Gochugaru is a form of dried chili that you will often see in Korean cuisine. It is what gives kimchi its red color. Red pepper flakes are the same product that is sometimes known as crushed red pepper. You might see red pepper red pepper flakes/crushed red pepper in shakers on the tables of an old-fashioned pizzeria. Should you have both of these products in your spice cabinet or do you need just one? Compare their differences and similarities in our PepperScale Showdown: Gochugaru vs. red pepper flakes.
How does gochugaru differ from red pepper red pepper flakes?
If you want to ignore the details, you could say that gochugaru and red pepper flakes are the same spice. Gochugaru is the Korean equivalent of red pepper flakes. Gochu means chili pepper and garu means powder. Note that gochugaru is usually not as fine a powder as paprika or cayenne powder but is most commonly ground to flake size.
Red pepper flakes have a similar consistency, but you would still notice a difference if you placed them side by side. Most gochugaru is seedless and therefore will be uniformly red in appearance. Red pepper flakes usually contain seeds and will have a speckled red and white look as a result.
Which is spicier?
Because most gochugaru consists only of the dried walls of the pepper fruit, it typically delivers a mild-to-moderate heat. Red pepper flakes usually contain most of the pepper including not just the walls of the pod but the veins and seeds as well. The veins have the highest concentration of capsaicin, which means they are the hottest part. Some sources have gochugaru listed at a mere 5,000 to 8,000 Scoville heat units and crushed red pepper at between 35,000 and 50,000 SHUs.
Beyond the heat, there is the matter of flavor. Gochugaru offers a sweet smokiness that you will not get from red pepper flakes. Cayenne pepper is known for having minimal flavor aside from its heat.
You will have an easier time finding gochugaru in the U.S. if you shop at Asian grocery stores. You probably won’t see it often on the shelves of the standard grocery store. In comparison, you will find crushed red pepper in most grocery stores — you will see multiple options on the typical spice aisle and possibly more in a store that has ethnic sections.
Can you use gochugaru in place of red pepper flakes and vice versa?
Use gochugaru as a substitute for red pepper flakes if what you need is a mild heat. It is an excellent alternative if the spice level of red pepper flakes is too much for you. It will work in any application that would call for red pepper flakes. The big difference will be the appearance since gochugaru does not have seeds.
Red pepper flakes are a workable but not ideal substitute for gochugaru, especially when it comes to applications like kimchi. Korean dishes that require gochugaru tend to have the pepper’s sweet and smoky properties as fundamental aspects of their flavor profiles.
When should you use gochugaru and when should you use red pepper flakes?
Use gochugaru in your homemade kimchi or in Korean recipes that depend on its specific qualities. You will also see it included in recipes for dipping sauces. Red pepper flakes have a broader range of applications besides being used to spice up pizza at the table. Add them to any dish that could use some moderate heat.
UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on March 19, 2022 to include new content.