Gochugaru is a vibrant, smoky, and spicy ingredient which is a staple in Korean cuisine. This spice is used in almost every dish, from making Kimchi and banchan (side dishes) to delicious stews and sauces.
Gochugaru is a coarsely ground red pepper with a texture similar to red pepper flakes, but what makes this spice special is that it has no seeds. Gochugaru is traditionally made from sun-dried chile peppers. The flavor of this spice is hot and sweet with a touch of smokiness -- but what should be used when you can’t find it in your local Asian market?
There are a few substitutes that can be used if you can’t get the real deal.
Cayenne pepper flakes
One of the most easily found ingredients is Cayenne pepper whether it is flakes or its ground form. These are already used in Korean cuisine so it won’t completely change the flavor of the recipe that you are trying to make. One significant difference is that you will find seeds here and there. Gochugaru does not have any seeds.
Chipotle peppers are made with dried and smoked red jalapeno peppers. This is a great substitute as the heat level is comparable to Gochugaru, although it will be significantly smokier than the Korean spice. It is also convenient as most supermarkets carry this.
Aleppo pepper powder
A great flavor match to Gochugaru is chile de arbol or Aleppo pepper. Like Gochugaru, this spice may be difficult to source but can give you a much closer flavor than crushed red pepper or chipotle. It has a comparable heat and a touch of sweetness, similar to Gochugaru.
Similar to Gochugaru, Paprika has a vibrant red color and a sweet, yet pungent flavor. Its spice level may vary from brand to brand, but if you have a staple in your house, you will know the level of spice it can put into a dish. A downside to paprika is that it can be expensive.
This chili hails from Mexico and is in the Scoville range of 1000 - 3999, which puts it closer to the Korean spice than any of the other substitutes. This chili is used in many dishes in Mexican cuisine as its flavor doesn’t overwhelm the other ingredients in the recipe. This can also be found in powdered form.
Instead of substituting Gochugaru with a different spice, you may want to try going with Gochujang, which is a Korean chili paste with a strong miso flavor. It is sweet, salty, and has a touch of earthiness in the palate. In certain recipes, it can be used as a substitute for Gochugaru -- but since it is a paste and not a powder, you must consider the recipe you will be using it for. Soups, stews, and sauces may work well when used with Gochujang.
Gochugaru is an excellent ingredient to have in your pantry, and substitutes can be used if you can’t acquire the real thing, but it should be noted that these substitutes do not compare to the authenticity of flavor that Gochugaru delivers in a dish. If you’re feeling brave, try making your own Kimchi with this ingredient. You will never go back to store bought again!
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