One of the most important aspects of Korean cuisine is how complex, spicy flavors work in a dish. Two ingredients that contribute a lot towards increasing spice in your food are gochugaru and gochujang.
As you may be able to tell from the “gochu” prefix of both of these words, these ingredients are related. However, there are a few key differences to consider when looking at these red ingredients.
Gochugaru vs Gochujang
The main difference between gochujang and gochugaru is the production process used to create the finished product.
- Production Process: Gochugaru is produced by crushing sundried Korean chili peppers (Gochu) into a coarse powder, whereas making gochujang is a bit more complex since it involves mixing gochugaru with other ingredients. That mixture then undergoes a fermentation process.
- Ingredients: Something to note about these two ingredients is that gochugaru is an ingredient in gochujang. Some other ingredients used along with gochugaru to make gochujang are fermented soybean powder, glutinous rice, salt, and barley malt powder. The only ingredient in gochugaru is crushed peppers.
- Fermentation: One of the biggest differences between gochugaru and gochujang is that gochujang is fermented, whereas gochugaru is not. It takes about three months for the fermentation process to finish.
- Appearance: While gochugaru is a red powder, gochujang looks like a red paste.
- Texture: Gochujang is a sticky paste with some different textures occurring within it, while Gochugaru has a coarse powder texture.
- Flavor: Both these ingredients are spicy since they come from the same pepper and gochujang is often a bit less spicy than gochugaru.
When comparing gochugaru and gochujang, there are a few ways that these ingredients are very similar.
- Origin: These ingredients both originate from the same sundried chili peppers. Since gochugaru is an ingredient in gochujang, the powdered spice is part of the paste’s origin.
- Uses: While these two ingredients have very different flavors, they both infuse a lot of spice into popular Korean dishes. However, the specific dishes these ingredients are used in are different.
Below is a table which provides a brief overview and comparison of gochugaru and gochujang.
|Taeyangcho (Sundried) Pepper
|Taeyangcho (Sundried) Pepper
|Spicy, Smoky, Fruity
|Spicy, Sweet, Acidic
|Medium to High
|Mild to High
|Sauces, Spice Rub, Marinade, Gochujang
|Sauces, Marinade, Stews, Tteokbokki
Can You Use Gochugaru in Place of Gochujang?
These two ingredients are so different in terms of flavor that they are not considered interchangeable. This difference between the two is largely due to the fermentation process that gochujang undergoes, lending the product a unique and complex flavor.
Gochugaru does not work as an alternative for gochujang in all circumstances. You can try to use gochujang in place of gochugaru if you do not have other options. However, you will need to remember that gochujang is saltier than gochugaru, and you will have to take textural differences into account. This substitution works best if you are making something like a stew, and if you do not add any additional salt.
If you need a replacement for gochugaru, there are several options. Cayenne powder, chipotle powder, and crushed red pepper can work as gochugaru substitute, depending on what your exact needs are. In some cases, you just want heat, so crushed red pepper is a good option.
However, some dishes may require more complexity. You may even want to mix some of these options to get a flavor close to gochugaru. For example, a chipotle powder may be smokier than gochugaru, so it may be a good idea to mix some chipotle powder with some crushed red pepper.
It is a bit more complicated to find replacements for gochujang, but it is not impossible. You will likely need to mix a few ingredients to achieve a flavor and texture similar to gochujang.
A simple gochujang dupe involves mixing miso paste with gochugaru, sake, and sugar. This option helps you get some of that complex fermented flavor for which gochujang is well-known. You can also try mixing gochugaru with soy sauce. Sometimes Thai chili paste or chili sauce can even be used as a replacement, depending on what you want to make.
What is Gochugaru Made Of?
Gochugaru lives up to its name since in Korean, “gochu” translates to chili pepper, and “garu” translates to powder. You may sometimes find things labeled “Korean chili powder” when you go to the grocery store. These items may occasionally be gochugaru, but not always. Avoid buying the wrong product by knowing what gochugaru looks like.
The peppers traditionally used to make this spice are usually sundried or taeyangcho. Rather than utilizing peppers just for heat, peppers used for gochugaru are often on the fruity and smoky side so that you get a more complex flavor.
It is thought by some that the peppers that make this spice have been in Korea for millions of years. A slightly more trackable theory is that the peppers originated in Central America, and came to Korea sometime after the Columbian exchange.
It is important to remember that there are several different types of gochugaru with a variety of levels of spice, and you may want alternative types for different needs. Have fun experimenting with several versions of this spice and see what dimensions they bring out in your cooking.
Perhaps the most common use of gochugaru is in several types of kimchi, though it commonly contributes to several Korean dishes. It is often used with noodles and vegetables and meat dishes in Korean cuisine.
There are a few Korean soups that use gochugaru including, jjampong and yukgaejang. Chili is often added to these dishes when cooking the meat or seafood components. This timing allows the powder to develop a smokier, deeper flavor.
In general, this spice can operate in the same way that any chili powder works, even if you are not using any other Korean ingredients. Add it to meats and vegetables before grilling them or tofu before braising it.
Gochujang is a fermented chili paste that contains things like glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt, in addition to gochugaru. This product is a very important part of Korean cooking. It is used in quite a few dishes and also as just an overall popular cooking condiment. However, this item is not meant to be used like ketchup or sriracha since its flavor is rather powerful.
This ingredient is known for its complex flavor consisting of umami, sweetness, spice, and acidity. The multi-faceted flavor is the result of the ingredients used and the fermentation process that the sauce goes through. Usually, this process lasts at least three months, though it can last much longer.
There are many different brands of gochujang, and they all taste a little different. Similar to the variety found in gochugaru brands, some brands of gochujang are much spicier than others. You may need to try a few before you find your favorites.
This red paste is versatile and can add dimension and spice to any dish. One fun thing about this ingredient is that the spice level can range from mild to spicy depending on which brand you use and how much of that brand you use. If you are new to this ingredient, start by using a small amount at first and adding more once you understand the flavors.
There are a few Korean dishes in which gochujang is commonly found, including tteokbokki, bulgogi, and bibimbop. Gochujang is also known for its ability to create a strong base for a stew. It is a great option to add complexity rich in sweet, umami, and spicy flavors to a dish.
Beyond these typical Korean dishes, gochujang is becoming popular for its general functionality as a component of marinades and in sauces. This usage is because this product works best when it has something savory or mild to balance. There are a few uses of gochujang in modern desserts. It commonly balances chocolate and creamy components.
Thanks to the fermentation that gochujang undergoes, it is also valued for its probiotic benefits. It is said to improve gut health and can improve your metabolism.
Though they are related, you now understand the main differences between both of them. Visit a grocery store near you so that you can taste these items for yourself.
Now that you have an idea of what to expect from these elements, try them in your cooking. You can try some Korean classics or use these ingredients to modify things you already enjoy making. Whip up some tteokbokki or kimchi or simply punch up your favorite marinade.