Five Spicy-Sweet Gochujang Substitutes You Should Give A Go

As K-culture takes the world by storm, the unavailability of gochujang is becoming an annoying obstacle for people looking to try out Korean food. So what can one use besides this paste? I recommend using different gochujang substitutes to make a perfect Korean meal.

I love using gochujang in my recipes. It is very flavorful and potent and adds vibrance and diversity to the food.

Overview On Gochujang

Gochujang is a bright red, spicy, and sweet brown paste made from a variety of ingredients such as crushed chili flakes, sticky or glutinous rice, salt, and fermented soybeans.

Gochujang is a traditional Korean ingredient that is used in a variety of recipes. It is a fundamental ingredient in all Korean households because of its unique flavor profile and versatile taste.

Gochujang is simultaneously sweet, sour, and spicy with prominent umami. I love using it to make steak and ribs. However, recently I’ve fallen in love with a new recipe called slow-roast gochujang chicken.

gochujang substitute

How Is Gochujang Cooked?

Gochujang has been fermented in earthenware for a few years. Its different constituents lend the ingredient its different qualities. For instance, the chili flakes give gochujang its heat, whereas the rice’s starch breaks into sugar, giving it an underlying sweetness.

How To Use Gochujang Sauce?

Unlike other sauces such as sriracha and tabasco, you can’t use gochujang as a finishing sauce. It is too potent and will likely burn your mouth. Therefore, the key to making the most of this is moderation.

Use it in modest amounts and rich meat dishes. It is not a flavoring sauce in itself. However, we use it to add depth to our dish. It has a versatile hot, sweet and salty flavor that adds many layers to your food.

But remember to start with a teaspoon. Too much will ruin your dish, and too little won’t have the desired effect. So work your way up, as you would with any other ingredient.

Many cooks commonly use it with an assortment of other ingredients like soy sauce, garlic, sugar, and sesame oil to balance its intensity.

Can I Make Gochujang At Home?

Yes, you can. If you are the kind of person to take matters into your hand and make stuff at home yourself, keep reading to see the most foolproof gochujang sauce recipe.

But first, let me mention that while it is completely possible to make gochujang at home, you can only do so a handful of times in a year. Moreover, it is an arduous task that continues for a long time. But if you don’t mind that, then let’s begin, shall we?

Gochujang Recipe:

On a scale from one to ten, the difficulty level of making gochujang will be 5. The net time required to make it is 12 hours, 6 for prepping and six for cooking.

Things You Will Need:

  1. A traditional Korean glazed clay vessel called gochujang hangari.
  2. Two large bowls.
  3. One large pot.
  4. A fine sieve.
  5. A fine cloth mesh and a string to tie it around the pot’s mouth.
  6. Sesame seeds.
  7. Coals (white).
  8. A metal bowl and tongs.

What To Do?

Step 1: The Sterilization (1-2 Days Before)

First of all, you have to sterilize the pot a day or two prior to the cooking process. There are two methods by which you can do it. I have tried (and liked) both. The first process requires boiling water, while the second method requires coals.

In the first method, you will pour boiling water into the bot to kill any germs.

While the second method is more complicated, it is more fruitful too. You will take a metal bowl and fill it with white coals in this method. Next, you put sesame seeds over the coals and let them burn. Finally, turn the pot upside down and cover the coals with it. The pot will fill with hot smoke, which will sterilize it and also give your sauce a smoky sesame taste.

This method is not mandatory and is entirely up to you to perform.

Step 2: Soak Malt Barley and Rice (Approximately 12 Hours/ One Night Before)

Now take 750 grams of malt barley and soak them in cold water for a minimum of five hours or more.

While you are at it, take your rice and soak them in water for three to four hours. You can also let them soak for longer if you wish to do so.

Step 3: Prepare The Rice (On The Day Of)

Thoroughly drain your rice for approximately five minutes, then grind them with a chopper or a grinder. Please make sure the grounds are as fine as they could be.

OR

You can simply buy sweet rice powder and use that instead.

Step 4: Prepare Malt Barley

First, you have to massage the malted barley in water to get the most of it in the liquid. You can do so by taking a handful in your hand and squeezing it hard to get the juice out. 

Next, use whatever strainer you have (it can be a fine-mesh sieve, cheesecloth, or a towel since all work perfectly well.

Step 5: Prepare The Mixture

Add rice powder to the malt barley syrup and mix it thoroughly until everything is well combined.

Step 6: To The Oven

Put your mixture in the oven and let it stay that way for five hours. Please remember to set the temperature dial to 60°C (140°F), and if you can, give the solution a few quick stirs in between. But, even if you don’t, it will be completely all right.

Step 7: From The Oven To The Stove

Take the mixture out and place it on the stove for cooking. Let the flame be anywhere from medium to medium-high. Rember, at this point, stirring is mandatory to prevent burning or lump formation.

Let the mixture cook until it has been reduced by 20 percent. After that, allow it to cool for some time before moving on to the next step.

