Last Updated on December 29, 2020 by Michael Joseph
Cheonggukjang is a thick paste made from fermented soybeans.
This paste is a popular food in its homeland of Korea, and it is usually used to make a flavorful stew.
But what exactly is cheonggukjang, what nutritional benefits does it offer, and how can we use it?
This article provides a complete guide to cheonggukjang.
Characteristics and Taste
Cheonggukjang contains both ground and whole soybeans, it is incredibly flavorful, and it has a strong smell too.
Some people compare cheonggukjang’s odor with “sweaty socks,” but this is somewhat exaggerated. Perhaps the smell is more similar to aged old cheese.
The taste of cheonggukjang is full of umami, sometimes salty, and the depth of flavor is much more intense than similar products like miso paste and doenjang.
As with any food product with a bold taste, people tend to either love or hate cheonggukjang.
The most common use of cheonggukjang is to add the paste to water to make a stew featuring tofu and various vegetables.
The production of cheonggukjang involves fermenting boiled soybeans for 2-3 days.
According to several studies coming out of Korea, the average fermentation temperature used to make cheonggukjang is 37°C (99°F) (1).
After the fermentation is over, the producers pound the whole fermented soybeans until they develop an almost smooth, curd-like consistency. However, some of the beans are left whole.
Traditionally, cheonggukjang contains no salt. However, the producer may add some salt and red chili powder after the fermentation stage in some products (4).
For example, researchers analyzing the bacterial strains in cheonggukjang samples purchased five different cheonggukjang products in Korea.
Each of these had slightly different ingredients, as shown below:
|Product 1||Soybeans 95%, salt 5%|
|Product 2||Soybeans 70%, water 28%, salt 2%|
|Product 3||Soybean 98%, salt 2%|
|Product 4||Soybeans 100%|
|Product 5||Soybeans 95%, salt 5%|
Based on the label of ‘Pulmuone’ cheonggukjang (95% soybean), here are the basic nutritional values per 38-gram serving.
|Saturated Fat||0 g|
|Trans Fat||0 g|
Does Cheonggukjang Have Any Benefits?
In its native homeland of Korea, cheonggukjang is seen as a “health food,” but what potential benefits does it offer?
Here is a brief look at some of its beneficial aspects.
A Rich Source of Vitamin K2
Similar to natto, which is another fermented soy dish from Japan, cheonggukjang is a significant source of vitamin K2.
The specific form of vitamin K2 that cheonggukjang contains is called menaquinone-7 (MK-7), a highly bioavailable form of the nutrient (5).
Vitamin K2 is considered to play an important role in calcium metabolism, as part of which it helps to inhibit the deposition of calcium on arterial walls (6).
Natto is widely seen as being the best source of vitamin K2 MK-7, but depending on the production process, cheonggukjang can sometimes offer even higher amounts (8).
To be precise, research has found different cheonggukjang samples can contain anywhere from 112 mcg to 3438 mcg of vitamin K2 per 100 grams. These figures are very high, particularly when contrasted with the average total intake of vitamin K in men (138 mcg) and women (122 mcg) (9, 10).
Contains a Wide Variety of Vitamins and Minerals
Unfortunately, the full nutritional values of cheonggukjang are not available in nutritional databases.
However, since the primary ingredient is fermented soybeans, we can understand the nutrients that cheonggukjang provides in high amounts.
Based on the USDA FoodData Central’s composition data for soybeans, we can see that cheonggukjang is a rich source of the following vitamins and minerals (11):
Furthermore, the fermentation of the soybeans in cheonggukjang will increase the bioavailability of some of these nutrients. For example, iron and zinc become more bioavailable in fermented soybeans (12, 13).
Potential Digestive and Weight Control Effects?
Due to the fermentation process cheonggukjang undergoes, it contains probiotic bacterial species, and there are many claims that the food has digestive benefits.
Such claims may be valid, but there is very little available research to confirm this from human trials.
There is one study that looked at how cheonggukjang affected mice with obesity. In this study, compared to a control group of mice consuming unfermented soybeans, the cheonggukjang group appeared to benefit from a small protective effect against weight gain and improved insulin sensitivity (14).
However, it’s important to note that what happens in a rodent study can be very different from what occurs within the human body. For this reason, good quality research from human trials is necessary to claim such benefits confidently.
Where Can You Buy Cheonggukjang?
Cheonggukjang should be available at any decent-sized Asian grocery store, particularly in stores that specialize in Korean food.
A quick Internet search should bring up some options for those close to a big city. Otherwise, it can be purchased online or made at home.
These stores often offer other fermented soy products too like natto and tempeh.
How To Make Cheonggukjang At Home
Perhaps surprisingly, the process of making cheonggukjang (or fermented foods in general) is not so complicated.
To make it, though, some general equipment (such as a heat mat) is necessary.
There is an excellent step-by-step guide on how to make cheonggukjang here, which covers everything.
How To Use Cheonggukjang
Once you have either bought or made cheonggukjang, the typical way to use it is to create a stew full of different ingredients.
The traditional Korean version of cheonggukjang is largely meat-free, aside from a stock made with anchovies. However, it’s possible to add some meat to the recipe for those who prefer to do so
Below is a sample recipe that works well.
- 6 oz (170 g) cheonggukjang paste
- 4 oz (115 g) tofu
- 4 oz (115 g) mushrooms
- 10 dried anchovies (disclosure: affiliate link)
- 1 large onion
- 2 cloves of crushed garlic
- 1 large spring onion
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp red pepper powder (disclosure: affiliate link)
- First: fill a pan with around 500 ml of water, add the anchovies, and boil for 10-15 minutes.
- Second: remove the anchovies (as they are only for making the stock) and add all the ingredients except for tofu and cheonggukjang.
- Third: Let the mixture boil until everything is cooked and the mushrooms, garlic, and onions are soft.
- Fourth: At this point, add the cheonggukjang to the pan and break it apart with a spoon to spread evenly around the pan.
- Fifth: Once the cheonggukjang has been mixed, add the tofu and boil for a further five minutes.
- Sixth: Finally, serve!
For a flavorful, meaty stew, try replacing the tofu with potatoes and beef.
Nutritionally, cheonggukjang is one of the best dietary sources of vitamin K2, and it offers a wide range of essential nutrients too.
For those that enjoy bold flavors from their food, cheonggukjang makes a delicious and nutritious stew.
All in all, it’s one of those foods that are worth trying at least once.