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[Opinion] Doenjang

Posted March. 24, 2005 22:45,   


Gochujang and Doenjang are among the most essential elements in Korean cuisine. While Gochujang, red pepper paste, tastes pungent and spicy, Doenjang, or bean paste, soothes our tongues with its uniquely Korean, savory taste. There is literature going back hundreds of years regarding the “Five Virtues” of Doenjang: keeping its own flavor even when mixed with other ingredients; remaining unspoiled for long periods of time; getting rid of fishy or nasty flavors; easing spiciness; and harmonizing well with any kind of food.

Doenjang has long been one of the most loved items in Korea, both as a food and as a type of folk medicine. Up until a few years ago, most parents applied some Doenjang on bee stings or scratches first when their children got hurt playing outside. Then after a couple of days some scabs formed over the hurts, which would soon heal up. Though they could not prove the efficacy of Doenjang scientifically, our ancestors knew by experience that it is good for skin diseases and injuries.

Doenjang lovers proudly assert that Doenjang is “the most savory wonder drug in the world.” Researchers say the food prevents a variety of adult diseases by improving blood circulation, while neutralizing the poisonous effects of alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy metals. There was also a report that those who have Doenjang stew on a daily basis are less likely to develop stomach cancer. There are even rumors that popular Japanese food items such as “Misoshiru” and “Natto,” which have ingredients similar to ones found in Doenjang, greatly contribute to Japan’s reputation as the nation with the best longevity record in the world.

A recent report, conducted by Prof. Park Geon-young and his colleagues in the Department of Food and Nutrition at Busan National University, suggests that Doenjang is also effective in reducing obesity. The study shows that a 143-gram mouse experienced a sharp increase in its weight to 287.4g after being fed high-fat foods for a month, while another mouse of the same weight got less fatter, weighing 246.6g after being provided with a mix of Doenjang and other foods. It seems that the recent fad of “Cheonggukjang (fermented soybean paste) Diet” makes some sense. I sincerely hope that Doenjang will make its way into every corner of the globe as a representative “Korean Wave” product, especially at a time when Korea faces difficulties in its diplomacy. I feel really proud of Doenjang.

Song Young-eon, Editorial writer, youngeon@donga.com