Thursday, October 23, 2014

Soju & Gochu: Korean Remedy for the Common Cold?

There is hardly a Korean food without a culturally assigned medicinal benefit. Even soju has its benefits. Not only is soju a popular remedy for hard days at work, dramatic relationships, and dull evenings, it is rumored to cure or at least alleviate symptoms of the common cold. 

For years whenever I was sick, my Korean friends, acquaintances, coworkers and even bosses jocularly recommended a shot of soju mixed with gochu (고추) aka: Korean hot pepper. It sounds like a cheap excuse to get drunk or a popular joke. Yet I have heard it so many times I feel that if Mary Poppins was born a Korean she would have sung, "a spoon full of gochu will help the soju go down." Lately, having been struck with a particularly debilitating cold, and more than a little desperate to regain my health because of a busy work schedule, I decided I needed some Korean Poppins magic, and put the soju and gochu cocktail to the test.

Typically, Chamisul Soju, is the standard Korean panacea, but all that I had in the fridge was a bottle of Kang Soju, a very small soju brand that I found at the Nonsan Strawberry Festival this year. If the medicinal power of this home remedy is rated in proof, then Kang Soju was drawn from the Fountain of Youth. At 50 percent alcohol by volume, 100ml of the 200 ml bottle is pure alcohol. In comparison, Chamisul Original has around 20 percent alcohol. Thus, if this remedy is any good, I should not only be cured but boosted into a higher plane of existence. Despite fears I will reach that higher plane sick and be even sicker the following morning, I poured the shot and sprinkled some hot pepper powder in the glass. (I didn't have any fresh peppers). I wasn't taking any drugs to manage my symptoms, so I had no qualms about taking the shot except what my ultra health-conscious girl-friend might think about me drinking alcohol while sick.

100 proof alcohol mixed with Korean hot pepper produces one serious burn going down, one intense enough to make me forget how crappy I felt otherwise and focus for those long seconds on the anti-sick war being waged in my throat. Like any battlefield you can't expect the terrain to be untouched by destruction. And this almost goes without saying when pouring this Korean napalm for the common-cold. 

Oddly enough, I felt surprisingly good after the burning passed. The alcohol that evaporated in the back of my throat went up into my sinuses and nasal passages, releasing congestion and untickling my nose as it rose. Sadly, the effect didn't last long. Perhaps ten or 15 minutes later, the viral army of the common cold, battered but not defeated, started to march back into my head to reinstate my former symptoms. I considered successive shots, but didn't want to employ a scorched earth policy in my body.

Three days later and on the mend, it would be a dubious claim that the one shot set me on a course for health. Nevertheless, that drink really did help reduce my symptoms. In that way it is like an intense, Korean version of a hot toddy, the West's traditional, spiced, alcoholic palliative. Taken successively over time, soju and gochu will likely hold cold symptoms at bay until your mouth melts and your liver explodes. But perhaps there is a means for it to take after the gentler way of the hot toddy. Next time, I'm just going to add honey and ginger to my green tea and spike it with soju. That'll do.

(Note: I am not a medical professional, and this article is for entertainment. It is not intended to give serious medical advice. Anyone suffering from a cold or related illness should consult their doctor about the best treatment for them.)

No comments:

Post a Comment