Gochugaru Substitute: 12 Best Alternatives to Spice Up!

Are you a big fan of spicy Korean dishes? If yes, gochugaru is one ingredient you always need to have in your pantry! Yep, we’re talking about that red spice that brings the trademark spicy Korean flavors to life!

But what if you forgot to replenish your Gochugaru stock at home?

Here’s the worst part: the nearest Asian store is an hour away from home!

Bummer, right? We feel you!

But we have good news for you—there are lots of fantastic gochugaru substitute options that you can easily find in your pantry (or at the very least, in a nearby supermarket).

If you have no idea what the potential alternatives are, we got you covered with this list of best gochugaru substitutes for your recipe.

If you’re ready, let’s spice things up!

What Can I Substitute for gochugaru?

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Gochugaru is the Korean term that translates to chili (Gochu) powder (Garu). This coarsely ground red spice is produced by grounding seedless sun-dried hot peppers.

The heat spice level of Gochugaru varies from mild to hot, depending on the variety that you’re working with. The Scoville Scale’s spice level ranges from 1500 SHU to 10,000 SHU.

Pro Tip: With the different varieties available, you must familiarize yourself with their differences. For example, maewoon gochugaru is the hottest variant, while deolmaewoon gochugaru is the least spicy.

While their spice levels may differ, all Gochugaru varieties have one thing in common—their slightly smoky, sweet, and spicy flavor.  

This Korean chili powder is a must-have ingredient that gives traditional Korean dishes (kimchi, stews, gochujang, and famous cucumber salad) their well-known spicy flavor.

While this spice may not be easily accessible to you, it doesn’t mean that you should miss out on the amazing opportunity to try out Korean cuisine. Here are other spices you can substitute for gochugaru:

1.    Gochujang

Gochujang is at the top of the list of the best gochugaru substitutes regarding the flavor profile. This is because both condiments were produced from Gochu Pepper.

However, one obvious difference between the two is their texture. Gochugaru comes as a powder, while Gochujang is a thick paste containing fermented soybean paste, gochugaru, sticky rice, salt, and soybeans.

Considering their differences and additional ingredients, we recommend using only gochujang to substitute Korean dishes that are okay to be salty and wet.

Pro Tip: When using the gochujang substitute, don’t forget to adjust the amount of salt the recipe calls for accordingly.

How to substitute: Add ½ teaspoon of gochujang for every teaspoon of chili powder needed.

2.    Cayenne Pepper

Among all of the spices on the list, cayenne pepper is the best gochugaru substitute when it comes to texture. The best thing is it’s already commonly used in various Korean recipes since it gives off almost the same flavor. However, it’s a bit spicier than Korean chili powder.

This spice comes in two forms—powder and flakes. The advantage of cayenne pepper flakes is they are spicier, so it’s an excellent option for making spicy Korean recipes. On the other hand, cayenne pepper powder is seedless, so it resembles gochugaru closely.

Pro Tip: When using cayenne pepper for preparing kimchi, try soaking cayenne pepper in lukewarm water for a few minutes to reduce its spice level.

How to substitute: For every 1 teaspoon of gochugaru needed in the recipe, use ¾ teaspoon of cayenne pepper flakes.

3.    Aleppo Pepper Flakes

Are you in the Middle East, or do you have a Middle Eastern spice market near your home? If so, try to look into Aleppo Peppers to find a great substitute for Gochugaru.

Aleppo Pepper is a spice that originated from Syria and has a coarsely ground texture similar to that of Gochugaru.

However, it has a moderate heat level (10,000 SHU), offering more heat than the usual  Korean chili flakes. Similar to the real thing, Aleppo Pepper is also slightly sweet. However, this one has a complex fruity flavor with nutty notes, which may not sit well for those used to using the original spice.

Pro Tip: To balance its fruity flavor, try mixing Aleppo Pepper with vinegar and salt.

How to substitute: Use 1 teaspoon of Aleppo Pepper for every 1 teaspoon of Gochugaru.

4.    Chipotle Powder

Having a SHU between 3000 to 30,000, Chipotle Powder is considered an excellent gochugaru substitute because it has the same heat level as the original spice.

The best thing about this spice is it’s widely available in supermarkets, especially if you live in the US.

Since smoking Jalapeno chilies produce it, one caveat to keep in mind is Chipotle powder has a more intense smoky flavor than Korean chili powder. This may affect the taste of different recipes.

Pro Tip: To tone down its smoky flavor, add crushed red pepper into it.

How to substitute: Add 1 tablespoon of Chipotle Powder for every teaspoon of the original spice needed.

5.    Indian Chili Powder

Also called Ial mirch, this spice is a blend of different types of red chilies like Kashmiri Chili and red chili powder. When used in various spicy dishes, it is usually mixed with cayenne pepper on a 3:2 ratio.

Pro Tip: If you want a spicier flavor, add more cayenne to the mix while adding a dash of Paprika will give the powder the smoky flavor it needs.

How to substitute: To achieve the same spice level, use equal portions. On the other hand, add more Indian powder than you would use Gochugaru if you want the dish to taste sweeter.

