Korean Air and Asiana Airlines serve a variety of in-flight meals on their international flights including bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables and beef), spicy galbi (grilled beef ribs), bibim guksu (mixed noodles) and dwaeji bulgogi (Korean-style barbecued pork). Bibimbap, in which rice and vegetables are mixed with gochujang or red pepper paste, is so popular that seven out of 10 passengers choose them, whether they are Korean or from other countries. This shows the huge potential of gochujang to win over the tastes of people around the world.
Gochujang, which symbolizes the spicy flavor of Korea, was recognized as distinct food by the Codex Alimentarius Commission in Rome, which opened on Tuesday. There were reportedly difficulties in convincing officials how gochujang was different from tabasco sauce. In the end, Codex officials were convinced that unlike tabasco, which is made using tabasco peppers, vinegar and salt, and aged in white oak barrels, gochujang is a fermented food product and uses starch as its main ingredient. The commission also recognized its Korean name as the official name. Until now, gochujang was referred to as "Korean hot pepper paste" or "red pepper sauce."
Unfortunately, doenjang was not recognized as a uniquely Korean food because various Asian countries engaged in fierce competition to have miso (Japan), tauco (Indonesia), see ieu (Thailand), tao si (Philippines) and chi ang (China) recognized as their own unique food products. In the end, Codex did not choose any particular food and opted to refer to all of them as "fermented soybean paste."
Established in 1962, Codex is a global body that sets and manages international standards on food, including those for food additives or contaminants to ensure the safety of food products bought and sold around the world. This is the second time that a Korean food was recognized as a global standard using its Korean name. The first was kimchi. Kimchi and "kimuchi," the Japanese version of the fermented cabbage dish, had been used together, but in 2001, kimchi was recognized as the global standard, enabling Korea to take back its trademark dish.
Until now, countries that limited imports of gochujang justified their move by claiming it was not registered according to international standards. Now that gochujang has been internationally recognized, Korean food in general has a chance to gain global recognition. It may even be necessary to present a variety of different flavors of gochujang to different markets, perhaps as an alternative to barbecue sauce in the United States and as a spicy rival against sriracha sauce in Thailand.
By Chosun Ilbo columnist Kim Dong-seop