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Korean Chili Powder: Dangerous Territory
Photo by Anna Waigand

See those two bottles? They look pretty similar, and if you put each powder side-by-side they would look nearly identical. But in our kitchen we keep one on the ledge behind our stove to sprinkle without measuring on any dish that needs some more spice and color. The other sits alone on the highest shelf of our smallest cabinet where no one would possibly confuse it with something else unless they went out of their way to get it down. That’s because the one on the right is un-freakin-believably hot. So hot it made us question whether we could cook at all. No matter how little we used, our dishes turned out spicier than if you generously sprinkled each meal with fresh jalapeno seeds.

For the first few weeks in Korea, we cooked mostly from recipes and some called for 5 tablespoons of Korean chili powder. Suspicious of the large amount, we used a cautious one tablespoon. The chicken still engulfed our mouths in a world of pain.

Make sure to look at the thermometers
Photo by Anna Waigand

What did we do wrong? Turns out chili powders come in widely varying levels of spiciness, and this is one area where you don’t want to just muddle through with broken Korean. So beware, when buying Korean chili powder, there will usually be a little thermometer to show its spiciness. Also, while green peppers usually symbolize a milder spice, this is not always the case here. Don’t be fooled.

Our advice: Play it safe and find the chili powder with English or with a thermometer on it and choose the mildest one.

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