When I make my favorite South Korean dishes, Korean chili pepper is a must-have ingredient to add a bit of zing and bite. Gochugaru and gochujang are staples in Korean cuisine, and if you are like me, you easily mix these up. These condiments are made from the same pepper, after all.
But what exactly are the differences between gochugaru and gochujang?
There are five essential differences between gochugaru and gochujang:
- Gochugaru is a Korean chili powder, while gochujang is a Korean chili paste.
- Gochugaru is made from gochu peppers, while gochujang is made from gochugaru, salt, fermented soybean powder, glutinous rice, and barley malt powder.
- Gochugaru is smokey with hints of fruitiness, while gochujang is spicy, sweet, and tangy.
- Gochugaru has a rating of around 1,000 units on the Scoville scale, but gochujang is a lot milder.
- Gochugaru and gochujang can be used in sauces and marinades, but gochugaru can be used as a spice rub and gochujang can be used in stews.
Let’s dive into further detail so you can tell gochugaru and gochujang apart from each other.
What Is Gochugaru?
Gochugaru, which means chili pepper powder, is a traditional Korean spice that’s a key ingredient in many Korean dishes, from salads and kimchi to stews.
It’s made from sun-dried Taeyangcho peppers (also called gochu peppers), which are Korean red chili peppers.
Gochugaru is a vibrant red spice with a smoky, slightly fruity flavor. In essence, it tastes more complex and hotter than the normal chili flakes Westerners are used to.
Gochugaru is used in these Korean dishes:
- Banchan: Small side dishes featuring gochugaru (spicy cucumber salad, meat seasoned with chili powder, and stir-fried anchovies)
- Kimchi: Fermented cabbage, garlic, fish sauce, ginger, and some other ingredients that are seasoned with gochugaru
- Jjigae: Korean stew made from veggies, seafood or beef, and tofu that’s simmered in a gochugaru-flavored broth
What Is Gochujang?
Gochujang is made from gochugaru. The other traditional ingredients in gochujang are fermented soybean powder, salt, barley malt powder, and glutinous rice (to form a thick paste).
It is a bright red fermented chili paste that’s sweet, and spicy, and often features in Korean cuisine. You’ll also taste some tangy umami-ness, and that’s because of the fermented soybeans.
Gochujang is commonly used in these Korean dishes:
- Tteokbokki: Chewy rice cakes in a gochujang sauce that’s a popular Korean street food
- Bibimbap: A rice dish with veggies, protein, and gochujang
- Bulgogi: Thinly sliced beef that’s marinated in gochujang, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and sugar
Differences Between Gochugaru vs Gochujang
The only similarities between gochugaru vs gochujang are that they:
- Are made from the same pepper (gochugaru)
- Originated in South Korea
- Are an essential ingredient in South Korean cuisine
There are many more differences.
Here are the five main differences between gochujang and gochugaru:
Gochugaru is just the ground chili powder from the gochu peppers, so it’s a spice you add to your recipes.
On the other hand, gochujang undergoes a fermentation process that takes around three months. The soybean powder in gochujang needs to be fermented, and during this process, the enzymes break down the sugar of the glutinous rice flour.
You’d think that gochugaru and gochujang have a similar flavor profile, but they don’t, and that’s why they aren’t direct substitutes for each in all recipes.
Gochujang has a complex flavor because of the fermenting process and added ingredients. It has a sweet, spicy, tangy, and umami flavor.
Gochugaru is more smoky and fruity in flavor.
If you’re wondering how hot gochujang is, it isn’t super hot. On the Scoville Heat Units (SHU) scale, gochugaru comes in at less than 1,000 units, and gochujang is milder.
For comparison, a jalapeño pepper has a SHU of 2,500 to 10,000 units, cayenne pepper, and tabasco pepper have a rating of 25,000 to 50,000, and bird’s eye pepper and malagueta pepper rates 50,000 to 100,000 SHU.
This difference is one of the most significant.
Gochugaru is chili pepper flakes in powder form, while gochujang is a thick paste.
Uses in Recipes
There’s some overlap for when you can use gochujang vs gochugaru.
Use both these condiments in sauces and marinades.
However, it is best to use gochugaru as a spice rub, while gochujang can be used in stews and Tteokbokki (which are spicy stir-fried rice cakes).
Can I Substitute Gochujang for Gochugaru?
You can’t always substitute gochujang for gochugaru.
For one, gochujang is saltier, so you need to taste your dish and possibly adjust the salt content to ensure the flavor is well-balanced.
You also need to account for the texture of your dish. If you are making soup or stew, then you can use gochugaru as a substitute for gochujang.
However, in general, better alternatives for gochugaru are:
- Chipotle powder
- Cayenne powder
- Crushed red pepper
- Smoked paprika
You can also mix some of these substitutes to add complexity to your dish. For example, chipotle powder’s smokiness with some crushed red pepper works really well.
If you need to find a substitute for gochujang, mix gochugaru with miso paste, sugar, and sake. Together, these alternatives give you a similar fermented umami flavor to gochujang.
But Thai chili paste or sauce can also work.
Can I Use Gochujang Instead of Gochugaru for Kimchi?
Gochujang and kimchi have been fermented, so they are kind of similar. Kimchi has a spicy and tangy flavor, while gochujang is sweet, tangy, and spicy.
In a pinch, you can substitute gochujang for kimchi (but be sure to adjust the saltiness of the kimchi), but you can also sauerkraut, miso paste, pickled radishes, and pickled cucumbers.
My Last Foodie Thoughts
It is essential to know the differences between gochugaru and gochujang, especially since you can’t just swap them out for each other in dishes and expect the same flavor profile.
Gochujang is a red chili paste that is best for sauces, stews, and marinades, while gochugaru is ground chili flakes or a chili powder that’s ideal as a spice rub and in sauces and marinades.