What Are Gochugaru Chili Flakes and How do I Use them?
Time to read 4 min
Time to read 4 min
This amazing (and newly popular) flavor is taking spice racks by storm with a bold combination of heat, smoke, and sweetness.
Whether you’ve recently discovered Korean cooking or you just want to incorporate new spices and flavors into your dishes, you may have heard about gochugaru chili flakes. This chili is what gives many Korean dishes their unique flavors and mild spiciness. If you’re attempting to recreate a Korean dish you’ve recently tried, gochugaru is likely a must.
If you’re new to gochugaru chili, there are a few things you should know about this pepper type, including what sets it apart from other peppers and which dishes it’s usually included in.
Gochugaru chili (고추가루), also commonly called Korean chili in English, is one of the most commonly used chilis in Korean dishes. The pepper itself is a bright red color and it’s moderately spicy with a touch of sweetness that follows. When used as a paste or powder, gochugaru is mild in heat but incredibly flavorful, and its unique taste makes it quite different from other common chili powders.
There are two main types of gochugaru chili: gochugaru chili flakes and gochugaru chili powder. Though gochu means “chili pepper” and garu means “powder,” the term gochugaru can refer to both Korean chili flakes and Korean chili powder.
The flake variety is coarse and flaky while the powder is light and fine. Each variety is used differently in Korean cooking. For example, flakes are usually used for Korean side dishes, soups, and salads. The powder variety is used in some kimchi recipes and dishes that call for bright colors and smooth textures.
Some debate exists regarding the history of gochugaru chilis in Korea. Like many pepper types, Korean gochugaru may have originated from Central America, where it was then brought to Europe and Asia during the Columbian Spice Exchange in the late 1400s and early 1500s.
Some Korean historians disagree with this version of events, however. Many claim that gochugaru chilis were present in Korea as far back as the 1200s, while some claim that their existence in Korea reaches millions of years into the past. According to legends, gochugaru chilis were carried into Korea by ancient birds, where they eventually became a food staple throughout the country.
This idea isn’t universally accepted, though, as there aren’t any records of gochugaru peppers in Korea before the 16th century.
Much of what separates gochugaru chili from other chili flakes and powders is the flavor. Gochugaru is smoky in flavor, with a mild sweetness. It’s moderately spicy, but not enough to where it overpowers its own unique flavor profile.
Even in appearance, gochugaru flakes differ from other forms of red chili flakes. For one, gochugaru usually doesn’t contain seeds, so the color is typically much more uniform than flakes that contain their white or yellow-tinted seeds.
When it comes to flavor and texture, the differences between gochugaru and other chili flakes are more obvious. Korean chili flakes are far less spicy than red chili flakes, because they usually contain only the walls of the chili pepper. This gives them a Scoville rating of 5,000-8,000. Red chili flakes, on the other hand, contain most of the entire pepper, which gives them a higher Scoville rating of 35,000-50,000.
Gochugaru’s mild spiciness makes its unique flavor stand out more than other peppers. It has a sweet, smoky taste while other types of red pepper lack flavor aside from their spiciness.
Substituting gochugaru flakes for another chili flake might be doable for an individual who is experienced with gochugaru heat and flavor, but much of the time, using a different pepper will be noticeable when eating the dish. For the sake of authenticity, it’s best to use the pepper a recipe calls for. Should you struggle to find gochugaru flakes at your local grocery store, don’t fret. You’ll likely have better luck if you visit an Asian grocery store or shop online.
If all else fails, the closest substitute for gochugaru is paprika rather than other red pepper flakes.
As mentioned above, gochugaru chili is one of the most commonly used peppers in Korean cooking. Some common dishes that make use of gochugaru’s smoky, sweet flavor include the below-mentioned items.
Gochugaru chili can make an amazing addition to an array of dishes, Korean or not. If you’d like to give it a try, stop over at FreshJax and check out our certified organic gochugaru chili flakes. Our clean, single-ingredient labels ensure that our products are of the highest possible quality, with no unnecessary additives.
We loved the taste so much that we even include it in our Salt Free Seasonings Gift Set. (we don't like to leave home without it!)