6.    Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

Nothing beats the red chili pepper flakes as a gochugaru substitute when it comes to convenience. Of course, you may already have a bottle of this widely used spice in your pantry!

In addition to its availability, another characteristic that makes it a worthy alternative is its striking red color.

Since it comes in flakes, you need to crush them to powder form using a mortar and pestle.

Plus, you must take note of its spice level. Since it’s made from cayenne pepper, it has a SHU of 30,000 to 50,000, which is a lot higher than gochugaru’s SHU. So if you want to reduce the heat, you would need to use a lesser amount in your recipes.

How to substitute: Since it’s about 3-8 times spicier than gochugaru, you can add 1/3 to 1/8 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes for every 1 teaspoon of the original spice that the recipe calls for.

7.    Paprika

There are main reasons why people consider Paprika to be one of the best gochugaru substitutes.

For one, it has a vibrant red hue similar to that of chili powder, so it will help you achieve the brilliant red color that most Korean dishes have.

And considering that it’s one of the must-have spices in the kitchen, it’s widely available in various supermarkets, so you can easily find a bottle or two whenever you need it. (*)

Last but not least, Paprika comes in different varieties. Here are the three most common ones, along with their flavor profile:

  • Sweet paprika: sweet, mild flavor
  • Hot Paprika (Hungarian paprika): Strong pepper flavor with a spicy kick
  • Smoked Paprika (Spanish paprika): rich, smoky flavor with medium heat

Pro Tip: Among the three, the Hungarian Paprika has the closest flavor profile with gochugaru.

How to substitute: Use the same amount of paprika equivalent to the chili powder needed.

8.    Chile Pasilla

If you don’t love spicy food and wish to create non-spicy Korean dishes, the Chile Pasilla might just be the alternative you’re looking for as its SHU falls only between 1000 to 4000.

Chile Pasilla is a type of pepper commonly used in Mexican dishes such as stews, adobo sauces, salsas, and tortilla soups.  And while it’s not as hot as you expect, its flavor profile is the closest to gochugaru compared to other spices in the list, so it gives you the best of both worlds—full flavor and better control over your dish’s spice level.

Warning: Chile Pasilla has a deep and dark color which can undoubtedly affect the appearance of the final dish. If you can’t compromise on this, you should find other gochugaru substitutes.

How to substitute: Use Chille Pasilla in equal parts to gochugaru in your dishes.

9.    Chile de Arbor

With a heat spice level of 15000 to 30000 SHU, Chile de Arbor is an excellent gochugaru substitute for you if you want an extra kick to your Korean dishes.

This spice has the same smoky and spicy flavor as Chipotle, and it’s pretty versatile as it comes in different types—flakes, paste, and powder making it a versatile option for a wide range of recipes.

But wait, there’s more. Chile De Arbor is very affordable, making it the go-to alternative for people on a tight budget.

Pro Tip: Since it has more kick than the chili powder, add the spice little by little until you achieve your desired taste.

How to substitute: Use only ½ teaspoon of Chile de Arbor for every 1 teaspoon of gochugaru that you need.

10. Fish Peppers

Fish peppers are an old strain of peppers smaller than regular bell peppers. You’ll mostly find these beside the fish sauces in the grocery section.

We consider this one of the best gochugaru substitutes because it has a mild spicy flavor and a salty kick. The peppers are most suitable for replacing Korean hot pepper flakes in spicy seafood and fish dishes.

Pro Tip: Add them with habanero peppers if you want to boost its spicy kick.

How to substitute: Use 1 ½ teaspoon of Fish peppers for every 1 teaspoon of gochugaru that you need.

11. Jalapeños

When it comes to adding spice to your dishes, nothing beats using Jalapeno peppers. This medium-sized pepper produces a hot burning sensation in the mouth, minus the scorching feel on the taste buds.

While this may not be the best gochugaru substitute (because of its form), it’s good enough for replacing gochugaru in certain stews and soups recipes.

Pro Tip: To achieve a more similar texture to Korean chili powder, you can try using Jalapeno powder instead.

How to substitute: A tablespoon of diced Jalapeños is equivalent to half a teaspoon of gochugaru.

12. Guajillo Powder

Another pepper similar to Jalapeño that you can use is Guajillo, a pepper widely used in Tex-Mex cuisine. The name means little gourd, which refers to its distinct shape.

What makes it one of the great gochugaru substitutes is it has medium heat and tangy flavor and doesn’t leave behind a strong aftertaste, unlike Aleppo Pepper. However, they are not as spicy as Korean chili powder.

Pro Tip: If you want your dish to have a smoky flavor, use Guajillo powder instead of pepper.

How to substitute: Add 3 teaspoons of Guajillo powder for every teaspoon of Gochugaru you need.

The Bottom Line

Just because gochugaru is not readily available for you doesn’t mean you can no longer try Korean dishes.

Based on this list, there are plenty of gochugaru substitutes that you can choose from. However, to determine which alternatives will best suit your recipe, you must familiarize yourself with their texture and taste differences. We’ve already shared all of the necessary information in this article.

If the only thing that’s holding you back from trying Korean cuisine is the lack of gochugaru, you now have this list of great replacements. So now go out there, find your alternative, and enjoy Korean cuisine at its finest!

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