Can celiacs eat gochujang?

Quick Answer

Gochujang, also known as Korean red chili paste, is a popular condiment in Korean cuisine that contains wheat flour as one of its main ingredients. Since celiacs cannot tolerate gluten, a protein found in wheat, most celiacs need to avoid gochujang. There are some gluten-free gochujang options made without wheat flour, but they are less common. Celiacs need to carefully read labels and check with manufacturers to determine if a particular brand of gochujang is safe to eat.

What is Gochujang?

Gochujang is a savory and pungent fermented Korean condiment made from chili peppers, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. It has a deep red color and a spicy, slightly sweet flavor. Gochujang is a staple ingredient in Korean cooking and is used to flavor and give dishes a signature red color.

Some of the common uses for gochujang include:

– Adding it to stews, noodles, and soups for flavor and color. Popular dishes like kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew) and tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes) rely on gochujang.

– Using it as a dipping sauce or condiment for grilled meats and vegetables.

– Mixing it with sesame oil and rice vinegar to make ssamjang, a spicy dipping sauce.

– Adding it to marinades for meat and tofu to lend a sweet, spicy kick.

– Spreading it on sandwiches in place of ketchup or hot sauce.

The name “gochujang” combines the Korean words for chili pepper (gochu) and paste/condiment (jang). While the basic ingredients remain consistent, the specific proportions can vary between different brands and regions in Korea. The savory, complex taste of gochujang comes from the fermentation process, which can take anywhere from a few months to several years.

Main Ingredients in Gochujang

Gochujang contains the following main ingredients:

– Chili peppers – Usually Korean red chili peppers known as gochugaru. They provide the signature red hue and spicy heat.

– Glutinous rice or sweet rice – Called meju in Korean, the steamed rice is fermented with soybean powder to create the base for gochujang.

– Soybeans – Soybeans are boiled, steamed and then mashed into a powder. This adds protein and savory umami flavor.

– Salt – Added for preservation and seasoning.

– Malt powder or barley malt – Made from fermented barley or sweet rice, this adds a subtle sweetness.

– Wheat flour – Many recipes call for a small amount of wheat-based starch like flour, though gluten-free recipes omit this.

– Fermented anchovy sauce or kelp – Optional extra flavorings.

The specific proportions of each ingredient can vary between different manufacturers. But a typical recipe combines more chili pepper than the other ingredients for the signature spicy kick of gochujang.

Does Gochujang Contain Gluten?

Most traditionally made gochujang contains a small amount of wheat flour or other wheat starch. Since wheat contains gluten, this means regular gochujang is not gluten-free.

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity cannot consume gluten, as it will trigger an autoimmune reaction and damage to their digestive system.

The wheat flour added to gochujang acts as a thickener and binder. It helps give gochujang a thicker, sticky texture compared to just hot pepper paste alone. A small amount of around 1-3% wheat flour is typical in recipes.

Some producers may also add other wheat starches like vital wheat gluten to act as stabilizers in gochujang. All forms of wheat contain gluten and must be avoided on a gluten-free diet.

It is impossible to determine if gochujang contains gluten simply by looking at it. Testing the exact concentration of gluten or wheat protein would require specialized laboratory equipment. So celiacs need to thoroughly check the label ingredients or contact the manufacturer to determine if a particular brand of gochujang is gluten-free.

Risks of Gochujang for Celiacs

For people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, ingesting gluten triggers inflammation and damage to the small intestine. Some of the common symptoms after eating gluten include:

– Diarrhea, bloating and gas
– Abdominal pain and cramping
– Fatigue and joint pain
– Headaches and “brain fog”
– Rashes and skin issues
– Nausea and vomiting in severe cases

While the amount of wheat flour in gochujang is relatively small, it can still cause issues for those who are highly sensitive. Even tiny traces of gluten from cross-contamination can be enough to trigger symptoms and set off an autoimmune reaction for celiacs.

