If you’ve ever tried Korean cuisine, you might have wondered at some time, what makes some of the food so spicy? If you’re thinking of regular chili powder or paprika, that’s incorrect. One of the main factors that distinguish food around the world is spices. Apart from taste, spices are also responsible for the aroma and color of a dish.
Similarly, Korean food has a number of specialty ingredients synonymous with their delicacy, and one of them is gochugaru. We’ll discuss the basics and the best gochugaru substitute based on taste, color, and texture.
What is Gochugaru?
Gochu means chili pepper, and Garu means powder, so the term Gochugaru translates to chili pepper powder. Many famous Korean cuisines use it as an ingredient, and it’s also a household pantry staple.
The best quality gochugaru is made from seedless sun-dried hot peppers. While machine-dried peppers are less expensive, the emphasis is on the traditional method of using sun-dried hot peppers for authentic color and heat level.
Hot peppers are deseeded, dried, and ground to a coarse texture, which is fine compared to crushed red chili flakes but not completely powdered. Due to the use of seedless peppers, the final result turns out to be a vibrant red-colored spice.
The heat and spice level of gochugaru ranges from mild to hot, so you’ll find a few varieties in the market. In terms of flavor, expect a slightly sweet, smoked, and spicy taste. On the Scoville Scale, gochugaru falls between 1500 SHU (Scoville heat units) to 10,000 SHU. The hottest within the variety is known as maewoon gochugaru whereas, deolmaewoon gochugaru is the least spicy.
Remember to familiarize yourself with different versions of gochugaru, as it is liberally used in Korean dishes, and you might not be used to such spice levels. But if you’re comfortable with the flavoring of East or West Indian food, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Gochugaru graces some of the most renowned Korean recipes, such as Kimchi, cucumber salad, and a variety of spicy soups.
Recommended Gochugaru Substitutes
While it may not be easy to find gochugaru in your local grocery stores, it shouldn’t stop you from trying delicious Korean food.
Here are our top five picks you can use in place of gochugaru:
1. Chipotle Powder as Substitute for Gochugaru
Spicy food, to an extent, relies on the amount of chili powder used for that extra kick of flavor. While gochugaru fits the bill with high spice levels, chipotle powder is an equal contender and the closest Korean chili powder substitute.
Chipotle powder is not a type of pepper itself. It is made from jalapeno peppers, dried and smoked, giving it a smoky flavor similar to gochugaru. The two spices almost share the same level of heat. Gochugaru is around 1500 to 10,000 SHU, whereas chipotle powder falls between 3000 to 30,000 SHU.
A point to remember is that chipotle powder may have a little extra smoky flavor compared to gochugaru and this might affect the overall taste of your recipe. But you can balance the flavors by adding some crushed red pepper to the chipotle powder. Doing this will reduce the smoky flavor and increase the spice level. In terms of color, the chipotle powder is a fiery red but a bit darker than gochugaru.
The best thing about chipotle powder is that it’s readily available in grocery stores and supermarkets. Also, if you have any chipotle powder left, you can use it in Mexican food recipes later. Use chipotle powder in equal parts to gochugaru.
Can’t find chipotle powder? See Chipotle Powder Substitute
2. Cayenne Pepper
A good spice substitute does not only have a similar flavor but also resembles texture. Cayenne pepper is the ideal choice if you’re looking for a substitute to gochugaru with a blend of similar spice and texture. As for color, cayenne pepper is a deep red with a brownish-orange hue.
Cayenne pepper is also widely used in many Korean recipes, so if you add it to your pantry, you can use it to create other Korean dishes as well, such as Kimchi. Cayenne shares the same texture as gochugaru but is spicier. You can get cayenne in flakes or powder form. Remember though, cayenne flakes are extra spicy because they come with crushed pepper seeds.
The Scoville Scale rating for cayenne pepper powder is between 30,000 to 50,000 SHU. To control the spiciness of cayenne, soak it in lukewarm water for some time, and then add it to your recipe. Substitute 3/4th teaspoon of cayenne pepper with one teaspoon of gochugaru. Taste and add more if needed.
Apart from having excellent flavor and texture, cayenne is also a good source of vitamins A, C, and E. It also contains flavonoids, an antioxidant that prevents cell damage from radicals.
