Health Benefits of Gochujang (Korean Red Pepper Paste)

Medically Reviewed by Christine Mikstas, RD, LD on June 10, 2024
4 min read

As the world grows smaller owing to globalization, foods that were previously only available in certain areas can now be enjoyed by anyone, anywhere. One such food is known as gochujang, a Korean red pepper paste. 

Gochujang, also spelled kochujang or Korean fermented red pepper sauce is an ethnic food that dates back to the 16th or early 17th century. It is still prepared the same way, using the same ingredients and following the same process for thousands of years.

The main ingredients that make up this spicy paste include red pepper; fermented soybean powder (meju); grains such as white, brown, and glutinous rice; barley; and wheat. 

To make Korean red pepper paste, mix red pepper powder (25%), glutinous rice (22.2%), meju powder (5.5%), salt (12.8%), malt (5%), and water (29%). Place the mixture in an earthenware pot or jar and leave it for 6 months or up to 1 year to ferment

Today, gochujang is widely accepted as a condiment and is used in the same way you would use ketchup. Some people will drizzle it over a bowl of rice, while others will use it as a marinade. 

The reason it is so popular is due to its flavor and numerous reported nutritional values.

Gochujang is packed with nutrients that help your body in a number of ways. Some of the vital nutrients found in Gochujang include:

Vitamin C: for the growth, development, and repair of all body tissues, as well as maintaining your immune system

Protein: helps to build and repair muscles, bones and to make enzymes and hormones 

Sodium: necessary for your body to maintain fluid levels

Dietary fiber: helps your gut, prevents constipation, and aids bowel movement

Vitamin A: important for vision, growth, cell division, reproduction, and immunity

Iron. Helpful in making hemoglobin and myoglobin, both of which are instrumental in transporting oxygen through the blood

In addition to these nutrients, the chili in gochujang is rich in three main bioactive compounds. These are carotenoids, capsaicinoids, and flavonoids, all of which are excellent antioxidants. They slow down or prevent damage caused by substances that your body makes to respond to environmental and other pressures. 

Experts think that the therapeutic effects of gochujang come from capsaicin. This compound is abundant in red pepper, which accounts for 25% of gochujang. Considering that 100g of gochujang contains 5mg of capsaicin, it’s no wonder this food is very beneficial.

Traditionally, gochujang is used to add flavor to rice while aiding the digestive system. It contains the digestive enzymes amylase and protease. The former is instrumental in the breaking down of starch, and the latter helps break down proteins. 

Of course, not all of the nutritive components of gochujang are universally desirable. Some will avoid it due to relatively high sodium content, and others will pass it up because they’re worried about the sugar and glutinous rice.  

However, since it’s possible to eat Korean red pepper paste in small quantities, it is not a bad idea to try it once.  

In recent years, a lot of research has been conducted to study the medical benefits of gochujang. Korean red pepper paste is even registered with the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is an organization that promotes international food quality. It is now widely accepted that gochujang can be instrumental in weight loss and the treatment of diabetes.

Gochujang and weight loss. According to a Pusan National University study, gochujang can be conducive to weight loss. The study aimed at treating fat cells with gochujang extract. The results showed a decrease in fat accumulation. This food can also help reduce the risk of contracting coronary heart disease due to its low cholesterol. 

Capsaicin, one of the active components in chili peppers used in making gochujang plays an important role in increasing metabolism and energy expenditure, helping you to lose weight faster. Numerous studies have looked into more sources of capsaicin as it is widely accepted as an important compound in the fitness and dieting industries.

Gochujang and diabetes: Diabetic rats were fed a high-fat diet containing two different types of 5% gochujang for 8 weeks. Results showed that gochujang improved glucose homeostasis by reducing insulin resistance. Glucose homeostasis is the balance of glucagon and insulin that maintains blood glucose levels.

More studies have also linked capsaicin to anticancer, antiobesity, antidiabetic, and pain- and itch-relieving effects. However, it is worth noting that most of these studies were conducted on animals.  

As mentioned, it can take up to a year just to get gochujang ready for consumption. Although many people are now looking for faster ways to make it at home, it is best when done the traditional Korean way. 

How long your red pepper paste will last depends on how you store it. Excluding the time spent in preparing and fermenting, gochujang can be preserved for up to 2 years if well preserved and refrigerated. 

Fun fact: The longer gochujang is left to ferment, the more flavorful it will be.

There are so many ways you can eat Korean red pepper paste. Feel free to experiment with different dishes and recipes, adding to the adventure of this wonder food. If it is your first time, you may want to go with chicken first. It goes well with almost all types of meat.