What Is Gochugaru? 5 Ways to Make Kimchi Without It!

Widely known as Korean chili powder or Korean chili flakes, gochugaru (고추가루) is a variety of coarsely ground red chili pepper used in Korean cuisine. It is usually made with sun-dried peppers and has a deep red color with flecks of orange. The flavor of gochugaru ranges from mild to spicy, with a hint of sweetness and a slightly smoky taste. It adds heat and color to various dishes such as kimchi, stews, soups, and marinades.

How spicy is gochugaru?

The spice level of gochugaru can vary from milder to spicier versions, depending on the type of pepper used, how it was dried, and how finely it was ground. In general, the powder is going to be spicier than the flakes. As a tip, When buying gochugaru in a store, “maewoon gochugaru” on the label means very hot spicy hot pepper flakes, while “deolmaewoon gochugaru” means milder. The type of gochugaru is also what determines the spiciness of your kimchi

This study attempted to grade the spiciness of in hot pepper powder for gochujang. It examined the physicochemical, as well as sensory characteristics of varies cultivars. As expected, the capsaicin content in the different cultivars was associated with a spicy flavor. However, the higher the capsaicin content, the lower the sweetness. 

How is gochugaru made?

Gochugaru is made from sun-dried peppers that are ground into a powder or flakes. The type of pepper used to make gochugaru is called “gochu,” which means “chili pepper” in Korean. There are wide varieties of gochu, but the most common type used for gochugaru is “yeolmukbaegi,” which translates to “red chili pepper.”  

Many Korean households make their gochugaru, and it is quite simple. The peppers are first dried in the sun for about two weeks, then cleaned with a cloth. Then, grind them in the blender to make flakes, or use a rice mill to make fine chili powder.

This video outlines the main steps of making gochugaru powder

Finely ground gochugaru (powder) vs. coarsely ground gochugaru (flakes)

There are two main types of gochugaru, finely ground powder and coarsely ground flakes. The powder is made from peppers that have been pulverized into a very fine powder and are typically used to make gochujang, soups, and stew dishes due to its smooth textures and bright red color.

The flakes are generally milder than the powder since the larger pieces of pepper have less surface area and therefore contain less capsaicin, the compound that gives chili peppers their heat. It is generally used in many traditional Korean recipes, such as kimchi, stir-fried dishes, and many kinds of banchan (Korean side dishes).

Different types of gochugaru

Here are some types of Korean chili peppers commonly used in gochugaru.

Put Gochu (Green Chili Peppers)

Put Gochu is the best option for you if you are sensitive to spice. These medium-sized, slim, and long chili peppers have a mild flavor with a hint of spicy. It comes from the same plant as the Korean red pepper and is picked at an earlier stage of the ripening process.

Hong Gochu (Red Chili Peppers)

Hong Gochu is long and slim peppers commonly known as Korean long red peppers with a spicier kick. Unlike the green chili peppers, they are picked after they are fully ripe.

Cheongyang Gochu (Cheongyang Pepper)

For those who want a spicy gochugaru, look for ones made from Cheongyang pepper. Though these peppers look similar to Korean green and red chili peppers, these are much spicier with a slightly darker color.

How to use gochugaru in your recipe

Gochugaru is the backbone of many Korean staple dishes used in many recipes. It is commonly used as a base to make traditional pepper paste, to marinade and rubs grilled meat or veggies, to sprinkle on top of soups and stews, or to add a little spice in general. Here are some of the most popular dishes that use gochugaru.

  1. Kimchi: Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made of fermented cabbage mixed in a paste made out of gochugaru, garlic, onion, ginger, soy sauce, and other ingredients. 
  2. Marinades: Gochugaru can be used as marinades for grilling meat, veggies, and Korean barbeque dishes like bulgogi. It adds heat and smokiness flavor to the marinades.
  3. Banchan: Banchan is a collection of Korean side dishes usually served along with rice or other main meal. Examples of banchan are many different kinds of cold salads, pickled veggies, or vegetable pancakes. Gochugaru is used by incorporating it into those dishes.
  4. Stews: There are various ingredients on Korean stews, such as vegetables, tofu, meat, sticky rice, etc. Gochugaru is a great addition to add a hint of spicy and sweetness to the dish. 

Gochugaru can also be used in non-Korean dishes to add a touch of spice. For example, try adding it to your chili recipe or using it as a seasoning for roasted vegetables, stir-fries, and pasta. You can even use it to make a spicy Korean-style BBQ sauce!

Substitutes for gochugaru

Gochugaru has a unique compared to other types of peppers. However, it can be hard to source gochugaru in some places. But there are some excellent substitutes if you can’t grab your hands on gochugaru. Of course, it won’t taste as authentic or delicious, but it’s better than nothing! Remember that these substitutes will not give you the same flavor as gochugaru, so use them sparingly until you find the right balance for your dish.

Gochujang

Gochujang might be your best bet to substitute gochugaru. It is a paste made from gochugaru with other ingredients, such as fermented soybeans, sticky rice, and salt. It has a different texture to gochugaru, but has the most similar taste compared to other substitutes.  

