Korean food is delicious, healthy, and often simpler to make than you might imagine. If you have ever made a Korean dish before, then you know what gochugaru is. A novice home chef with no experience making Korean cuisine, however, might be unfamiliar with its sweet, spicy, and smoky flavor.
So, if you are that novice chef, and are especially interested in trying your hand at Korean cuisine, or simply want to increase your pallet with an incredibly versatile spice, then you might want to stock your pantry with gochugaru next time you go shopping.
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Can I Substitute Gochugaru?
Making kimchi and are unsure how to get that gochugaru flavor without it? Trying your hand at a Korean stew, and the heat just isn't there?
Maybe the answer is in your kitchen pantry, like cayenne or paprika.
Or maybe you'll have a find an Asian or Korean market online or in your area that carries ingredients like gochugaru and gochujang.
If you don't happen to have gochugaru at home or are having a hard time sourcing it at your local grocery store, fret not because I've got you covered.
Check out this comprehensive list of excellent gochugaru substitutions that you might have in your kitchen right now. Others you might be reading about for the first time, but it's never a bad thing to increase one's pallet when broadening your culinary horizons.
Before we jump right into the best alternatives for gochugaru, let's learn a little more about it so we know the right option to pick for the meal we are creating.
What is Gochugaru?
Gochugaru, also known as Korean hot pepper flakes, Korean chili powder, and Korean chili flakes, is a Korean spice found in many Korean dishes. It is a fine powder made of crushed chili flakes from dried chili peppers.
The flakes look similar to crushed red pepper flakes and can be used as such. Gochugaru, however, has a sweet and smoky taste with an intensely spicy flavor that is used in many Korean recipes.
How is Gochugaru Made?
Gochugaru can be bought at most specialty grocery stores. Many Koreans choose to make it themselves instead of buying it from their local market. Making it oneself makes for a fresher ingredient with a more potent flavor
To start, you need to purchase a Korean chili pepper or a gochu pepper. You can buy it fresh and sundry at home, or you can buy the peppers already dried.
Begin by removing and discarding the top part of the pepper. You can choose to remove the seeds and innards for a mild flavor. If you want a really spicy taste, keep those bits in.
Add it all to a blender to make chili flakes. You will need a rice mill or mortar and pestle to grind the flakes into a fine chili powder.
How is Gochugaru Used?
Gochugaru is used to make a variety of delicious Korean food, especially spicy dishes. From gochujang to bulgogi and tofu, you would be hard-pressed to find a Korean dish that doesn't include gochugaru as an ingredient.
When making kimchi, cabbage and gochugaru are among the two main ingredients. Minced onion, minced ginger, fish sauce, garlic, carrots, and Korean radish are some of the other ingredients you can expect when making kimchi authentically.
So it's safe to say that if you have any interest in cooking any Korean dishes, you are going to want to get your hands on some gochugaru.
Where Can I Find Gochugaru?
If you can find a market that specializes in Asian or Korean food, you will likely find gochugaru. If not, Korean chili flakes can be ground into a powder.
If you are unable to find it locally, you can always order it online as well.
Either way, it's a spice that any chef who wants to make Korean dishes needs to have in their arsenal.
Best Substitute for Gochugaru
The best gochugaru substitute really depends on the dish you are making and the flavors you want to enhance.
If you are making a dish where you want to bring out the sweet flavor a little more, then you might choose sweet paprika as a substitute for gochugaru.
However, if you are looking to create more heat in your Korean recipes, then a good substitute for gochugaru might be cayenne pepper, chipotle peppers, or Chili de Arbol powder.
When keeping it authentic is important to the recipe, gochujang or crushed red pepper powder might be the best substitute for gochugaru.
1. Crushed Red Pepper
One of the best gochugaru substitutes is crushed red pepper flakes. They are easy to find, they match the bold red color, and they can be crushed into a regular chili powder.
This red pepper powder is an excellent way to spice up a meal when you are craving some heat but are out of gochugaru.
Be very careful with this substitution. Chili powder tends to be about 3 times hotter than gochugaru.
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper = 1 teaspoon gochugaru
When considering gochugaru substitutes for your Korean dishes, paprika is another popular choice. Not only is it versatile because there are so many kinds of paprika, but no matter which option you choose, you will get the sweet, smoky, spicy flavor that gochugaru gives to your food.
It's easy to find, and there are many different kinds to choose from besides basic paprika. You can get smoked paprika, hot paprika, and sweet paprika.
No matter if you want an intense smoky flavor, a sweet flavor, or the heat of Hungarian paprika, this is a spice that any serious chef will always have on hand.
1 teaspoon paprika = 1 teaspoon gochugaru
Hands down, the best gochugaru substitute is gochujang. Used throughout Korean cuisine, gochujang is a thick paste made with the red chili powder from the red pepper flakes of the gochu pepper.
While gochugaru is a powder, gochujang is a chili paste made with gochugaru and other ingredients like soybeans, rice, and salt. It still has that same gochugaru taste and smoky flavor needed for Korean cooking, like when making kimchi.
1 teaspoon gochujang = 1 teaspoon gochugaru
4. Cayenne Pepper Flakes
Cayenne pepper flakes are harvested from dried cayenne pepper the same way gochugaru is made.
