Korean red pepper powder (Gochugaru), a staple ingredient in Korean cooking, is used in the seasoning paste for kimchi. Blended along with ginger, garlic and fish sauce, it creates an important flavor profile that cannot be replicated by using other types of chili powders. Contrary to popular belief, gochugaru is less spicy than the tropical varieties of peppers used in Thai or Vietnamese cooking or the varieties of peppers used in Mexican dishes.
All the recipes I’ll be sharing for kimchi will call for gochugaru so let’s learn about this special seasoning and find out where to buy it.
- What is Gochugaru?
- How is Gochugaru Made?
- Buying Gochugaru
- Recipes that use Gochugaru Korean Red Pepper Powder
What is Gochugaru?
Gochugaru, a Korean red chili pepper, is a vibrant red color and is coarse in texture. Gochugaru has a much more complex flavor than our common chili powders that can be described as spicy (just a wee bit), sweet, and slightly smoky. The actual spiciness can vary depending on the region of origin and its specific farming conditions.
The name “gochugaru” is derived from Korean gochu-garu (고춧가루; gochutgaru), where gochu (고추) means “chili pepper” and garu (가루) means “powder”.
Gochugaru is not quite as coarse as red pepper flakes nor it is as fine as cayenne pepper. Don’t confuse its flaky texture for actual seeds as is seen in red pepper flakes.
Gochugaru gives kimchi it’s beautiful orange-red hue. If you are wanting to make the best-tasting batch of kimchi, purchase authentic Korean red pepper powder. I originally used red pepper flakes in my Kimchi-Style Sauerkraut recipe but now recommend the real stuff. Gochugaru. In the Buying Gochugaru section below, I share shopping tips and links.
How is Gochugaru Made?
Gochugaru is made by drying Korean red chili peppers in the sun, de-seeding them, and crushing them into flakes. Taeyangcho, or peppers that have been sun-dried, are considered to make the highest quality gochugaru. Lower-quality brands use peppers that are machine dried.
In Korean, the chili peppers are most often called gochu (고추), which means “chili pepper.” The gochu peppers have a thick wall like a pimento or paprika type pepper and help to slightly thicken the red pepper paste in kimchi as well as give it that crazy cool red color. Gochu peppers are vibrant red and 4-6 inches in length. The dried peppers seen in the video above look bigger than most of the references I’ve come across.
Gochugaru can be found in both course or fine grind. The fine powder is typically used for making gochujang, or Korean chili pepper paste. The coarsely ground powder, or dried flakes, is used for making the seasoning paste for kimchi.
Heat Index for Gochugaru
Where do you think Korean red peppers are on the Scoville heat scale? You might be surprised.
To know how hot a pepper is, we need to look at Scoville heat units.
Scoville heat units – often shortened to just SHU – are simply a measurement of sugar-water. The Scoville Organoleptic Test measures chili heat by figuring out how much sugar-water is needed to be diluted into a chili pepper mash to get to the point where you no longer feel the heat at all. – PepperScale
So, if you end up with a batch of kimchi that is too hot for your palate, add some sugar to it to bring down the heat.
According to the PepperScale website, Gochugaru lands In the medium-heat index of 4,000 – 8,000 Scoville heat units, similar to the jalapeño’s 2,500 to 8,000 Scoville heat units. Wikipedia puts green, unripe Korean chili peppers at 1,500 Scoville heat units. I certainly don’t find gochugaru to be as hot a jalapeño pepper.
The crushed red pepper that I originally used in my Kimchi-Style Sauerkraut recipe has a lot more heat because it contains seeds, which are where much of a pepper’s heat is held. It is typically made from cayenne pepper and ranges from 30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units. Gochugaru, comparatively, is seedless when made and lower on the heat scale.
To me, gochugaru is not hot – and I don’t like hot and spicy. I have used both the Mother-in-Law's and the Crazy Korean Cooking's brands of gochugaru. I find that gochugaru imparts a long, gentle warmth to foods and does not deliver a quick, spicy hit.
Gochugaru is available both online or at an Asian market or upscale grocery store. With purchasing, look for vibrant red coarse pepper flakes that have been naturally sun-dried. Brownish-red color indicates oxidation. At the market, you may find different heat indicators on the various package of gochugaru. According to Maangchi at her website of authentic Korean recipes:
The spice level of these hot pepper flakes varies from mild to hot. I use less spicy flakes in many recipes, which allows me to use more and make the dish redder!
When buying these flakes, “maewoon gochugaru” means very hot spicy hot pepper flakes and “deolmaewoon gochugaru” means milder.
Try to buy the ones that are made with sun-dried peppers, which will be labeled as 태양초 on the package.
