As the use of gochujang in recipes increases, a problem is starting to arise for cooks who don’t live in Korea: where can I get my hands on this paste? Some will be lucky enough to have a well-stocked supermarket or, even better, an Asian grocer nearby. Of course, you can always buy online from Amazon if you’ve got time up your sleeve.
For those of you that need a gochujang substitute, you’re in the right place! We’ve compiled our favorite options, which are all easy to find in the store. But keep in mind that none of these backup options will be a perfect match. Gochujang offers a very unique, complex flavor thanks to its time-consuming fermentation process. The result is a flavor profile that has spice but also a sour undertone you can only get from a fermented product.
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What is gochujang?
Gochujang, aka kochujang, is a Korean fermented chili paste that is a mix of hot, sweet and savory all rolled into one. Although it’s a popular condiment for octopus in Korea, gochujang makes a flavor-packed addition to meat, salad, stews, vegetables, and soup. Koreans love to add this miso-like ingredient to bibimbap which is a flavor-filled bowl of rice, meat, egg, seasoning, and sauces.
Gochujang ingredients will vary depending on the manufacturer; however, the main components are chili peppers, fermented soybeans, rice powder, and salt.
Korean chili peppers are often used to make gochujang, offering a flavor profile that’s spicy as well as sweet. They give gochujang its distinctive taste.
7 best gochujang substitutes
Let's dive in and see what your options are if you can't get your hands on the real thing.
1. A quick made-from-scratch option: Red Pepper Flakes
Replicate that sweet and spicy flavor with the help of a paste made from red pepper flakes. Add a splash of soy sauce to a small bowl then mix in a teaspoon of red pepper and a pinch of sugar. Be very light-handed with the sugar; over sweetening this paste will result in an unpleasant taste that will ruin your dish.
2. Closest flavor option: Miso and Chili
The flavor profiles of miso and gochujang paste are similar because they both use fermented soy as a primary ingredient. Using this knowledge, we can combine miso and Korean chili powder to mimic the flavor profile.
No Korean chili powder where you live? No problem: combine equal parts of cayenne powder and sweet paprika.
3. Store bought: Thai Chili Paste
It’s not a perfect match because of its pungent garlic flavor; however, it does have a similar texture being a paste. It would work when used with meats and stews.
Sriracha is another store-bought option that could work as a condiment replacement, even though its texture is much runnier. If the recipe is a time-tested Korean mix of ingredients that rely on each other to balance the flavors, you’d be best to stay away from Sriracha. It’s sweet and garlic notes will overwhelm many dishes. In some recipes, it’ll just taste wrong.
4. For the lovers of spicy food: Harissa Paste
Harissa offers a flavor punch – some versions more than others! With harissa, you’ll get a mild smokey flavor combined with a lot of heat. Although it does taste different, it is much revered in Moroccan cooking for a good reason. It’s the building block for delicious food.
5. Best for visual appearance: Sambal Oelek
Sambal oelek has a similar appearance to gochujang, which is a good start. Much loved in South East Asia, it will work well in soups, with meat or even bibimbap.
6. Allergen free alternative: Dates and Spices
Using dates and spices is a good option if you’re cooking for a guest or family member that can’t eat gluten, soy, or is a vegan.
Blend 6 pitted Medjool dates with 4 Tbsp water, 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar, ½ tsp garlic powder, 2 Tbsp tomato paste and 3 tsp cayenne pepper. Voila, you have created gochujang that’s not too shabby.
7. In a pinch: Tomato Paste
Oh boy, we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel now.
Tomato paste isn't an ideal option because the flavor profiles are like “chalk and cheese.” There is a similar texture though, and by adding some chili and salt, you may get halfway towards a quasi alternative.
1 minute video: Gochujang Substitutes
Recipes that call for gochujang are on the rise, thanks to an increasing interest in fermented foods in the Western world. Possibly the biggest issue with many of these recipes is the difficulty of finding the required ingredients. The ideal situation is to take a leisurely online stroll to Amazon and have it delivered. But if time is not on your side, choose one of the above options and roll with it.
Please keep in mind that gochujang has a unique taste that doesn’t compare to any other sauce, paste, or raw ingredient. However, the average person wouldn’t know that you’d used one of the above substitutes. If you’re trying to impress guests from South Korea you may want to find the real thing - I doubt you could fool them!
What’s your favorite option if gochujang isn’t available? Let me know in the comments below.
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