Korean food is trending and we love it! This is one cuisine that can be made to suit the Indian palate and has relatively more options for vegetarians and vegans. Finding Gochujang can be tricky though, depending on where you live. It may be hard to find a brand that ships fresh products at affordable rates. So here are 5 easily available gochujang substitutes you can use in your cooking.
A. What Is Gochujang?
Gochujang (Korean: 고추장, pronounced ‘go-choo-jaang’) is a fermented Korean red chilli paste. Savoury, sweet and spicy (with a pungent flavour too), this paste is a Korean cooking staple and is great for those who love a spicy and slightly sweet flavour in their food.
a) How Is It Made?
Gochujang is made from:
• Korean chilli powder (Gochugaru)
• Fermented soybean powder (Mejugaru) or soybean paste
• Glutinous rice powder/ malted barley/ wheat flour
Korean chilli peppers (Gochu) aren’t very spicy but depending on the pepper used to make it, the resulting gochujang can be mild to extremely hot.
The paste is fermented, which can take up to six months. There are, of course, instant versions but they wouldn’t taste the same.
Gochujang’s sweet flavour comes from the starches in the glutinous rice (or barley malt powder, wheat, and even added syrups in other versions) getting converted to sugars. In the store-bought types, sweetening agents may be added.
The fermented soybeans give it a miso-like “umami” flavour. When looking at substitutes, miso comes pretty close, considering it’s made from fermented soybean paste as well but, just like gochujang, it may not be easily available.
Mixing miso paste, or doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste) with Korean chilli powder, a bit of a sweetening agent like sugar or rice syrup is probably the best option.
A finished gochujang paste is a rich red and thick one, adding body to the dish it’s added in.
Check out this traditional Korean gochujang recipe here.
b) Where Do You Use Gochujang?
• Stews, soups and broths
• Stir Fries
• Side dishes and salads
• Pickles and marinades
• As a base to make other condiments and dipping sauces
Those familiar with Korean cuisine will recognize popular dishes using gochujang such as tteokbeokki (stir-fried rice cakes), bibimbap (Korean mixed rice), or kimchi-jjigae (kimchi stew).
It makes an excellent coating sauce for fried chicken, (or anything, really) and goes with nearly every vegetable as well as tofu or paneer.
Be careful not to use gochujang directly as a dipping or coating sauce, however. It is not recommended to eat it raw, even from a store-bought tub. Make sure to cook it with some dilution to make it sauce-like in texture.
This paste tends to be flavorful and pungent on its own, which means not much of it is required to season a dish – a little goes a long way here.
If you like Gochujang, make sure to try Ssamjang too. Ssamjang is made of gochujang, doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste), garlic, green onions, onion, sesame oil and sugar (which is up to you, but it enhances the sauce’s flavour). Popularly known as Korean barbeque sauce, it is traditionally used as a dipping or wrapping sauce. Wrapping sauces in Korea are eaten with wrapped foods, usually, meat or vegetables wrapped in Perilla leaves.
Find some fascinating Gochujang dish ideas here.
c) Homemade Gochujang
Try this quick version of home-made gochujang:
Without the fermented soybean paste, gochujang isn’t gochujang because that is its base. It’s just a quick substitute without it.
d) How Long Can Gochujang Last?
This Korean red chilli paste being fermented gives it a long shelf life – it can last up to two years in the refrigerator! Although it’s still best to check its labels and try not to stretch it past a year.
Homemade gochujang lasts shorter compared to its store-bought versions.
If there is no change in smell, colour, texture or taste, then it’s alright.
B. Gochujang Substitutes – What Works?
Point to be noted here: none of these substitutes tastes exactly like gochujang, given its constituents and the way it is made, but they can give close results.
Common advice would say to use just gochujang (Korean red chilli powder) but that still wouldn’t give the same texture gochujang can give as it’d only add heat, and might still feel incomplete.
Miso paste is a great ingredient for making a homemade gochujang substitute, but, just like any fermented soy paste, it has a rather pungent flavour that many may not like. Depending on where you live, ingredients like miso paste and doenjang can be even harder to find than gochujang. The following list focuses on making do with ingredients that give a similar flavour and which are easier to find.
There might be some mentions of sauces like Tahini, Harissa or even Peri Peri being good Gochujang substitutes but sauces of African or Mediterranean origin are hardly similar to Korean in terms of the flavour profile.
For example, Harissa paste uses olive oil, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, garlic, and a different sort of chilli pepper. And since we’ve seen above what Gochujang is made of, the difference is pretty obvious. The only thing “substitutes” like Harissa would have in common is that they contain chilli peppers.
That is going to give your dish a different flavour which is far from the authentic version. So try not to mix those in Korean cooking; the result may be disappointing and possibly unpalatable!
Bonus Tip #1: Dried mushroom powder can work to substitute the fermented soybean paste flavour.
Do keep in mind that the measurements given below may not work for everyone, considering the differing sizes of utensils used. Instead, they’re an estimate for proportions. Switch it according to your taste.
C. Here Are Five Things You Can Use When You Need Gochujang Substitutes:
1) Substitute Sauces
This Thai sauce is made of red chillies, rice vinegar, garlic, salt and sugar. Fun fact: it’s pronounced ‘Si-Racha’, named after the city it comes from.
Since it is thinner than gochujang and also tangier, adding a dash of rice syrup or corn syrup to counter the sourness might help. If you need a thicker texture, try thickening it with corn starch. What should ideally be recreated in gochujang substitutes is a spicy paste with a sweet flavour.
Sriracha + sugar + soy sauce (optional)
Sriracha can be used in a 1:1 ratio, i.e., for 1 part Gochujang, use 1 part Sriracha.