Store in an airtight container to avoid oxidation and keep in your fridge or freezer to shield it from direct sunlight, and to retain freshness.
The following brands are commonly found online.
Organic Gochugaru by Crazy Korean Cooking
- USDA certified organic 100% Sun-dried (Taeyangcho) Korean red hot chili pepper flakes
- New Harvest every year. Grown in Korea, Processed and packaged in Korea.
- Packaged in HACCP certified safe and clean manufacturing process
The chili peppers used for the Crazy Korean Cooking gochugaru are naturally grown using no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. Then, the high-quality chili peppers are selected and washed with clean spring water. Next, they are naturally sun-dried and ground. The ground chili peppers are thoroughly inspected and any impurities are removed. Sun-dried chili peppers (taeyangcho) are more vibrant in color and retain more nutrients and flavor than machine-dried chili peppers.
This gochugaru by Crazy Korean Cooking has moderate heat with fruity, smoky flavors and is a crimson color.
Gochugaru by Mother-In-Law’s Kimchi
- Top-quality Korean chile flakes made from premium peppers
- Essential for making the best-tasting homemade kimchi
- Unique balance of earthiness, spiciness and complexity
Mother-in-Law’s signature gochugaru has moderate heat with fruity, smoky flavors and crimson color that is essential for delicious kimchi and all your dishes. According to the question section on the Amazon website, the peppers are grown in New Mexico USA.
Boise Salt Co. Korean Gochugaru Chile Flakes
- All-Natural, Gluten-Free, Non-GMO
- Adds authentic Korean taste to meats and vegetables. Used in traditional Korean dishes, such as...
- Ingredients: Dried Gochugaru Chiles
Coarsely ground, between a flake and a powder, this popular Korean ingredient is fruity and smokey with a mild heat. Ranges from 1,000 to 2,500 on the Scoville Heat Scale.
A Good Gochugaru Substitute?
If you’re unable to buy authentic Korean red pepper powder, the PepperScale blog has a list of good alternatives – crushed red pepper, chipotle powder, and a few other options, along with the pros and cons of them.
Also worth a look is 7 Delicious Gochugaru Substitutes You can Use When You Can’t Get the Real Deal. She includes the Scoville Heat Units for each substitute which is helpful when wanting to know how much heat you’ll be adding to your dish.
Recipes that use Gochugaru Korean Red Pepper Powder
Upcoming in this series will be a recipe for traditional kimchi along with other ferments, all of which will call for the use of gochugaru. Gochugaru not only works great in all types of kimchi, but also in spicy soups, stews, and stir-fries. In case you can’t wait, here are a few recipes that you might enjoy.
Red Pepper Kimchi Seasoning Paste
There are many recipes for kimchi – the spicy Korean vegetable side dish. But one thing that’s common through them all: the need for a spicy chili pepper paste. This simple homemade kimchi paste is a terrific catch-all across kimchi recipes, but it can do more than that. Use it, too, as a way to spice up soups and stews. It has a delicious spicy-sweet flavor that works in many tomato-based soups. Homemade Kimchi Paste
Carrot Kimchi (Tanggun)
This kimchi seems to be very popular in Russia, at least it is often requested by Russian tourists who visit the Arirang restaurant. The carrots can also be eaten without leaving them to ferment, but of course, you’ll then get a whole different flavor. Carrot Kimchi (tanggun)
Quick Cucumber and Chive Kimchi
French Breakfast Radish Kimchi
For those of you looking for a vegan option for fish sauce, a common substitution is mushroom broth as used in this recipe for French Breakfast Radish Kimchi.
Korean Lettuce Salad (Sangchu-geotjeori)
Sangchu-geotjeori is a bright, spicy, lightly seasoned lettuce salad that meant to be made and eaten right away, not fermented like kimchi. The recipe is found on Maanghi’s Korean cooking website.
When looking for recipes for red pepper paste for kimchi making, you might come across gochujang, an umami-rich sauce with a similar look to the kimchi seasoning paste.
Gochujang is a popular Korean condiment, aka the ketchup of Korea! “Gochu” means chile and “Jang,” fermented. Its unique flavor comes from a traditional fermentation process mixing fermented soybeans, red chili pepper, rice flour, malt syrup, and salt.
Traditionally, every Korean home made its own batch of gochujang which was mixed and then allowed to ferment for months in porous earthenware pottery called onggi, much like the Kimchi fermentation process.
Note: Gochugara makes a great gift for a special friend who is into spicy foods and might want to try their hand at making kimchi. See more gift ideas in my fermentation gift guide.
Last update on 2020-03-31 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API