Spicy dishes are popular in Korea and gochugaru is one of the sources of heat. Gochugaru’s moderate spiciness is an essential component of Korean favorites like kimchi and gam ja tang. Koreans like to add gochugaru to their dumplings and spring rolls as well.
Gochugaru consists of chilies that have been dried in the sun, de-seeded and ground to a coarse powder.
While some Koreans and Korean food fans may believe that there is no substitute for gochugaru, the reality is that there are quite a few adequate alternatives. You may need one of them if you live in an area without a specialty grocery store.
Your best bet: Gochujang
Gochujang is a paste made from ground chilies along with rice and fermented soybeans. It might seem like an odd substitute given the fact that it is a paste and not a powder or flakes; however, it does contain ground chilies and can bring a certain level of heat to a dish. Note that when using gochujang in place of gochugaru, you may need to adjust the amounts of other ingredients in the dish.
For example, you should reduce any additional salt since gochujang contains salt. If you are making kimchi, you will want to reduce the fish sauce since that is salty. Another thing to bear in mind is that gochujang’s texture may result in a kimchi that is somewhat wet and sticky.
Start by adding a teaspoon of gochujang for every teaspoon of gochugaru that your recipe requires and working your way up from there.
A decent second choice: Aleppo pepper powder
Aleppo pepper gets its name from the Syrian town and it offers a moderate heat like gochugaru. The Aleppo pepper’s flavor is complex and fruity with nutty notes, and it can provide a level of acidity along with its heat. While its flavors may not be identical to those of gochugaru, the differences are subtle and are more likely to be complementary to your dishes than they are to detract from them. In other words, Aleppo peppers should fit well in everything that requires gochugaru.
Aleppo pepper is an effective alternative, in terms of both texture and flavor even though it does not have the same deep red color as gochugaru. Use the same amount of Aleppo pepper that your recipe requires for gochugaru.
In a pinch: Guajillo powder
Guajillo means “little gourd” and is a reference to this chili pepper’s shape. The guajillo is second only to the ancho when it comes to popularity in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine. It’s an essential ingredient in many mole and chili recipes. The flavor of guajillo powder is bright and tangy with a mild to moderate heat, similar to that of gochugaru.
Chile de arbol powder imparts a moderate heat along with a mild earthiness to dishes. This spice is commonly used in a variety of Mexican salsas and soups but can make the transition to Korean cuisine with ease. Chile de arbol is a bright red and is somewhat hotter than gochugaru so you will want to use it with caution. Start with small amounts and work up from there.
Best known as the chili pepper component in most chili powder blends, ancho chilies can bring a level of depth and richness to dishes that you may not find with other pepper varieties. Note that the spice level is mild, so you may need to supplement the heat with cayenne or another hotter type of pepper.