Gochugaru Vs. Gochujang: SPICEography Showdown

Gochugaru and gochujang are two ingredients you should get if you plan to make authentic-tasting Korean food. They are staples in Korean kitchens and lend their flavors to some of the most popular dishes. Both are great for adding heat but there is much more to each of them. If you plan on using one or both, be aware that they will function differently based on the dishes in which you use them even though they have a lot in common. Below is a look at how gochugaru and gochujang compare to each other. 

How does gochugaru differ from gochujang?

Gochugaru translates literally to pepper powder. Gochu means pepper and garu means powder. The name gochugaru refers to the flakes of a moderately hot sun-dried red chil pepper that is has been present in Korea since the 16th century.

Gochujang is a thick, sticky paste used in dipping sauces and marinades. Gochujang contains gochugaru along with various other flavorful ingredients. So the first big difference is consistency since gochugaru is flaky and dry while gochujang is a paste. The second is that gochujang consists only of the chil pepper and has a sweet and mildly smoky flavor while gochujang has other flavors like fermented soybean and glutinous rice. You can store gochugaru outside of the refrigerator; you must refrigerate gochujang. 

Can you use gochugaru in place of gochujang and vice versa?

Because gochugaru is dry pepper flakes, you cannot use it in place of gochujang without adding wet ingredients to get a similar consistency. You can try sourcing all the ingredients in gochujang to make your own version, but this will take time and effort. Alternatively, you could combine gochugaru with a Chinese fermented red bean paste to get something in the ballpark of gochujang. None of these alternatives is likely to get you the right flavor profile. 

You can use gochujang in place of gochugaru but it might not work in some dishes for several reasons. The first is that gochujang is a paste. The paste consistency can make it difficult to mix into some dishes and you cannot sprinkle it like gochugaru. It is also a fermented product, so it will have a noticeably different flavor profile when compared to the plain pepper flakes that make up gochugaru.

That sugar is an ingredient is something else that you will have to consider when cooking with it. Because it is sugary, dishes made with it may have more of a tendency to burn. When you use gochujang in an application like kimchi, it will make the dish considerably stickier and will give it a different flavor profile. 

When should you use gochugaru and when should you use gochujang?

Use gochugaru as an all-purpose seasoning to add heat to almost any dish. It is essential if you are making kimchi. You can also use it to make your own gochujang and as a substitute for cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes when you are not making Korean food.

Use gochujang in your marinade for bulgogi and other meat dishes to get a traditional flavor profile. You can also add it to various soups, stews and sauces. Aside from its traditional applications, it can make a good addition to barbecue sauces and you can add it to ramen for a spicy kick.