Gochugaru is ground or crushed Korean chilli powder made from sun-dried chillies, called taeyang-cho, which have had the seeds removed. Gochugaru is also known simply as Korean chilli flakes, Korean hot pepper or Korean chilli powder.
It is particularly bright red, especially when compared alongside other more generic chilli powders. It also feels different as it tends to be much softer in texture.
What Does Gochugaru Taste Like?
Gochugaru is one of the most complex chilli powders in the world in terms of taste. Most chilli powders are fairly one-dimensional. They’ll be spicy or smoky. But gochugaru has multiple levels of taste.
Although the heat level can differ from mild to hot, most gochugaru powder will be smoky, sweet and spicy simultaneously which is why its use is both essential and varied in Korean cooking.
Gochugaru is medium in heat with between 4,000 and 8,000 Scoville heat units. This is roughly the same as jalapenos.
How to Use Gochugaru
There’s one primary use for gochugaru that most people are aware of (more on that in a minute). But gochugaru doesn’t have to be limited to this one use. It’s one of the most versatile chilli powders you can have on your spice rack.
Kimchi without gochugaru isn’t kimchi. Although there will be simplified versions of kimchi that opt for other chilli powders (or even paprika?!), gochugaru gives authentic kimchi that iconic level of heat and smokiness.
If you want an authentic, traditional kimchi recipe then this one from Hyosun over on Korean Bapsang is perfect.
Chilli oil is an easy way to pimp up any dish – if you like heat, of course! Whether it’s drizzled on pizza, spooned over rice or stirred through noodles, it’s an easy way to make even the blandest plate of food tasty.
Add a cup of gochugaru to a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Bring a pot of vegetable oil to the boil with a few aromatics such as garlic, spring onions and ginger then simmer for 15 minutes or so.
Strain the hot oil into your jar, give it a gentle stir. Leave it for a few weeks in the cupboard so that the flavours can develop and then, once opened, keep in the fridge for a few months.
As gochugaru is delicate in flavour and texture, it can be used directly on foods to season them. Try mixing salt, gochugaru and ground sesame seeds to use as an instant flavour boost on a variety of dishes.
Your seasoning mix can be sprinkled over boiled eggs, steaks, toasties, soups, roasted vegetables, noodles and more!
You know that seasoning mix… Try adding a teaspoon or two to freshly popped corn. No, really! Gone are the days when popcorn has to be salty or sweet. a hit of chilli is one of the best ways to take popcorn to that next level.
How to Store Gochugaru
The best way to store gochugaru is in an airtight container, in a cupboard, away from direct sunlight and temperature fluctuations. Ultimately, you should store it how you store any other spices.
How to Freeze Gochugaru
You can freeze gochugaru for around 2 years, however, it’s not the best way to store it. You’ll find that the flavour can degrade when it’s stored in the freezer.
The problem is, you won’t know that the flavour has degraded until it is far too late. You’ll go to use it from the freezer and find that it doesn’t taste of anything. That would be a disaster!
Not really! Gochugaru will not have a specific expiry date but, like most spices, if it’s not stored in an airtight container away from direct sunlight then the flavour will begin to degrade.
Substitutes for Gochugaru
Struggling to find gochugaru? Then below are a few gochugaru substitutes that can be used in some cases.
- Chipotle Powder – Chipotle powder could be seen as the Mexican gochugaru. It’s both smoky and spice, much like gochugaru. It does tend to be a lot smokier though which can overpower more delicate dishes.
- Paprika – Paprika can be found in two forms, hot and sweet, both of which could be used in place of gochugaru depending on what flavour you’re after. Want smoky heat? Opt for hot paprika. Need sweet smokiness? Try sweet paprika.
- Cayenne Pepper – Cayenne pepper won’t be the best option to use as it tends to be a direct heat without much smokiness. It has roughly 10x more Scoville heat units so use sparingly.
- Generic Chilli Powder – Ultimately, if you need chilli heat in powder form then any generic chilli powder will work in place of gochugaru. The flavour profile won’t be as complex but it’s a viable, cheap and readily-availabile alternative.
None of these substitutes will be a perfect match for gochugaru, unfortunately. Some will be spicier. Others will be smokier.
However, there’s nothing from stopping you combining a few of these substitutes to get a little closer to the flavour profile of gochugaru.
Where to Buy Gochugaru
2 or 3 years ago, trying to find gochugaru without going to a specialist food store or an Asian market was near-impossible. Fortunately, supermarkets are stocking more and more spices.
Gochugaru can still be a challenge to find in small supermarkets but many larger stores will stock it.
If you can’t find it then it can still be purchased online with ease from Amazon, Sous Chef or other specialist food stores.
If you’ve got other specific questions about gochugaru and how to use it, then these might help:
We would avoid using gochujang in place of gochugaru. Although they are made from the same core ingredient, their taste profiles are not the same and their textures are completely different.
Gochugaru is medium in heat with between 4,000 and 8,000 Scoville heat units. This is roughly the same as a jalapeno, more than a poblano but significantly less than tabasco chillies.
The only thing in gochugaru is crushed or ground Korean chillies. Generally, Korean chillies are sun-dried before having their seeds removed. These are then ground up or crushed to form gochugaru.
Yes, gochugaru is vegan. As the only ingredient in gochugaru is chillies or peppers, it is vegan-friendly.
Yes, gochugaru is gluten-free. Usually, gochugaru only contains one ingredient and that is Korean chilli. If, however, you buy poor-quality gochugaru then there is a chance that it has been combined with other ingredients to bulk it out.
Got more questions about gochugaru? Then ask away in the comments section at the bottom of this page and we’ll help out as much as possible!
Lewis is the founder and editor of Let’s Foodie alongside other food-related platforms including FreezeIt and SubstituteIt. He launched Let’s Foodie to provide aspiring cooks with one place to get the answers to some of the most commonly asked cooking questions.