Research shows the only treatment for celiac disease is maintaining a strict lifelong gluten-free diet. Going gluten-free allows the gut to heal and symptoms to be managed. Consuming gochujang with wheat would make it difficult or impossible for those with celiac disease to manage their condition.

Are There Any Gluten-Free Gochujang Options?

As awareness of gluten-free diets increases, some companies have begun producing gluten-free versions of gochujang made without wheat. This offers those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance a way to enjoy traditional Korean dishes.

Gluten-free gochujang substitutes the wheat flour for other starch thickeners like:

– Potato starch
– Arrowroot
– Sweet rice flour
– Tapioca flour
– Xanthan gum

Some producers may also omit starch altogether. Checking the label to confirm no wheat, barley, rye or malt is present is important for celiacs purchasing gluten-free gochujang.

There are a few specialty brands that make gluten-free gochujang, though availability may be limited depending on where you live. Asian grocery stores in areas with large Korean populations may carry gluten-free gochujang options. You can also find it online from certain specialty retailers.

When shopping for gluten-free gochujang, look out for labels that specifically say “gluten-free” on them. Contacting the manufacturer directly can also help determine if their production process avoids any cross-contamination with gluten.

5 Gluten-Free Gochujang Brands

Here are 5 recommended gluten-free gochujang brands to look for:

1. Chung Jung One – Certified gluten-free gochujang made without wheat.

2. Kwang – Lab tested to have less than 5 PPM gluten. Marked gluten-free.

3. Pure Korean – Gluten-free gochujang product.

4. Yaejip – Gluten-free version uses potato starch instead of wheat.

5. Ceci Cela – Gluten-free label; made in a dedicated facility.

Again checking labels and contacting the manufacturer to confirm gluten-free status is advised when purchasing any gochujang replacement. Processes can change over time.

How to Make Your Own Gluten-Free Gochujang

For the most control over ingredients, making DIY gluten-free gochujang at home is an option for celiacs and the wheat-sensitive. This allows you to steer clear of wheat flour and substitute it with gluten-free starches.

Here is a simple 5-ingredient recipe:

Gluten-Free Gochujang

Makes 1 Cup

– 1⁄2 cup Korean red pepper powder (gochugaru)
– 3 tablespoons glutinous rice flour
– 2 tablespoons fermented soybean paste (also called meju)
– 1 tablespoon sugar
– 1⁄4 teaspoon salt


1. In a small bowl, mix together the rice flour, soybean paste, sugar and salt until combined. Set aside.

2. In a food processor or blender, blend the gochugaru red pepper powder until it becomes a fine powder.

3. Add the dry ingredient mixture from Step 1 to the food processor. Blend again until thoroughly combined.

4. Transfer the mixture to an airtight jar and let it ferment at room temperature for 1-2 days.

5. Store the finished gochujang paste in the fridge for up to 6 months.

The fermentation process helps develop the signature complex umami flavor. But this gluten-free gochujang can be used immediately after blending if you want to skip the fermentation.

Feel free to adjust the spiciness up or down by adding more or less gochugaru powder. And try substituting in other gluten-free starches like tapioca or arrowroot flour instead of rice flour if desired.

Gochujang Substitutes and Alternatives

For celiacs following a strict gluten-free diet, substitutions will be necessary in recipes calling for traditional gochujang with wheat. Here are some alternative condiments to use in place of gochujang:

Sriracha – Made from chili peppers, vinegar, garlic and sugar, sriracha packs a punch of heat and sweetness. It makes an easy swap in dishes like soups, stir-fries and marinades. Just note sriracha has a much thinner consistency than gochujang.

Harissa – A North African chili pepper paste flavored with spices like cumin, coriander and garlic. It adds vibrant heat and works nicely in stews or marinated meats.

Gochugaru (Korean chili flakes) – For kimchi jjigae, tteokbokki or other recipes focused on the spice, simply using additional gochugaru chili flakes can help make up for the missing gochujang.

