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If you are a fan of Korean cuisine, you must be in love with the delectable spicy notes that some of the dishes have. So, have you ever wondered what the ingredient that makes Korean food so distinguishably spicy is? Well, it’s not paprika or your regular chili powder. One of the specialty ingredients found in Korean cuisine is gochugaru. Let’s get to know more about gochugaru and some of its best substitutes.
What is gochugaru? What does it taste like?
The literal translation of ‘gochu’ is chili pepper, and ‘garu’ is powder. So, basically, it is a kind of chili pepper powder. Korean cuisine sees a liberal use of this vibrantly red-colored ingredient, which makes it a staple in the Korean household. Traditionally, gochugaru is derived from sun-dried, seedless hot peppers. Though you get the less expensive machine-dried version nowadays, the traditional ones are always better in terms of flavor and aroma.
Gochugaru has a mildly sweet, spicy, and smoky taste. It comes between 1500 SHU to 10,000 SHU in Scoville heat units. The spice and heat level of this ingredient goes from mild to hot. So, the least spicy is deolmaewoon gochugaru, and the spiciest is maewoon gochugaru. If you are comfortable with the flavors of Indian food, you will find no problem with the spiciness of gochugaru.
The Top Substitutes for Gochugaru
If you don’t find gochugaru at the grocery stores near you, here are the five substitutes of it that can serve the purpose.
Cayenne pepper has not only a similar flavor but also a similar texture to gochugaru. In terms of color, it is a deep shade of red with an orangish-brown hue. Like gochugaru, you can use Cayenne pepper in a number of Korean dishes like kimchi.
It is important to mention that cayenne tends to be spicier than gochugaru. You will find it both as powder and flakes, and the latter is extra spicy due to the addition of powdered pepper seeds. The Scoville scale unit for cayenne powder is around 30,000 – 50,000 SHU.
If you want to dim the spiciness, soak cayenne in lukewarm water for fifteen minutes before adding it to the recipe. Also, keep in mind that 3/4th teaspoon of cayenne is enough to replace a teaspoon of gochugaru, though you can add more if necessary.
Chipotle powder isn’t a kind of pepper in itself. In fact, it’s made from smoked and dried jalapeno peppers, which gives it similar flavors to gochugaru. Moreover, the heat level of these two spices is also similar. While gochugaru is at 1500 – 10,000 SHU, the chipotle powder is around 3000 – 30,000 SHU.
Now, the smoky flavors of chipotle powder might feel more intense than gochugaru, which changes the tastes of a recipe. However, the flavor can be easily balanced by putting some powdered red pepper into your chipotle powder. Though it will raise the level of spiciness, it’ll reduce the smokiness. Also, the fiery red color of the chipotle powder is darker than gochugaru.
You will easily find chipotle powder at supermarkets and grocery stores nearby. The best part is that it’s good to go for both Korean and Mexican recipes. Use equal parts of chipotle powder to gochugaru.
Since both gochujang and gochugaru come from the gochu pepper, they have the same kind of flavor. In this case, the texture is the differentiating factor. Gochujang is available as a thick paste that has sticky rice, soybeans, and salt mixed in it. It scores nearly 1000 SHU on the Scoville unit.
You will get a salty taste if you replace gochugaru with gochujang in your recipes. It acts as a fine seasoning for kimchi, sauces, and stews. In fact, its pungency also makes it great marination for all kinds of meat.
Use half a teaspoon of gochujang to replace one teaspoon of gochugaru. However, remember to add a bit less salt to the dish if you are using gochujang. Also, the fact that it comes as a paste makes food sticky and wet in texture.
Spicy food is not for everyone, especially when you are preparing a dish for guests who have a low spice tolerance. So, in such situations, chile pasilla is a good substitute for gochugaru. It keeps the flavor profile intact while cutting down on the hotness.
Interestingly, chile pasilla stands at 1000 – 4000 SHU on the Scoville unit, which is nearly the same as gochugaru. In spite of that, the former is milder and lets you have more control over the spiciness of the dish.
Chile pasilla traces its origins back to Mexico. This black-colored spice is a must-have ingredient in adobo sauces, tortilla soups, and salsa. However, color is the main issue in using this ingredient. It is no match for the deep red hues of gochugaru. But if color isn’t a problem, you can put equal parts of chile pasilla to gochugaru.
Korean dishes like kimchi have a brilliant red shade. And if you are trying to get that same color without gochugaru in your kitchen, go for the good old paprika. It is a common spice that you will find in any grocery store near you. In fact, there might already be some lying in your kitchen right now.
Generally, the paprika found at grocery stores is the sweet and mild kind, with a spice range of 250 – 1000 SHU. If you want something hotter, look for the Hungarian paprika (commonly used in Goulash). There is another type called smoked paprika that has a smoky and sweet flavor.
Paprika is found in powdered form. Also, for any of the three variants, you can use an equal quantity of paprika as a gochugaru substitute.
Don’t let the unavailability of spices keep you from trying your hand at preparing Korean dishes. You now know what to reach out for when your nearest grocery store has no gochugaru. So, what are you planning to whip up today?