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Gochujang Is the Spicy Ingredient Missing from Your Cabinet

Insta-worthy food trends are always popping up in your news feeds, some as passing fads (like edible bugs, eww!) and others that manage to make it onto our list of all-time faves (hello, avocado toast and sweet potato toast). By the looks of it, it seems like gochujang, a spicy Korean fermented pepper paste, might be making its way to the latter list.

Gochujang has a rich history in Korean cuisine (it's been around for more than 1,000 years), but the thick crimson paste made from chili peppers, sticky rice, fermented soybeans, and salt has been earning major foodie status everywhere for the last few years. Why? You can thank traditional Korean cooking being incorporated into restaurant menus and blogger recipes through the States, with fusion dishes that merge Asian flavors with American classics.

Although the spicy condiment is often used in places you'd typically see your standard hot sauce, gochujang is anything but basic. The sticky rice gives it a hint of sweetness while the chili peppers deliver a solid spicy kick, and the fermented soybeans help gochujang nail that elusive "umami" flavor. Because it packs such a big punch, it's often used to give dishes a deeper flavor, and it's generally mixed with other ingredients like sesame or butter rather than being used directly on top of dishes like you might do with Sriracha or Mexican hot sauce. (Love spicy food? Check out all the different hot sauces from around the world.)

"Fermented foods are super hot right now; they're basically like a probiotic—full of good bacteria that's good for your gut," says Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet. Adding to the potential health benefits, gochujang is also packed with capsaicin, a compound found in peppers that has been linked to increased metabolism and better vascular health.

But the biggest benefit of working gochujang into your regular cooking rotation is that, well, it tastes really freaking good. "I'd be eating it for the enjoyment of the flavor," says Gans. "I'm all about adding ingredients that will make you enjoy your food more when it's not high in calories."

Despite having such a distinct flavor, gochujang is surprisingly versatile—it spices up your go-to sides just as well as it holds down your main dish. Try gochujang in this recipe for pan-fried tofu or make this spicy butternut squash to heat up your menu and reach peak spicy meal #goals.

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Butternut Squash with Sesame and Gochujang

(Recipe and image courtesy of Rachel Pattison of Little Chef, Big Appetite)

Ingredients

  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 1.5 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1.5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon gochujang
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons sliced scallions
  • Pinch of sea salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Peel and seed butternut squash. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes.
  3. In a small bowl combine sesame seeds, vegetable oil, gochujang, soy sauce, and sesame oil.
  4. In a large bowl toss oil mixture with butternut squash. Spread squash on a rimmed baking sheet in a single layer.
  5. Roast for 15 minutes, remove from oven, and flip squash. Rotate baking sheet and roast again for an additional 15 minutes until brown and tender.
  6. Toss roasted butternut squash with sliced scallions and a pinch of sea salt. Serve warm.

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