If you have a home garden, you can grow your own cayenne peppers, dry them in the sun, then grind the dried peppers into flakes. To make cayenne pepper into a powder, simply grind it with your rice mill or mortar and pestle.
Its intense heat is what has made cayenne pepper a popular seasoning to use in spicy food across cultures, as seen in Korean, Caribbean, Indian, And Mexican cuisine.
¾ teaspoon cayenne = 1 teaspoon gochugaru
5. Aleppo Pepper Flakes
Another excellent gochugaru substitute is Aleppo pepper powder.
Made from Aleppo pepper flakes from the Aleppo pepper grown in Syria, this gochugaru substitute is known for being slightly fruity and tangy with an overall mild flavor. Similar to a sundried tomato.
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper powder = 1 teaspoon gochugaru
6. Guajillo Powder
The guajillo chili peppers and native to Mexico and make an excellent gochugaru substitute. This is because they have a mild to moderate heat level and a slightly fruity taste.
3 teaspoons guajillo powder = 1 teaspoon gochugaru
7. Chipotle Powder
Chipotle powder is a perfect gochugaru substitute because it has a sweet and smoky flavor and just enough of a kick to give your dishes that spicy flavor.
Chipotle powder is made much the same way as gochugaru. It is not, however, derived from chipotle peppers. Chipolte powder is actually made from jalapeno peppers!
The green jalapenos are dried and smoked. Then the smoked jalapenos are ground down into a powder form, and that's how jalapeno peppers can be turned into chipotle powder.
Half a teaspoon chipotle powder = 1 teaspoon gochugaru
8. Chile de Arbol Powder
The Chili de Arbol is a powerful option for gochugaru substitutes. This potent chili pepper hails from Mexico.
Chile de Arbol Powder is the chili pepper you are going to want in your kitchen if you are a fan of spicy food. Chile de Arbol powder will give a boost of heat to any dish you want. Korean, Mexican, Chinese, Caribbean, or American.
It can be used in your favorite BBQ or hot sauce recipes. Use Chile de Arbol to spice up your wing sauce, salsa, tomato sauce, or basically anything you want to add some kick to.
½ teaspoon Chile de Arbol powder = 1 teaspoon gochugaru
9. Chile Pasilla
Chile pasilla is a rich-flavored gochugaru substitute that runs mild to hot.
The chile pasilla is often confused with the poblano pepper. When dried poblano peppers are dried and ground, that makes ancho chili powder. Which, of course, has a slightly smoky taste and is sweeter than the chile pasilla, which has a distinct earthy flavor that is popular in mole and enchilada sauces.
½ teaspoon chile pasilla = 1 teaspoon gochugaru
10. Fish Pepper
Similar to Hungarian paprika and cayenne peppers, Fish peppers are hot. Unlike the previous two, fish peppers have been, until more recently, incredibly rare.
Rare to hear about and rare to find. Now, this incredibly spicy pepper, common in Caribbean cuisine, is making a comeback.
Ground and dried, they have been traditionally used to season seafood, giving fish peppers their name.
½ teaspoon ground fish pepper = 1 teaspoon gochugaru
11. Sandia Chilies
A hybrid creation, the Sandia chili is similar to anaheim or jalapeno peppers.
Like these peppers, Sandia chilis should be harvested while they are green to be best roasted and used in sauces and salsas.
If left unharvested, your Scandia pepper will turn into a red pepper. Less useful to eat or put in sauces but perfect to ground into a chili powder that can be used to give flavor and spice to any dish.
¾ teaspoon Scandia chili powder = 1 teaspoon gochugaru
Best Gochugaru Substitute
At the end of the day, the best gochugaru substitute really depends on the recipe you are working from and what your personal tastes are.
If you want to keep your dish authentically Korean, then gochujang is going to give you the same flavor.
To create more heat in your dish, add crushed red pepper or cayenne pepper and to enhance the smoky sweetness, try some chipotle powder or Aleppo peppers.
Is gochugaru healthy?
It has been found that gochugaru is high in vitamin E, which is a very powerful antioxidant. It's also rich in vitamin A.
Additionally, ground dried peppers of the gochu pepper are an excellent source of iron, fiber, and copper.
Gochujang is also known for its health benefits, including increased metabolism, optimal gut health, improved heart health, as well as reduced stress and cholesterol.
What is the difference between gochugaru and gochujang?
Gochugaru is a chili powder that is made from dried gochu peppers.
Gochujang is a paste that is made from gochugaru and can flavor dishes the same way. However, it also contains other ingredients like soybeans, glutinous rice, and salt.
Are the substitutes hard to find?
Some of these substitutes, like cayenne pepper, paprika, or red pepper flakes, will be relatively easy to find at your local grocery store.
Some of the other ingredients may need to be purchased at a specialty market or even online.
Is it better to find substitutes for gochugaru or omit it altogether?
Gochugaru is quite a flavorful ingredient and adds quite a bit of heat, so its presence in a meal would be missed.
Especially if you are making Korean food, gochugaru really can't be omitted. If you don't have any, gochujang is your next best option.
Are Korean chili flakes the same thing as gochugaru?
Yes! Gochugaru is known by many names like Korean hot pepper flakes, Korean chili powder, and Korean chili flakes.
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