Curious about gochugaru? Also known as Korean chilli flakes or Korean red pepper powder, this amazing spicy ingredient is essential in Korean cuisine! Find out what it is, how to buy quality gochugaru and what to use it in.
Why We Love It
Gochugaru is mildly spicy yet full of rich and complex flavour! If you’re cautious of spice intensity, this is a great ingredient to experiment with until you find the perfect balance to your taste.
It gives Korean cuisine the iconic heat and rich red colour, but you can also use it as a substitute for regular chilli powder in fusion recipes or your everyday cooking.
What is Gochugaru?
Gochugaru is an essential ingredient in Korean cuisine, and alongside gochujang, is responsible for its classic spicy heat and rich flavour.
The word gochugaru / 고춧가루 is made of the words gochu (고추 / chilli pepper) and garu (가루 / powder). In English, it’s also referred to as Korean chilli pepper flakes, Korean red pepper flakes or Korean chilli powder.
Gochugaru is bright red, coarse and flaky in texture, similar to flaky sea salt. High quality versions are made from naturally sun dried, mostly deseeded, crushed red chilli peppers referred to as taeyang-cho.
Korean red pepper flakes have a unique flavour compared with other types of chilli flakes. They’re spicy yet sweet, smoky and a little bit fruity. The flavour is well-rounded and complex, yet milder in heat than regular chilli flakes or cayenne pepper powder, although the heat, flavour and quality can vary between brands.
Korean Chilli Flakes vs Korean Chilli Powder
Both are technically gochugaru, so what are the key differences?
How to Choose the Best Gochugaru
Korean chilli flakes should have a rich, bright red colour and coarse texture, especially when compared to other types of chilli powder. If the colour is dim red or turning brownish, they’re probably getting close to their expiry date and will lack in flavour and intensity.
Many brands are labelled in English as “red pepper powder”, but where possible you want to use the flaky version instead of the finely ground version for most of our Korean recipes. The powder is mostly used for making gochujang.
Look for the label ‘coarse’ or ‘flake’ on the packaging, but this still may not be enough of a guarantee. Most packages have a clear / see-through section so, even if you’re unable to read Korean text, you can see and confirm the actual gochujang you’re getting. If you’re at the grocery store and you’re still unsure, just ask.
The best, most widely available substitute for gochujang would probably be paprika. This is available in sweet, hot or smoky versions. Try using one or a blend of all three depending on the flavour you’re trying to achieve in your chosen recipe, your taste preference or heat tolerance.
You could also try regular hot pepper flakes, red chilli powder or cayenne pepper powder, but note they won’t have the same well-rounded flavour and will be much spicier than gochugaru. Start by using half the recommended amount and build it up from there. Always use your best judgement.
For more ideas, check out this guide to gochugaru substitutes.
How to Store It
It’s important to store gochugaru in an airtight container to preserve the flavour and quality, and to avoid spoilage. Since it usually comes in large packages, we store the bulk of the powder in a big glass jar and keep a small jar in the kitchen for convenience.
For best results, you should store the bulk of your gochugaru in the freezer, and keep the small jar in the fridge. If it clumps together from being frozen, you can crush it back up or give it a quick pulse in a blender or food processor to loosen it up again.