If you’ve delved into Korean cooking, it’s likely the case you’ve come across gochugaru as an ingredient for an authentic Korean recipe. Gochugaru may be available at a specialty market, but oftentimes you’ll need to think outside the box to come up with an alternative. The good news: while gochugaru may sound exotic, it’s simply a type of crushed chili pepper – so you have many options at your fingertips. Each can serve as a viable gochugaru substitute, though there are strengths and weaknesses to consider when making the swap. Let’s break down your best options.
Your best bet that’s likely already on your spice rack: Crushed red pepper
This is the best “convenience” sub. Swapping in crushed red pepper for gochugaru is very possible, but by no means the optimal flavor solution. Crushed red pepper is typically made from cayenne pepper – a chili that ranges from 30,000 – 50,000 Scoville heat units (SHU). Gochugaru sits more in the 4,000 to 8,000 SHU range (more akin to jalapeño level heat). You’ll feel a lot more heat, too, because crushed red pepper often contains seeds where much of a pepper’s heat is held. Gochugaru, comparatively, is typically seedless when made.
And then there’s the flavor. Cayenne has a relatively neutral flavor whereas gochugaru has a sweet, slightly smoky taste. Its quite a difference.
Still, in terms of convenience crushed red pepper can’t be beat. Even the most basic of spice racks typically holds this pizza topping favorite, so it’s an easy quick fix. Simply crush the flakes even further using mortar and pestle. And if the extra heat is an issue, consider using less in the recipe.
For those that like smoky: Chipotle powder
Chipotle peppers are made by drying and smoking mature red jalapeño peppers. There’s a no doubt smokiness here (much more than gochugaru), but the overall heat level is comparable (jalapeños range from 2,500 to 8,000 SHU). Consider your recipe carefully – if the smokiness may overtake a recipe, then consider mixing a little chipotle powder with crushed red pepper to get a more balanced flavor. Yes, you’ll increase the heat somewhat, but you will get closer to the lighter smoky flavor of gochugaru (though without the hint of sweetness). Sourcing chipotle powder is also very convenient as most supermarkets carry it in the spice section (or order it from PepperScale).
Harder to source, but great flavor match alternatives: Aleppo pepper or chile de àrbol powders
Neither of these chilies are spice rack staples and they can be difficult to source at brick and mortar stores. Read: these are not convenient solutions. But as to flavor – they match much better than crushed red pepper or chipotle powder. Aleppo pepper has a comparable heat and a lightly sweet flavor. Chile de àrbol has a little more kick (15,000 – 30,000 SHU), but there’s a nuttiness to the pepper that matches well against the smoky flavor of gochugaru.
In the right circumstance: Gochujang chili paste
Gochujang is a Korean chili paste with a strong miso-based flavor. It’s sweet, salty, and earthy in taste – and it can work in certain use cases as a gochugaru substitute. Since it’s a paste and not a powder, consider the recipe. Soup and sauce recipes may work very well with this substitution, but consider the overall salt levels in the recipe when trying. The saltiness in gochujang may be enough to flavor your food, so you may want to remove extra salt from the ingredient list.