Note: Born With Seoul is one of the more than 100 vendors — everything from Charlie Hustle’s t-shirts to Green Dirt Farm’s sheep’s cheese — who will be at CRAFT, our joint festival with Chick Events at Crown Center Plaza on Oct. 3-4. Go here for details and tickets.
Gochujang. Say it loud and proud like a high school football cheer. Go! Choo! Jahng!
Gochujang – ”gochu” means pepper and “jang” means sauce – is a Korean condiment made from red chili powder, garlic, miso, sesame oil and seasonings, as far as the version made and sold by Born With Seoul. Created by Korean-born Angela Hong and Nick Crofoot, the brand introduces the Prairie Village couple’s version of this traditional condiment used in everything from Korean BBQ pork to kimchi to bibimbap, a mixed rice and vegetable dish.
This savory, spicy and pungent condiment is a versatile staple in Korean cuisine. Hong and Crofoot decided to introduce a bottled version after thinking about how to introduce the condiment as a commercial product over the past two years.
“When we started dating, we ate and cooked Korean food all the time,” says Crofoot. “We couldn’t get gochujang except at speciality Asian food markets.”
The couple was frustrated by the lack of ingredients used for Korean cooking in the Asian food aisle at mainstream grocery stores. Further, store-bought versions from Asian food shops came as a paste that needed dilution by adding sugar, sesame oil, garlic and other ingredients to taste. For Hong and Crofoot, an authentic, healthy version of gochujang became a do-it-yourself project.
“Gochujang is a staple in every Korean kitchen. Every family uses slightly different ingredients.
We took my mom’s homemade recipe and adapted it,” says Hong, who moved to the U.S. as a child with her parents and four siblings from the town of Bopeyoung in central Korea. “Our gochujang is non-GMO, vegan, gluten-free and uses no preservatives. It’s healthy. We eat it every day.”
Hong and Crofoot began testing in January 2015, working closely with Hong’s mother Becky.
“My parents make everything from scratch,” says Hong. “They make their own tofu, gochujang, even wine.”
The couple tested various combinations of ingredients in different batches. Finally, they arrived at a recipe that represented the traditional condiment with the healthy qualities they desired. Gluten-free gochujang was important so that their gluten-sensitive daughter could eat it.
Born With Seoul offers two flavors of gochujang, a sweet, tangy style and the spicier original recipe which has more prominent sesame flavor.
The couple worked with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based small-batch food manufacturer, to refine and scale the recipe for production and bottling. Hong, a graphic designer, and Crofoot, an art director for an advertising agency, created the branding and labels. While neither of them have food manufacturing experience, they determined that the timing was right to bring a custom blend of gochujang to market.
“Tastes are changing. People want authentic flavor,” says Crofoot. “We thought it was a good time to do this.”
Hong cites kimchi, a traditional Korean fermented vegetable side dish that is spicy, sour and pungent, as an indicator of how Korean food has gained a foothold in mainstream American food culture. As Hong grew up around her parent’s generation, funky, flavor-filled kimchi was something only Koreans would eat. Kimchi’s pungency carried a stigma and generated embarrassment among Koreans worried that non-Koreans wouldn’t care for the flavor or taste. Today, more adventurous non-Asian eaters that seek authentic flavor and ingredients in ethnic cuisine have no reservation about such foods.
To their surprise, Hong and Crofoot have introduced kimchi to many friends that have quickly embraced the food. Kimchi and gochujang has become more commonplace as a flavor component used by Western chefs, such as Michael Corvino at The American Restaurant, not exclusive to Korean cooking. This shift has opened the door for Born With Seoul.
In time, gochujang may become the new sriracha, the Thai chili sauce made popular by a Vietnamese immigrant several decades ago.
Hong and Crofoot are pleased to have a version of gochujang that is readily accessible at their home and, hopefully, at households across Kansas City.
“We marinate pork with it, eat it with fresh vegetables and use it in lettuce wraps,” says Hong. “It’s like barbecue sauce or sriracha. It’s Korean ketchup that can be added to anything.”
“We want people to experience and make Korean food at home that’s full of flavor,” says Crofoot. “Born with Seoul makes gochujang more accessible to non-Koreans.”
Born With Seoul’s gochujang is sold online and locally at The Sundry and Funky Monkey Popcorn. Hong and Crofoot are working to expand distribution to more area specialty food stores.