Desperately in need of a last-minute gochujang substitute? These best five backups will get you out of trouble.
While there are so many things I love about Korean food, there is one ingredient in particular that I love: Gochujang.
For those unfamiliar, it’s the incredibly popular chili pepper paste that is often served as both an accompaniment and ingredient in a great number of Korean dishes. It is such a key ingredient that I find its flavors are what I’m constantly craving when wanting Korean food.
It is a sweet, spicy, and salty mix. All rolled into one thick, delicious sauce. While at its core, the best gochujang is comprised of reasonably simple ingredients – red peppers, salt, malt powder – the process of putting it together can make it challenging to obtain.
So what do you do if a recipe calls for it and you don’t have any at hand?
Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to replicate gochujang’s unique flavor. The authentic versions of this recipe ferment for months, which gives it a genuinely unique sharp and sweet taste.
However, when in need, there are some adequate flavors that, while not entirely a like-for-like replacement, do offer something different that will still contribute significantly to your recipe.
What is Gochujang?
Gochujang is a Korean fermented chili paste with a savory, sweet flavor and can be used as an ingredient in several of the country’s favorite dishes. Ingredients sometimes differ, but it always contains glutinous rice powder or soybean powder as a thickener. Its flavor is a combination of sweet, spicy, and salty with an underlying savory scent.
Gochujang is one of Korea’s most popular condiments because its rich taste blends well with just about anything! Our homemade Gochujang recipe contains barley malt powder, rice syrup, and red pepper powder. We love making it, and it goes with everything.
DIY Miso-Based Sauce
When you don’t have months to spare to ferment your chili paste, using miso paste can be a great shortcut to replicate some of those flavors.
See, both gochujang and miso use fermented soy. So cutting straight to the miso can help cut out those months of waiting when making your own Korean chili sauce.
The other ingredients for the sauce are relatively easy to obtain. Korean chili powder might be slightly more of a challenge to pick up, but cayenne pepper and paprika mix can also make an ample substitute.
Red Pepper Flake Paste
It should be said that this doesn’t come close to the miso alternative above, but if in a rut, this on-the-fly mix gives you a sauce with a sweet flavor and a bit of heat.
It’s quick and easy to make, so that makes it the perfect alternative if you’re on the spot and out of gochujang.
You will need just one tablespoon of red pepper flakes mixed with a couple of teaspoons of soy sauce and a dash of sugar. Simply combine all three ingredients and enjoy.
The soy sauce acts as a tangy and moist binding agent, while the spice comes from the red pepper flakes, and obviously, the sugar guarantees sweetness.
Full disclaimer: I love sriracha. I add it to almost everything (omelets, burgers, fries), so I am perhaps a little bit biased here. However, sriracha’s sweet and spicy flavors make it a more than adequate replacement for gochujang.
If you’re looking for something to make the dish a little hotter, then sriracha is for you. In fact, gochujang is often an excellent alternative to sriracha, so it stands to reason that the reverse is also true. It is, however, much thinner and sweeter, so if you’re creating an authentic Korean dish, then I’d give this a miss.
Thai Chili Paste
A somewhat better alternative than sriracha, Thai chili paste will get you much closer to gochujang in terms of texture.
On the downside is its flavor. It has a reasonably strong garlic taste that is simply not present in gochujang.
As an emergency backup, though, it will fill in fine due to its heat and sweet flavor, and its thick texture will add a lot to your dish.
Tomato paste isn’t a like-for-like replacement, but you can use it to replace gochujang if you’re desperate. However, there isn’t a direct replacement, so the taste won’t be precisely the same. It’s a thick, unrefined tomato sauce used for cooking, often used in bolognese sauce recipes.