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 has a sour undertone that 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
The best gochujang substitutes are red pepper flakes mixture, miso and chili paste, Thai chili paste, Harissa paste, Sambal Oelek, dates and spice blend, and tomato paste. Read on to know which one works best for you.
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.
1 tablespoon of gochujang = 1 tablespoon of red pepper flakes mixture.
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.
1 tablespoon of gochujang = ½ tablespoon of miso paste + ½ tablespoon Korean chili powder.
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, it's best to stay away from Sriracha. Its sweet and garlic notes will overwhelm many dishes. In some recipes, it will just taste wrong.
1 tablespoon of gochujang = ½ tablespoon of Thai chili paste. It's important to start with a small amount and then add more when needed.
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 smoky 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.
1 tablespoon of gochujang = ½ tablespoon of Harissa paste. Others might not appreciate the spicy taste, but you can add an increment of ¼ tablespoon if needed.
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.
However, Sambal Oelek does not taste like gochujang as it has a strong vinegary flavor compared to the savory taste of gochujang. With this, you have to start with a small amount and work your way up as needed.
1 tablespoon of gochujang = ½ tablespoon of Sambal Oelek.
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.
To make this gochujang substitute, blend six pitted Medjool dates, four tablespoons of water, one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, ½ teaspoon of garlic powder, two tablespoons of tomato paste, and three teaspoons of cayenne pepper together.
1 tablespoon of gochujang = 1 tablespoon of dates and spice blend.
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.
To make a substitute mixture using tomato paste, mix ¼ cup tomato paste with 1 tablespoon of soy sauce and honey, and add ¼ teaspoon of salt and cayenne powder to taste.
1 tablespoon of gochujang = 1 tablespoon of tomato paste mixture.
Easy Gochujang Sauce
- 3 tbsp gochujang paste
- 1 tsp agave nectar
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp avocado oil
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp ginger paste
- 2 cloves garlic diced
- ½ tsp salt
- water add to adjust the thickness
- In a small bowl, combine the gochujang paste, agave nectar, rice vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, ginger, and salt.
- Add the garlic, avocado, and sesame oil to a small pan and place it over medium heat. Cook until slightly brownish (about 2-3 minutes).
- Pour the gochujang sauce mixture into the pan and stir. Let the sauce simmer for 3-5 minutes. Add some water to adjust the thickness.
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.