Trying a new recipe is a great way to learn about another culture’s cuisine or to get a taste of home if you’re living abroad. The downside of cooking recipes from far away is that you can’t always get the right ingredients, such as Gochujang, which is a red pepper condiment that’s used in lots of Korean dishes but can sometimes be hard to find in the United States. So, if you’re in search for Gochujang, what common ingredients can you use as a substitute?
Great substitutes for gochujang are pastes or sauces that have chilies and fermented soybeans as their main ingredients. Gochujang is a chili paste that must ferment for months before it is ready, so a mix of chili paste and miso sauce will get you a very similar flavor without the long wait.
Just because you can’t find gochujang in your supermarket doesn’t mean you have to give up on a recipe that calls for its use. Finding the right flavors and textures to substitute for it will help you add similar flavors to whatever dish you’re cooking up, so keep reading to find inspiration to make your own gochujang.
What is Gochujang made of?
The key to making a great gochujang substitute is knowing what’s in the original, so you can mimic those flavors and textures to get as close a match as possible. Gochujang is a spicy red pepper paste made out of fermented soybean powder or flour, red chilies, sweet rice powder or flour, rice syrup, malt barley, salt, and water.
The most important ingredient is the gochu or gochugaru, which is the Korean red chili powder that gives gochujang its color and heat. “Gochu” means chili, and “garu” means powder. The powder comes from Korean red chilies, which have a mild heat with sweet and smoky flavors underneath.
The second most important ingredient is the fermented soybean powder or fermented soybean flour. Gochujang is fermented again once all the ingredients are combined. But some of that fermented flavor comes from the soybeans.
The rice and malt barley add a light sweetness to balance out the salt. Gochujang’s unique taste comes from letting all of these flavors soak together over a long period of time.
The ingredients are cooked together slowly for a few hours, then the mixture is put into a clay pot or jar to start the fermentation process that lets the flavor continue developing. Traditional gochujang is fermented in a sterilized clay jar for at least six months, preferably including the summer months.
The amount of sunlight that penetrates the jar is essential to the fermentation process. Gochujang is a recipe that takes a lot of patience and time for the flavors to blend and turn into a delicious paste.
Grocery Store Substitutes
Making your own gochujang takes months, between the full day of cooking and the long fermentation process. Even “quick” or “instant” versions of the recipe take a few weeks to develop the right fermented flavor.
If you have time to wait for shipping, you can get Chung Jung One Hot Pepper Paste from Amazon.com. Many store-bought gochujang recipes include high fructose corn syrup, but Chung Jung One does not, making it a close match for a traditionally fermented gochujang.
When you need a gochujang substitute faster than that, you can check your local grocery store for some of the following pastes and sauces. If there is a Korean or Asian grocery store near you, check there first, as they might carry a grocery-store version of gochujang or at least some of the following items.
Sriracha and Soy Sauce
Sriracha and soy sauce could work as a substitute for gochujang depending on the recipe. Sriracha is made with chilies, which add some heat and sweetness. However, it is a much thinner texture than gochujang, as it is a sauce and not a paste.
Soy sauce is made with fermented soybeans, so it will add that flavor element to your dish. Like Sriracha, it is much thinner than a gochujang paste. If you don’t need the substitute to change your recipe’s texture, soy sauce combined with Sriracha can work as a gochujang replacement.
Crushed Red Chili Flakes and Miso
If you need to match the texture of gochujang more closely, you can make a paste with chili flakes and miso paste. Miso is a Japanese version of fermented soybeans, so it will taste very similar to the fermented soybeans in gochujang. It is also generally sold as a paste, so the texture will be similar too.
Mixing crushed chili flakes into a miso paste will get the heat and fermented soybean flavors and approximately the right texture. The mixture won’t have as much flavor depth, but it is a passable substitute.
Thai Chili Paste
Korea is not the only country that uses chili paste in its cuisine. If you can’t find any gochujang, look for a Thai chili paste at your local grocery store. Thai chili paste, or Nam prik pao, has a similar texture to gochujang and has the same chili heat.
However, nam prik pao is made with fish, roasted garlic, and onions, which is a very different flavor profile from fermented soybeans and sweet rice. Substituting a Thai chili paste for gochujang can be delicious, but it will taste different.
Harissa is a more common paste that has a similar smoky flavor to gochujang. It’s a Moroccan spice and is also sometimes sold as a paste which can help with your texture substitution as well. A few dashes of soy sauce added to a harissa paste will work as a great alternate to gochujang.
Making a Substitute with Pantry Staples
If you have time for a trip to the store, there are plenty of options available to you. However, if you need to make a gochujang substitute in a pinch, it’s helpful to know what pantry staples you can use to create it. If you have to choose between texture and flavor, it’s better to try to match the flavor first, as the wrong flavor can mess up a recipe more than the wrong texture.
Ingredients for a Similar Flavor Profile
As mentioned above, soy sauce is an easy pantry substitute for that fermented soybean flavor. Cayenne or red chili flakes, or any chili powder can help you mimic the Korean red chili heat. When texture doesn’t matter for your recipe, you can experiment with the soy sauce to chili powder ratio to find a good balance between hot and sour.
Nothing compares to the taste of a traditional gochujang paste, but in a pinch, there are various options to match the flavor and texture. Sticking to sauces and pastes that contain chilies and soybeans will give you the best results. The unique taste that fermentation brings out is hard to imitate, but condiments like miso and soy sauce that already contain fermented soybeans can get you pretty close.