Gochujang is a spicy paste, most often used in Korean cooking. It is made out of fermented soybeans, rice, salt, and red chili pepper. While spicy, its flavor is also described as very savory. The starch of the rice in gochujang gives it a sweetness, with a sour undertone perfected through the fermenting process.
Gochujang has a thick texture, so it is difficult to consume on its own. Often, it will be thinned out when used in the context of dips. Gochujang is also added for an extra punch in meats, and as a base for soups and stews.
It can be difficult to find gochujang if you don’t live near Korea or any Korean grocery stores. If you don’t have any of this Korean chili paste on hand, or can’t find any, there are plenty of substitutes that can suffice perfectly.
Replacements for gochujang include red pepper flakes, miso and chili, Thai chili paste, harissa paste, sambal oelek, and dates and spices. You can even make your own gochujang paste.
What Can I Use Instead of Gochujang?
In places outside of Korea, and especially overseas, gochujang can get pretty difficult to find. The good news is that there is no shortage of substitutes for this Korean hot pepper paste. And, most of them are much easier to find in the States.
1. Red Pepper Flakes
Making a paste out of red pepper flakes can replicate that flavor that many search for in gochujang. To duplicate the unique sweet and spicy taste, mix a teaspoon of red pepper flakes with a dash of soy sauce and a bit of sugar.
Be conservative with the use of sugar in this dish, as over sweetening it will likely result in less than pleasant results. Other than that, this is a very easy way to replicate the taste of gochujang sauce with ingredients that are much more common than gochujang.
2. Miso and Chili
Gochujang paste and miso both use fermented soy as a main ingredient. So, the use of miso and Korean chili powder does an excellent job at creating the same taste as the beloved Korean red pepper paste.
If you do not have any Korean chili powder, and there isn’t any near you, use equal parts of cayenne and paprika. This combination with miso will mimic the flavor of gochujang almost exactly. If you have no miso, there are plenty of replacements for that, too. Ultimately, miso is a ground bean sauce, which can be easily substituted.
3. Thai Chili Paste
Thai chili paste is store bought, and the search for it is often much easier than the search for gochujang. It does include garlic, so the taste is not an exact replica. But, when using it for stews and meats, it does just the trick.
4. Harissa Paste
If you especially love spicy foods, harissa paste is the perfect gochujang substitute for you. There are multiple varieties of harissa paste with different levels of spiciness. But overall, it adds an extra punch to food with its spice and smoky flavor.
Harissa paste is made of a blend of spices, garlic, oil, chilies, and some sort of acid like vinegar or lemon juice. It is well esteemed in Moroccan cooking, and for good reason. It makes a great foundation for many recipes.
5. Sambal Oelek
Sambal oelek is revered in South Korean dishes. Out of all of these gochujang substitutes, it most closely resembles the appearance of gochujang. It is known to pair well with soups and meats.
It has many of the same ingredients of gochujang as well, like the key red hot peppers and salt and vinegar. Other variations of sambal oelek exist that may contain added flavors like onion, sugar, and lemon.
6. Dates and Spices
Using dates and spices as a gochujang substitute is perfect for those with allergies and food sensitivities. This method is gluten and soy free, as well as vegan. For this method, blend six pitted dates with four tablespoons of water, one tbsp of apple cider vinegar, ½ teaspoon of garlic powder, two tablespoons of tomato paste, and three teaspoons of cayenne pepper.
Making Your Own Gochujang
Though gochujang is known for the fermentation process that goes into it, you can make your own gochujang without fermentation. It may not be exact, but closely enough, it can be done with: Korean red pepper flakes, water, honey, red miso paste, rice vinegar, and salt.
One good thing about homemade gochujang is that you can alter the flavor profile to your own personal tastes. To make it more spicy, add more Korean red pepper flakes. To make it more sweet, add more honey. And to make the taste more pungent, add an extra teaspoon or so of the rice vinegar.
Of course, the same can be done with store bought gochujang. You can alter the flavor of gochujang, or any of the above replacements, by adding ingredients. The bonus of using homemade gochujang for this is that it will be done seamlessly as the ingredients are mixed in at one time.
Non Spicy Gochujang
There is a less spicy version of gochujang available on Amazon, for those who don’t have much of a spice tolerance. You can also decrease the spiciness of gochujang by adding some honey or extra soybean paste to it.
The flavor profile of tomato paste is extremely different from that of gochujang and its replacement. But, this is good news for people who dislike spicy foods. Tomato paste is known to mesh well with soups and meats. So, if you like the concept of gochujang but not the spiciness, opt for an equal part of tomato paste instead.
Gochujang is a popular Korean red pepper sauce. It is used as a base for soups, and a flavor additive for meats. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find outside of Korea and Korean grocery stores. If you find yourself in this predicament, the good news is that there are plenty of substitutes for gochujang that replicate the beloved taste and texture.