3. Chile Pasilla as Substitute for Gochugaro
Not everyone is a fan of spicy foods. If you’re making Korean cuisine for kids or guests with a low tolerance level for spicy food, opt for a gochugaru substitute with a mild flavor. Chile pasilla is the perfect gochugaru replacement if you want to cut down on the spiciness.
Chile Pasilla has its origins in Mexico and has a dark, almost black color. It is an essential ingredient used in salsa, tortilla soups, and adobo sauces. On the Scoville Scale, Chile Pasilla scores between 1000 to 4000 SHU, which is almost the same, compared to gochugaru’s spice level. Despite this, Chile Pasilla still has a milder taste and allows better control over the spice level within the dish.
The only drawback of Chile Pasilla is its color. The deep shade is far from similar to the gochugaru’s bright red hue. This will surely affect the final result of your dishes. If compromising on color is out of the question for you, it is better to skip Chile Pasilla.
In terms of flavor, Chile Pasilla is a better option compared to other spices that have a bright red color such as paprika, chungyang red pepper, and fish pepper. You can use Chile Pasilla in equal parts to gochugaru and add more if desired.
4. Paprika as Korean Chilli Powder Substitute
Many Korean dishes such as Kimchi flaunt a brilliant red color. If you want your recipes to have the same bright red hue, paprika is your substitute for gochugaru. Paprika is the fourth most commonly used spice worldwide, and it is readily available in grocery stores. You might already have it in your pantry. Unlike gochugaru, there are different kinds of paprika.
Paprika is prepared from ground dried pepper. The process results in a bright orange-red color powder. The three types of paprika are sweet, hot, and smoked paprika. To find the perfect fit as a substitute for gochugaru it is essential to understand the difference between all three kinds.
Grocery stores usually stock the sweet or basic paprika, which has a mild flavor and falls within the 250 to 1000 SHU range on the Scoville Scale within 250 to 1000 SHU. The hotter version is known as Hungarian paprika, popular with Hungarian cuisine like Goulash, and is known to be of the highest quality among all three types. The last one is smoked paprika that adds a sweet and smoky flavor to your dish.
Paprika is available in powder form, and you can use either of the three to substitute gochugaru with equal quantity.
Can’t find Paprika? See Paprika Substitutes
Gochujang is another popular Korean spice and an ideal substitute for gochugaru. Both of these spices are prepared from gochu pepper, so they have almost the same flavor. However, the texture sets both spices apart. Gochujang comes as a thick paste and contains other components, such as salt, soybeans, and sticky rice. On the Scoville Scale, gochujang scores less than 1000 SHU.
Using gochujang instead of gochugaru in your recipe will give it a saltier flavor. It works well as a seasoning for stews, sauces, and kimchi. Just keep a light hand on the salt before adding gochujang to your food. Remember, gochujang has a paste form. It might give your food a wet and sticky texture.
The spiciness of gochujang will depend on the brand you buy it from. To be on the safe side, start by using a small amount in your recipe. Gochujang’s pungent and spicy flavor serves as good marination for meats. For those who prefer salty flavors over sweet ones, gochujang is the best substitute. Store it in the refrigerator for use in other Korean recipes.
Use ½ teaspoon of gochujang for every one teaspoon of gochugaru. Taste and add more if required.
There are various red-colored spices out there, but only a few can match the distinctive flavor of gochugaru. It’s like different kinds of chilies packed in one flavor.
If you were holding yourself back from trying out Korean cuisine due to the unavailability of Korean spices, you now have a comprehensive list of replacements. You can use either or all as a gochugaru substitute to figure out the best flavor that suits your taste.
Please note that you cannot use Gochujang as a substitute for gochugaru when making kimchi, only use chilli powder – either being coarse or fine. Gochujang is good for stew (such as jjigae), marinating meat, or when making bibimbap.
I bought some chipotle chili powder. On the envelope, it says it has 75,000 HU. Might be a bit too hot for kimchi to replace gochugaru
Hi Jocelyne, agree, that’s pretty spicy. It’s a good thing you’re paying attention to the label as chiles are different that are used and it’s going to vary. I’m sure you’ve experienced where you may buy two fresh peppers from the grocery store and when you bite into them you realize that they have significant different amounts of “heat”. Always good to test ingredients in advance to see what they actually are bringing to the table.