1.2) Sambal Oelek
Indonesian Sambal Oelek is similar to Sriracha, but the difference here is that it is made of just red chillies ground in a mortar and pestle, salt and rice vinegar. Sriracha has garlic added to it, and sometimes sugar.
Sambal Oelek is made of only three ingredients, so adding any more to the basic three will turn it from Sambak Oelek to something else.
Bear in mind that this sauce can be chunky or thinner depending on its source, so you’d probably have to blend the chunkier version. It’s going to be spicier and tangier too.
Add brown sugar and miso paste or soy sauce. A small amount of dried mushroom powder will give it the umami kick.
1.3) Sweet and Spicy Ketchup
Continental cuisine chefs would call ketchup in their cooking a sin, but on the eastern half of the planet, it’s really popular. So don’t worry, even if it is not traditionally authentic, it’s still okay.
I would personally go with this one because it adds a great consistency and the perfect red colour to the dish. And it is also easily available!
One tablespoon to substitute one of gochujang will do just fine, add more chilli powder if required (different ketchup brands will have different proportions) and a drizzle of soy sauce.
Sweet and spicy ketchup’s versatility allows it to be used as a marinade or a dipping sauce or a sauce for wraps. It is a perfect addition to stir-fries. Noodles, fried rice, bibimbap, stir-fried tofu, tteokbeokki and other similar dishes could turn out well with this one added.
1.4) Chili Garlic Sauce
Since gochujang does not contain garlic, you might want to add less garlic while cooking, because Chili Garlic sauce will add some too.
Chilli garlic sauce + red chilli powder + soy sauce + sugar
This sauce is best not eaten raw and has a thick texture, which makes it great for adding to noodles and stir-fries.
This one is just Tabasco peppers, salt and vinegar. It’s too spicy to use in the same proportions as gochujang. About one-fourths to a third of the required gochujang quantity should work.
It would only add heat and maybe some colour but none of Gochujang’s signature flavour. It can however make a doable replacement if mixed in with other authentic ingredients.
2) Gochugaru/Chili Flakes
Gochugaru (Korean chilli pepper powder) works best here but any other milder red pepper powder will also do, Kashmiri red chilli powder included.
Soy sauce gives it some umami flavour and sugar gives it some required sweetness.
Chili flakes + Soy Sauce + Sugar + Thickener
Again, the quantity of soy sauce to be used differs based on taste and the type of soy sauce. It is best to go for a light soy sauce, about 1 tablespoon for 2 tablespoons of mild red pepper flakes and a teaspoon of sugar.
If you don’t have light soy sauce, try 1 teaspoon of dark soy sauce instead.
For the commonly used Indian red chilli powder, use no more than 1 to 1½ teaspoons! One should be more than enough.
Instead of sugar, rice syrup is also commonly used in Korean cooking. Corn syrup could be used as well, though it won’t taste authentic. Brown sugar works best but white sugar works just fine.
Use in a 1:1 ratio (1 part substitute for 1 part gochujang). Thicken with corn starch or potato starch if you need to, a teaspoon of wheat flour works too. Though this is optional, a thick paste is a closer substitute than a thin liquid.
Bonus Tip #2: To thicken pastes and sauces, rice flour (either glutinous or non-glutinous) makes a great thickener besides potato or corn starch and is commonly used in Korean cooking. Wheat flour can also be used.
3) Tomato Paste & Red Chili Flakes
Add sugar to cover up the tomato tang and a splash of soy sauce for umami.
To replace a tablespoon of gochujang, use 1 tablespoon of tomato paste with one teaspoon of sugar and a teaspoon of soy sauce. Just like the above, it is best to go for light soy sauce. Add chilli flakes to taste.
Tomato paste + chili flakes/powder + soy sauce + sugar
4) Date Paste
If you happen to have readymade date paste, great! If not, deseed and boil 6-7 dates in water until soft and mashable. Grind with water, vinegar, a couple of garlic cloves and red pepper flakes. Garlic paste or powder will work too.
Dates/ Date paste + red pepper flakes/chili powder + garlic + vinegar + water
This should give you a couple of tablespoons, one will suffice for one tablespoon of gochujang. Reduce the amount if you’d like less sweetness in your dish. Try tweaking it to your satisfaction before doubling or tripling it.
5) Red Chili Paste
Any big red chilli pepper will do, e.g. Cayenne peppers. Grind them into a paste, and add red pepper flakes and sugar. Again, this spicy condiment too can be used in a 1:1 ratio.
For an estimate, two big peppers should give you about a generous tablespoon of paste.
Ground red chilli peppers + chilli flakes/ powder + sugar
Adding miso paste or dried mushroom powder would be best. Miso is a thick paste made from fermented soybeans. This Japanese ingredient would make a near-perfect addition to a homemade gochujang replacement.
But because this can be harder to find, a drizzle of light soy sauce will work too.
Red chilli pastes are available in markets, Thai chilli paste will work too, though it may have shrimp paste or even fish sauce in it.
D. Which Substitute Works Best?
When using substitutes, it is important to remember that none of these alone can replace gochujang – it always has to be in proportion with the other ingredients which add other flavours.
Another thing to keep in mind is that if you do use a substitute for one ingredient, make sure to keep all the other ingredients according to an authentic recipe.
What works best depends on what is most easily available at hand, and for what type of dish you use it for. Sriracha, sweet and spicy ketchup go great as dips or in wraps. Date and tomato paste go better in stir fries rather than dips.
It also depends on how much of a spicy flavour you want. Pastes not made with chillies as their base are better for those with less spice tolerance.
All of them could work as marinades. However, I’m unsure of whether all of these could be used for pickling or not. Soy sauce can be, of course, but the others like tomatoes and chillies are more likely to be pickled themselves!
Check out other Korean cooking staples here.
Visit www.kitchensubstitute.com for substitutes for other kitchen ingredients.