborious process, with some recipes requiring preparation one to two days in advance and up to 12 hours of total combined prep and cook time.
However, simplified gochujang recipes are available, allowing you to get adventurous in the kitchen and try something new without an extensive time commitment on your part. Making your own gochujang can also be an excellent solution for those with allergies or sensitivities, as it can allow you to swap out and modify the ingredients that you use to make varieties like gluten-free gochujang.
Here is a quick and easy gochujang sauce recipe that you can try at home:
- 1 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup miso
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup gochutgaru (red chili powder)
- 1 teaspoon sake
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- Heat a skillet over medium heat and add brown sugar and water. Stir until brown sugar has dissolved, then add miso and minced garlic and continue mixing until well-combined.
- Next, stir in gochutgaru and allow the mixture to thicken, usually signified by the formation of bubbles.
- Turn off heat and allow to cool to approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit or almost to room temperature.
- Stir in rice vinegar, sake and salt to help stop the fermentation process.
- Once paste has cooled completely, transfer to a jar or sealable container and refrigerate. This paste keeps well, so feel free to enjoy in recipes or as a condiment over several months.
At this point, you might be wondering where to buy gochujang if you’re pressed for time and looking for an easier way to add it into your diet.
Thanks to its increasing popularity, though, it isn’t usually too hard to find. In fact, it is often available at many grocery stores as well as specialty Asian stores and online retailers.
Gochujang is incredibly versatile and can be incorporated into many different dishes. You can use it as a marinade to make gochujang chicken for a stir-fry, throw it in with some veggies and seafood for a gochujang soup, or even mix it up to make a delicious gochujang dipping sauce.
Alternatively, you can use this spicy condiment to make stews, roasted vegetables, salad dressings or even gochujang sauce for bibimbap.
Recipes to Add Gochujang To
Ready to give this flavor-packed condiment a try? You can easily add it to your next batch of soup or even use it as a marinade for meat dishes. If you’re looking for a simple gochujang recipe to make, here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Asian-Style Oven Roasted Carrots
- Gochujang-Glazed Salmon
- Sweet Spicy Gochujang Chickpea Lettuce Wraps
- Gochujang Roast Potatoes
- Korean Kimchi Meatloaf
Gochujang Substitute Options
If you’re ever in a pinch and making a recipe that calls for gochujang without any on hand, there are substitutes available that can provide a similar flavor profile to dishes.
For a homemade substitute, try combining one tablespoon of red chili pepper with a small amount of soy sauce to form a paste and sprinkle just a dash of sugar to add some sweetness.
Sriracha sauce can also be used to add a spicy zing that mimics gochujang. Keep in mind that there are some noticeable differences in taste and texture, so it may not be a suitable substitute for all dishes.
In addition, Thai chili paste can be swapped in as well. This has a spicy, sweet taste and a thick texture that is more comparable to Korean chili paste but still has a stronger garlic flavor than gochujang.
Gochugaru, or Korean red chili pepper, is the main ingredient found in both gochujang and kimchi. It comes from ground-up Korean gochu, a one-of-a-kind peppper that is responsible for both the spicy taste and unique flavor of these Korean staples.
Interestingly enough, while there are many other varieties of chili pepper grown around the world, none can be used in place of Korean gochu. Even cheongyangkochu, a mix of Korean gochu and Thai gochu, cannot be made into gochujan as it would be far too spicy to consume. Other types are even spicier. In fact, nagajolokia (Indian pepper) is up to 1,000 times spicier than Korean gochu.
While it is a common belief that the Korean gochu stems from the introduction of the Central American red pepper into Korea during the Japanese invasion, this is not actually true. Researchers note that these peppers would have needed to evolve over a period of millions of billions of years to become the modern Korean gochu that is used today. Instead, it’s believed that gochu was transferred by birds who ate the seeds and brought them to Korea.
Gochu has been cultivated for thousands of years in Korea and can be found in historical texts as far back as 233 A.D. Some evidence suggests that it may have started growing on the Korean peninsula long before, however, and may even date back billions of years. (13)
Today, gochugaru is a principal ingredient in Korean cooking. From spring rolls to gochujang to marinades and more, gochu can help add a burst of fiery flavor to dishes of all kinds.
You should avoid gochujang if you are allergic or have a sensitivity to any of its ingredients. If you experience any symptoms like hives, itching or swelling after consumption, discontinue use immediately and consult with your doctor.
The amount of capsaicin present is generally safe to consume. However, high amounts of capsaicin have been associated with adverse effects like stomach pain, diarrhea and nausea for some people, so enjoy in moderation.
Spicy foods can also cause acid reflux in some individuals. If you experience negative symptoms after eating spicy foods, you may want to avoid gochujang and consider an acid reflux diet.
- Gochujang is a condiment made from red chili powder, glutinous rice, salt, fermented soybean powder and barley malt powder.
- It can be used in everything from soups and stews to spring rolls and sauces and can be either purchased pre-made or prepared at home.
- Gochujang and its components have been shown to promote weight loss, kick up metabolism, improve heart health, lower blood sugar levels and supply antioxidants.
- Adding red chili paste to your next roasted veggie dish or marinade can help boost both the flavor and health benefits in every bite.
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