Gochujang is basically a Korean fermented chili paste. It is the perfect combination of hot, sweet, and savory flavors in one. In Korea, the locals use it as a condiment for octopus. In the United States, it is used in several dishes including salads, soups, meat, and vegetables. You can also add gochujang to rice dishes, eggs, and sauces.
Gochujang is the ingredient that gives Korean dishes that unique flavor that you always crave for. Most Korean recipes have gochujang as one of the ingredients. It can be used in cooking or served as an accompaniment.
The ingredients used to make gochujang vary depending on the brand you buy. However, the most common ingredients are; fermented soybeans, chili peppers, salt, and rice powder. The chili peppers used to make gochujang are Korean chili peppers hence the distinct spicy and sweet flavor.
Gochujang is a great addition to several dishes. Therefore, you are likely to run out really fast. What do you do when you run out and need to add it to a certain dish? The answer is simple, use a substitute.
There are several ingredients that can substitute gochujang. Red pepper flakes, Thai chili paste, Sriracha, miso & chili, Harissa, Sambal oelek, tomato paste, and spices are suitable gochujang substitutes. Alternatively, you can just make homemade gochujang.
The process is very straightforward and all you have to do is follow the instructions to the latter. I’ll share the simplest gochujang substitute with you.
Suitable gochujang substitutes
Substituting the flavor of gochujang is almost impossible. These substitutes will not give you the exact authentic gochujang flavor, but they will offer flavors that will elevate the taste of whatever dish you are making. Here are six suitable gochujang substitutes.
Red pepper flakes
Red pepper flakes are arguably the best gochujang substitute. Red pepper flakes replicate the spicy and sweet flavor of gochujang.
To use red pepper flakes as a gochujang substitute, you first need to make a paste. To do this, mix a teaspoon of the red pepper flakes with a dash of soy sauce and a pinch of sugar.
The soy sauce will act as a binding ingredient and the sugar will add a little bit of sweetness to the red pepper flakes. Make sure that you do not add too much sugar because doing so would make the paste have an unpleasant flavor that will ruin your dish.
These three ingredients are easy to throw together, so you won’t have any problem making your red pepper flakes paste.
Thai chili paste
Thai chili paste is another suitable gochujang substitute. The upside is that its texture is the same as that of gochujang. Therefore, you can easily incorporate it into dishes that call for gochujang.
Thai chili paste also has a spicy and sweet flavor. Therefore, it is a suitable substitute. The only disadvantage is that it has a distinct garlic taste that gochujang does not have. If you do not like the taste of garlic, use one of the other substitutes.
I love using Thai chili paste in meat dishes because it brings out an amazing sweet and spicy flavor.
Sriracha has always been one of my favorite ingredients. I add it to most of my dishes including fries, eggs, and burgers. The sweet and spicy flavor of Sriracha can easily replace the spicy and sweet flavor of gochujang.
If you are looking for a substitute that will add sweet and spicy flavors to your dish, then you sho0uld try using Sriracha.
The only downside with Srirachais that its consistency is not as thick as that of gochujang. It is also much sweeter hence only suitable if you wouldn’t mind your dish having extra sweetness.
If you are making a Korean dish, use one of the other substitutes because Srichacha’s sweet and garlic flavors may overwhelm your dish.
Miso & chili
Miso paste and gochujang have many similarities since fermented soy is a primary ingredient in both of them. Therefore, you can make a suitable gochujang substitute by combining miso paste with Korean chili powder to mimic the spicy and sweet flavor of gochujang.
In case you do not have any Korean chili powder in stock, you can use a mixture of sweet paprika and cayenne powder.
Just combine equal amounts of sweet paprika and cayenne powder then add it to your miso paste. Stir the mixture until all the ingredients combine. This mixture is a good gochujang substitute.
In case you do not have store-bought harissa, you can make your own homemade harissa. Simply place four ounces of dried chilies in a heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water on the chilies.
Let the chilies sit in the boiling water for 30 minutes. At the same time, toast 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds, one teaspoon of cumin seeds, and one teaspoon of coriander seeds in a skillet over medium heat.
Once they become fragrant, remove them from heat and grind them using a coffee grinder. Drain and seed the chilies then combine them with the ground spices in the food processor and add a little bit of olive oil.
Process the ingredients until they form a thick, smooth paste. At this point, your homemade harissa is ready for use. You can store homemade harissa in your refrigerator for up to one month.
Sambal oelek is another substitute for gochujang you can use when you want an alternative. Sambal oelek and gochujang have several similarities. For starters, they both have the same appearance and consistency, which is a plus.
Sambal oelek is quite flavorful. It is made from crushed raw chilies, salt, and vinegar. Sambal oelek adds a spicy flavor to dishes.
Most grocery stores stock sambal oelek, so you should not have any problem buying it. If you are skeptical about the heat that sambal oelek will add to your dish, I suggest you first add half the amount that the recipe requires and then add little by little until you get the flavor that you want. Don’t add too much at once as it may overpower your dish.
If you are desperate, and you do not have any of the substitutes that we have discussed above, you can use tomato paste. Tomato paste has a thick consistency that will improve the texture of your dish. It will also give your dish acidic sweetness.
To take things up a notch, you can add a little bit of chili pepper flakes. These chili pepper flakes will make up for the heat that gochujang provides.
If you choose to use tomato paste as the substitute, keep in mind that the flavor profile will not be the same. Tomato paste will give your dish an entirely different flavor. Therefore, you should only use tomato paste when you do not have any other alternative.
If all you want is to add a sweet and spicy flavor to your dish, you can use spices when you run out of gochujang. There are several spices you can use to make up for the flavor that gochujang gives you.
I suggest using sweet paprika, cayenne powder, garlic powder, and apple cider vinegar. You can add a little bit of tomato paste to make up for the consistency of gochujang.
Homemade gochujang is, in my opinion, the best gochujang substitute. It is the closest you’ll ever come to replicating the unique flavor of gochujang. Gochujang has a complex authentic flavor mostly because it is fermented for several months.
Here is how you can make the best homemade gochujang.
You will need;
- 1 cup of water
- 1 ¼ cups of brown sugar
- 1 cup of miso
- ½ cup of chili powder
- 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of sake
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- Place a large saucepan over medium heat and pour in your water and brown sugar.
- Stir the water until the brown sugar dissolves completely.
- Add a cup of miso into the saucepan and continue stirring until it forms a thick and smooth mixture.
- Pour in the chili powder and stir until it is completely combined and the mixture becomes thick.
- Remove the mixture from heat and let it cool down for a few minutes. Ensure that it cools down to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add a teaspoon of sake, a tablespoon of salt, and a teaspoon of rice vinegar to the mixture.
- Stir the mixture until all the ingredients are completely combined. Your homemade gochujang is ready to use or storage.
Store the gochujang in sealable containers if you want it to last for several months.
Gochujang is one of those ingredients whose flavor is hard to replicate. However, the substitutes we have discussed above come pretty close. My favorite substitute is the paste you make using red pepper flakes since it gives me both the sweet and spicy flavor.
I do not recommend using tomato paste (unless you have no other option) because it completely changes the flavor profile of your dish.