Miso Paste – The fermented soybean flavor of miso can approximate some of the savory umami notes missing without gochujang. Best for soup and broth recipes.

Pureed Sun-Dried Tomatoes – Blending sun-dried tomatoes with garlic, vinegar and spices produces a thick sauce that can stand in for the texture and flavor of gochujang.

Harissa-Miso Hybrid – Mixing equal parts gluten-free harissa and miso pastes together makes an easy DIY substitute for the complex flavors of gochujang.

Depending on the specific dish, the recipe may need some tweaking to balance flavors, spices and consistency after swapping out the gochujang. But these substitutions help provide the hot, savory and subtly sweet notes typically contributed by gochujang.

5 Gluten-Free Korean Recipes without Gochujang

Here are 5 delicious gochujang-free Korean recipes that celiacs can safely enjoy:

1. Kimchi Fried Rice

Kimchi and scrambled eggs flavor this easy gluten-free fried rice. Get the recipe here:

2. Dakgangjeong (Crispy Korean Fried Chicken)

This crispy fried chicken is coated in a spicy gluten-free sauce. Recipe here: https://www.

3. Haemul Pajeon (Seafood Scallion Pancakes)

Savory seafood pancakes with tender squid and shrimp. Get the recipe:

4. Yachaejeon (Korean Vegetable Pancakes)

Vegetable-packed savory pancakes that make a filling main or side dish. Recipe here:

5. Bulgogi Meatballs

These sweet and savory baked bulgogi-style beef meatballs are a satisfying gluten-free dish. Get the recipe:

Is Gochujang Healthy Despite the Gluten?

While traditional gochujang does contain wheat, it offers some health benefits from its other antioxidant-rich ingredients. However, the gluten makes it unsuitable for anyone following a gluten-free diet for medical reasons.

Some of the beneficial nutrients found in gochujang include:

– Capsaicin – The compound that gives chili peppers their heat has anti-inflammatory effects. It may also promote fat-burning.

– Vitamin C – From the red chili peppers. This acts as a powerful antioxidant and immune booster.

– Vitamin A – Helps maintain healthy vision, boost immunity and benefits skin health.

– Iron – Assists in transporting oxygen in the blood to give energy. Important for preventing anemia.

– Potassium – An essential mineral that regulates fluid balance and nerve signals while lowering blood pressure.

– Fiber – Aids digestion and gut health. The fermentation process increases the fiber content.

The chili peppers in gochujang give it an ORAC value over 10,000 μmol TE/100g, a very high antioxidant capacity that can counter oxidative stress in the body.

However, those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity would miss out on these benefits and instead experience setbacks to their health if they consumed regular, wheat-based gochujang. Gluten-free gochujang allows avoiding the harmful effects of gluten while still providing the nutritional bonuses of the other ingredients.

The Bottom Line – Should Celiacs Avoid Gochujang?

Here is a quick summary of the key points:

– Most traditionally made gochujang contains wheat flour or wheat starch, meaning it is not gluten-free.

– People with celiac disease or gluten intolerance should not consume regular gochujang, as the gluten causes intestinal damage and adverse symptoms.

– Gluten-free versions of gochujang made without wheat do exist, though can be harder to find. Properly labeled gluten-free gochujang is the safest option.

– Alternatively, you can make homemade gluten-free gochujang using substitutes like rice flour instead of wheat flour in the recipe.

– If you need to swap gochujang in a recipe, ingredients like sriracha, harissa or miso paste can provide similar spicy and umami flavors.

– While gochujang has some nutritional benefits, these are outweighed by the harm of gluten for those with medical conditions requiring a gluten-free diet.

The verdict is that most celiacs will need to avoid standard gochujang containing wheat and be cautious of potential gluten cross-contamination. But gluten-free gochujang products and substitutions do offer ways for celiacs to enjoy traditional Korean dishes. Being diligent about reading labels and sourcing certified gluten-free brands remains key for safely eating gochujang with celiac disease.

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