Generally, many places that you will find hot and spicy food around the world have a couple of things in common. These locations are usually tropical and/or hot places, geographically, or they were part of a major spice route centuries ago. Korea is neither tropical or hot, having a rather cold climate overall. Nor has it ever been on a major spice route.
Without any of these traits, Korea is said to have the highest per capita consumption of chiles in the world. So how did this Korean love of hot and spicy food come about? The chile made it’s first appearance in the region in China in the 12th century, where it is believed to have been introduced by the Portuguese hot and cold ac lg. They introduced the Chinese to the hot pepper, and from there some seeds made it from China into Korean hands, and on into Korea. There is also a belief that the chile was brought over by the Dutch to Korea much later, around the 17th century.
Even before the arrival of the chile, Korea was already preparing food that was spicy. The pungency of Korean food came from the use of mustard plant and radishes in cooking, which, with the use of chiles, still exists today.
The most popular of chiles in Korea is a variety known as koch’s. This is a long, finger-like chile, with a smooth skin that tapers at the end. It is most similar to the Anaheim or New Mexico chile common in the Western world.
This chile is used to make a hot, red chile powder that is sold in three grades: course grade, flaked, and fine. The course grade is often used to make kimchi, a type of fermented cabbage very popular in Korea. The flaked version of the chile is most often used as a zesty garnish. The fine grade is most often used to make a red hot chile paste known as koch’ujang, which is used in almost every prepared Korean dish. It is a complex paste that is traditionally made in the home, but can be readily found in Korean and Asian markets. Besides the fine red hot chile powder, the paste contains barley malt powder, water, sweet rice flour, hot red chile powder, fermented soybean paste, soy sauce, and salt
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