Cayenne pepper 

Cayenne pepper is one of the most common chili pepper flakes with similar color and texture to gochugaru. It is also used in many Korean dishes, so it will be easier to obtain a similar flavor. It is available in two textures, powder and flakes, with the flakes being spicier.

Chipotle powder

Chipotle powder is the best substitute for those looking for a smoky taste. It is made by grinding the smoked and dried jalapeño chilies. However, it can have a much more intense smoky flavor than gochugaru, so be careful before adding this to your dish. 

Chili powder

Chili powder is usually made of a few chili peppers that give an exotic, distinct flavor. It adds a spicy kick to a dish.

Red pepper flakes

Red pepper flakes combine many kinds of peppers, such as jalapeño, bell peppers, cayenne pepper, Fresno chilis, etc. It may not be the best substitute for gochugaru, but it is very accessible and is still good enough to make flavorsome dishes.

Gochugaru vs gochujang

Gochugaru and gochujang are staples of Korean cooking and the key to numerous Korean spicy dishes. As a result, both are often used interchangeably. However, they are two different ingredients with different textures, flavors, processing techniques, and uses in a dish.

Texture

Gochu means “pepper” in Korean, Garu means “powder,” and Jang means paste. Gochugaru is a pepper powder, and gochujang is a pepper paste. Gochugaru is similar to red pepper flakes, which appear in Italian cuisine. Gochujang is a thick chili pepper paste, but not as spicy as sriracha.

Processing technique

Gochujang’s key ingredients include red chili powder or gochugaru, sticky rice or glutinous rice powder, salt, and fermented soybean powder. These ingredients need to be fermented for at least 3-6 months. The glutinous rice will produce a subtle sweetness that gives gochujang a rich flavor during this relatively long process. In particular variations, short-grain rice, whole wheat kernels, barley, sweet potato, pumpkin, or jujubes are sometimes used.

Sweeteners like sugar, honey, or syrup might also be added in small amounts to elevate the sweetness. Unlike gochujang, gochugaru doesn’t undergo a fermentation process. Its main ingredient is purely sun-dried peppers that are then ground into flakes or powder. 

Flavor

Gochugaru and gochujang taste entirely different. Due to its fermentation process, gochujang has a much more complex flavor than gochugaru. Gochugaru simply provides a spicy, smoky taste with a hint of sweetness., while gochujang offers a sweet, tangy, umami, and spicy flavor.

Uses

Gochugaru is typically used in any spicy Korean dish. Some dishes that use gochugaru are kimchi, tteokbokki (Korean rice cakes), meat and vegetable stew, banchan (Korean side dishes), and gochujang. Similar to gochugaru, gochujang is also found in many Korean dishes. Its flavor and consistency complement soups, sauces, meat, and side dishes very well. Some popular Korean dishes that contain gochujang are bibimbap (Korean mixed rice), sundubu jjigae (soft tofu soup), kimchi jjigae (kimchi soup), and Korean fried chicken.

How long does gochugaru last & how to store it

Once you have opened your gochugaru, it is crucial to store it properly, as it can get quickly moldy. Store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. You can also keep it in the fridge for up to 6 months or in a zipper-lock plastic bag inside the freezer for up to 1-2 years. Just make sure to seal it well. If the gochugaru becomes hardened, don’t worry about it; simply mix it in a food processor to separate the gochugaru.

How to choose the best gochugaru?

A good gochugaru should have a rich, bright red color. Avoid the ones with purplish, brownish, or yellowish red, as they are probably almost expired and won’t taste as intense and flavorful anymore. Some of them can be mislabeled as “powder” instead of “coarse” or “flake”. However, most packages are usually partially transparent, so you can look to see and confirm the actual gochugaru you’re getting.

For the best quality, choose a brand that is naturally sun-dried (check for the ones labeled “taekyung” or “taeyangcho”) and has only red pepper as an ingredient. Gochugaru is often available in two variations – mild or hot. Check for the words “maewoon gochugaru” (매운 고추가루)  for hot or spicy levels, and “deol-maewoon gochugaru” (덜매운 고추가루) for mild or less spicy level.

Where to buy gochugaru?

Gochugaru is available at any Korean market, Asian shop, or some upscale grocery shops. If you prefer buying it online, Amazon has a wide variety of gochugaru. Make sure to read the label carefully, and purchase the ones from a reputable company that uses 100% Korean peppers.

Our favorite gochugaru

Taekyung’s gochugaru is a fantastic all-rounder. The parent company of this brand is called Nongshim, which is a famous Korean brand that’s particularly popular for its addictive noodles and seasonings. Of course, the optimal balance between sweet and spicy for chili flakes is always a matter of taste. For us, this one ticks all the boxes, and we cherish it for the following qualities:

  • Sun-dried, yet better value than some machine-dried products
  • Around 4,500 SHU and yet slightly sweet (Ideal for masking kimchi)
  • Processed in South Korea
  • Ideal coarseness for kimchi-making

You can also buy gochugaru and taekyung gochugaru in bulk at a cheaper price. However, a 1-pound bag is more than it looks, and you only need around 2 oz of gochugaru to season one batch of kimchi.

Is gochugaru halal?

Yes. Gochugaru is not only halal, but also vegan, vegetarian, kosher and gluten-free.

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