Gochugaru is made from dried and coarsely ground Korean red chili peppers. It comes in different levels of spiciness and has a complex flavor profile that sets it apart from regular chili powder.
Keep reading to learn about gochugaru - from how it's made and its flavor to its common uses in Korean cooking and where you can buy it.
How Is Gochugaru Made?
Traditionally, gochugaru is made by sun-drying peppers, removing the seeds, and then crushing them into flakes or grinding them into powder.
Here are the basic steps:
- Harvest Korean red chili peppers and clean them thoroughly.
- Remove the stems, cut the peppers lengthwise, and shake out most seeds. Leaving some seeds in makes for a spicier powder.
- Arrange the peppers on mesh trays and leave them to dry in direct sunlight for several days.
- Once completely dried, grind the peppers into flakes or a fine powder using a blender, food processor, or traditional grinding stone.
- Store the gochugaru in an airtight container away from heat, sunlight, and moisture.
Nowadays, machine-drying is more common than sun-drying for mass production. But sun-drying is preferred, as it enhances the flavor and color.
Many Koreans still make homemade gochugaru following these traditional methods. It involves buying dried peppers at the market and taking them to a local mill for grinding.
Types of Gochugaru
There are two main types of gochugaru used in Korean cooking:
This finely ground version has a smooth, bright red appearance. Powdered gochugaru is used to make gochujang (Korean red chili paste) or in soups and dishes where you want a smooth texture without flakes.
The flakes version has a coarser, chunkier texture. It's the more versatile and commonly used type in Korean cuisine. Flaked gochugaru is essential for kimchi, soups, stews, and other Korean dishes.
Within these two types, you'll also find gochugaru in varying levels of spiciness:
- Mild (deolmaewoon gochugaru): Less spicy, with maximum flavor. Used when you need a lot of red color without too much heat.
- Spicy (maewoon gochugaru): The hot and extra spicy version. Use in moderation unless you want a serious kick.
Gochugaru Flavor Profile
Unlike regular chili powder, gochugaru has a complex flavor beyond just heat:
Spicy - The degree of spiciness can range from mild to quite hot. Starting with a little and adding more is recommended.
Smoky - The sun-drying process gives gochugaru a subtle smoky flavor.
Sweet - A slight sweetness balances out the spice and smoke.
Fruity - Notes of berry and cherry fruitiness come through.
Vibrant red color - The beautiful red hue visually appeals to finished dishes.
So gochugaru delivers a flavor punch that spices up Korean cuisine beyond simply making it hot. Its unique taste comes through in iconic dishes like kimchi, dolsot bibimbap, bulgogi, tteokbokki, and jjamppong.
Common Uses in Korean Cooking
Gochugaru is an essential ingredient in Korean cooking.
Here are some of the most popular ways it's used:
- Kimchi - No kimchi is complete without the subtle heat and red hue of gochugaru. It's mixed into the seasoning ingredients.
- Soups and stews - From sundubu jjigae (soft tofu stew) to yukgaejang (beef brisket soup), gochugaru spices up broths and stews.
- Meat marinades - The chili flakes are excellent in bulgogi (grilled beef) and spicy pork marinades, adding flavor.
- Cold noodles and salads - Sprinkled over chilled Korean noodle dishes and vegetable salads, it provides a spicy contrast.
- Rice cakes - Gochugaru is indispensable for the popular street food tteokbokki, lending its red color and heat to the dish.
- Condiment dip - Mix it with sesame oil, vinegar, and sugar for a quick spicy dipping sauce.
- Sprinkled on top - Adding some at the end brightens rice, noodles, and Korean pancakes with color and spice.
While gochugaru is irreplaceable for authentic Korean flavor, you can use these spice blends in a pinch:
- Cayenne pepper + smoked paprika - For smokiness and heat.
- Crushed red pepper flakes + chili powder - For texture and chili taste.
- Aleppo pepper + cayenne - For moderate heat and tanginess.
- Ancho chili powder - For similar mild smokiness and sweetness.
- Hungarian paprika - For the red color and milder heat.
Adjust the ratios until you get as close to gochugaru's flavor profile as possible. You won't replicate it exactly, but these substitutions will work.
Where to Buy Gochugaru
Shop at these places to find authentic Korean chili flakes and powders:
- Korean grocery stores - The best place to find multiple gochugaru brands and types. Shop at your nearby Korean market if available.
- Asian supermarkets - Many carry Korean ingredients, including gochugaru. Look in the aisle for other Korean foods.
- Online - Purchase directly from Korean grocery websites or order via Amazon. This ensures access even without local Asian markets.
- Specialty spice stores - Some gourmet spice shops carry Asian ingredients like gochugaru. Call ahead to check availability.
When buying, look for the spiciness level and whether you need powdered or flaked. And check the ingredients to ensure it's pure chili without additives.
With Korean cuisine growing globally popular, gochugaru should get easier to source. Try this fundamental Korean ingredient to make authentic dishes at home!
FAQ on Gochugaru
What's the difference between gochugaru and gochujang?
Gochugaru is dried and ground Korean chili flakes, while gochujang is a thick fermented Korean chili paste. Gochugaru provides spice and flavor as an ingredient, whereas gochujang is used as a condiment or sauce base. They differ in texture and taste due to gochujang's additional fermented bean and grain ingredients.
Can you use gochugaru to make kimchi spicier?
Yes, gochugaru is traditionally used to make kimchi; you can add more to it to make your kimchi spicier. Use the hot maewoon gochugaru variety and mix more flakes with the salting/seasoning ingredients when preparing kimchi for extra heat.
What foods pair well with gochugaru?
Gochugaru pairs nicely with Korean staples like rice, noodles, meat, and vegetables. It also complements dairy like mayo and sour cream, when blended into dips and sauces. Gochugaru's flavor works well in Tex-Mex dishes like tacos too.
Can you use gochugaru in place of crushed red pepper flakes?
In recipes, you can substitute gochugaru for crushed red pepper flakes, but the flavor will be different. Gochugaru has a unique smoky, fruity Korean chili taste compared to generic crushed red pepper's flavor profile.
Is gochugaru healthier than regular chili powder?
Yes, gochugaru has health benefits from its vitamin, antioxidant, and iron content. Its bright red color indicates the presence of healthy carotenoids. Consuming it in moderation aids digestion, weight loss, and heart health.
What dishes showcase gochugaru flavors best?
Signature Korean dishes like bulgogi, bibimbap, kimchi stew, and spicy rice cakes highlight gochugaru's complex sweet, smoky, and spicy taste. Sprinkle it over these foods to let the flavors shine.
Does gochugaru need to be refrigerated after opening?
It's best to store gochugaru at room temperature in an airtight container. Refrigeration is only needed if you plan to use it within a month after opening. Freezing extends shelf life even longer.
Gochugaru is so much more than just chili powder. This Korean red pepper flake is complex in taste, integral to Korean culture and cuisine, and easy to incorporate into traditional and fusion dishes. With its mildly spicy, sweet, and smoky notes, gochugaru brings an irreplaceable flavor and vibrancy.
Use this guide to seek out high-quality gochugaru and explore creative ways to use it in your cooking - from sprinkling over snacks to making Korean barbecue marinades.
With the remarkable taste of gochugaru, you can instantly elevate your dishes and add authentic Korean flair to any meal.