Step 8: Spice It Up

Add your spices: sea salt, gochugaru, and meju karu to the mixture. Mix thoroughly or until your arms are burning with the effort.

Step 9: Transfer To The Pot

Transfer your sauce to your Korean earthenware for fermentation. Remember to sprinkle some sea salt on the top to prevent bacterial or fungal formation. Ferment the sauce under full sun. But don’t skip covering the pot’s mouth.

You can use a semi-fine mesh cloth (something that will allow the sun and air in but not the insects). Or you can buy a glass lid with mesh sides made for such bowls.

Step 10: Let It Ferment

Let your paste ferment for a minimum of six months or longer if you like it that way.

Gochujang Dishes:

  1. Soondubu jjigae or Korean soft tofu stew.
  2. Tteokbokki or stir-fried rice cakes slathered with gochujang sauce.
  3. Dak-Twigim or fried Korean chicken wings.
  4. Gochujang fried rice.
  5. Honey-glazed gochujang shrimps.
  6. Broiled gochujang salmon.

What Can I Use Instead Of Gochujang In My Food?

There are not many substitutes that can mimic the diversity and depth of this paste. However, there are still a handful of suitable options you can give a shot; if you are too busy to make your own gochujang and too unlucky not to have any available nearby.

Here are my five favorite substitutes:

1. DIY Sauce With Miso Paste

If you can not get your hands on a tub of gochujang, and you don’t have the luxury to wait for half a year, you can always try this substitute. All you need to have is a miso sauce at home.

I say this because both miso and gochujang benefit from fermented soy in their flavor profiles. So if you have the required spices such as Korean chili flakes, cayenne pepper, sea salt, and paprika, then you are good to go.

You simply have to mix everything up and balance the spice proportions until it matches the taste of gochujang paste.

You can use this as a 1:1 substitute in almost all recipes.

DIY Sauce With Miso Paste

2. Red Pepper Flake Paste

Of course, this substitute will not be as great as the one I mentioned above, But it will do reasonably well in soups and stews. Moreover, you can make it at home without miso-paste. So if you are a home cook like me and not bound to a visit to the grocery store for some time, this is just the substitute for you.

So for this paste, you need three key ingredients: soy sauce, which acts as a binding agent, sugar for its sweetness, and red pepper or chili flakes to give the sauce heat and spiciness.

Mix all the ingredients until you get a fine paste and use it as a dipping sauce, stir-fries, soups, and stews, or smother chicken wings or the piece of steak on your plate. Since this is a sauce, and you have complete creative freedom to choose the amount of spices, if you do it right, it will, again, be a 1:1 substitute for gochujang sauce.

Red Pepper Flake Paste

3. Sriracha

It would be unfair to leave this sauce out, as it makes for an excellent gochujang substitute. And it is reasonable to say that the opposite is true too.

Sriracha boasts the same sweet and spicy flavors as gochujang; however, it is sweeter and thinner. Therefore, if you aim to make an authentic Korean recipe, I’d give it a pass.

But for amateur cooks looking for a zing, this substitute is appropriate. Sriracha is a sauce made from Jalapeno chile peppers that are ground and mixed with vinegar, sugar, salt, and more. It is also very spicy and will definitely add a buzz to your dish.

Sriracha

4. Thai Chili Paste

This paste is obviously pretty big in Thai food and among lovers of Thai cuisine. Thai chili paste has the same gochujang-like depth to its flavor. However, it possesses a slightly different flavor profile.

Unlike gochujang, Thai chili paste contains prominent notes of garlic, a flavor that is simply not present in gochujang. But, there’s a plus side to this ingredient, which is also why this paste made it on the list; Thai chili paste is very thick. It has the same consistency as gochujang. Therefore, it is excellent for dishes where texture is more important than taste.

Moreover, you can also benefit from its depth and spicy intensity. A neat trick you can do to balance out the strong garlic flavor is to remove or reduce any garlic you might’ve used in your recipe for the one in it.

Thai Chili Paste

5. Tomato Paste

It is not my preferred substitute by far, but you can certainly try it if you are desperate enough. However, I recommend adding chili flakes, salt, soy sauce, and any other ingredient that you like before using it. This will diversify its taste and give it a more gochujang-like taste.

Tomato paste is good for bolognese recipes, as it has a crimson color and thick rough texture, quite a lot like gochujang paste.

Tomato Paste

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use sambal oelek in place of gochujang?
Surely you can use sambal oelek as a gochujang substitute. But, sambal oelek is way hotter than gochujang. Therefore, I recommend adding a little water and sweet rice flour (or any rice flour) mixture to your paste to lessen its heat.
What's the difference between Gochujang paste and sauce?
Although the two terms are oft’ used interchangeably, they are not quite the same. Gochujang paste is a condiment made from Korean chili flakes, fermented soybeans, and salt. However, gochujang contains other ingredients which make it smoother and runnier than the paste.
Can you use harissa instead of gochujang?
It is not the perfect ingredient, but I think it is a suitable option to try as far as desperation goes.

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