Korean food has a reputation for being red and spicy, but did you know that the red pepper is actually not native to Korea? It was introduced through trade in the 1600s… since then, Koreans definitely turned it into something uniquely their own. One such ingredient, gochugaru, is a powder made from dried chili peppers and is an essential Korean kitchen ingredient.
Yesterday, I had an amazing rooftop dinner cooked by @koreanfusion. Though she is a very talented chef, Seung also has a deep passion for wine…and her family also owns a farm that makes gochugaru. Hearing Seung talk about gochugaru like a fine wine was special.
Just like how you can taste the terroir of a wine, you can also taste the terroir of gochugaru. Different “vintages” of gochugaru have different characteristics—for example, the very dry growing season in 2012 produced very spicy peppers. It’s so spicy, in fact, that Seung creates a gochugaru blend using other vintages she has. And even within the same growing season, different harvest times produce different flavors. The first harvest is the best (and growers often would save some for themselves). The thickness of the pepper skin changes with the growing period and it affects the bitterness or sweetness of the peppers. All these characteristics are taken into account when picking gochugaru used for making kimchi versus ones for pickling or making soup.
I suppose in an age of factory farming and easy accessibility to ingredients in supermarkets, we tend to forget where our food comes from and how certain artisans are putting a lot of care and attention to their products. And even though I had heard this explanation from Seung before, hearing it again last night reminded me to really treasure our foods and ingredients and not forget where they came from. A very valuable reminder indeed.