So you decided to make some delectable homemade bibimbap, but forgot to grab the gochujang, eh? Shame on you!
Just kidding, we all make mistakes. However, if you are planning to make Korean food more often (and you should), then you’ll definitely want to have genuine gochujang on hand!
For now though, let’s explore some passable gochujang substitutes that you can use in a pinch. While nothing quite matches the real deal, these alternatives will get you close enough!
What is gochujang? Gochujang is a fermented chili paste that is used in many authentic Korean recipes. Its savory, sweet, and funky flavor is essential in countless dishes. It is no wonder gochujang is considered one of the core flavorings in Korean cooking.
Miso Paste and Cayenne Powder
If you want to get as close as possible to the spicy and fermented flavor of gochujang, then mixing miso paste with hot chilies works well. Miso is primarily fermented soybeans, and authentic gochujang contains fermented soy, too.
To use miso paste as an alternative to gochujang, simply mix the paste with a small amount of cayenne (or other hot pepper powder such as gochugaru). Start small with the amount of hot pepper until you reach the desired heat level.
If your recipe requires more sweetness, you can also add a bit of brown sugar or honey to the mix. This will help round out the full flavor profile that gochujang brings to food.
Hot Pepper Flakes
While making a miso-based gochujang substitute is ideal, a much easier alternative is to simply use hot red pepper flakes. These are cheap and widely available at supermarkets or online.
It is also pretty likely that you already have some on your spice rack. So, although the unique flavors of fermented soy won’t be present, you can at least add the heat and flavors of red chilies.
However, gochugaru is also sweet, so you may wish to add a few pinches of sugar with the red pepper to more closely match the desired flavor.
Tip: If you can, use gochugaru powder (finely ground). This is the standard type of hot pepper powder used in Korean cooking and for making homemade gochujang.
Sambal oelek is a popular Indonesian sauce made from hot chilies, salt, and (sometimes) vinegar. Depending on the brand, you may also find garlic, onions, or even tomato in the chili sauce.
Sambal oelek differs from gochujang in that it isn’t always sweetened, and it is not fermented. This means the flavors may not align perfectly, and you may wish to add a bit of sweetener to get closer.
However, if you happen to have some in the fridge, sambal oelek will certainly stand in for gochujang in a pinch. The core ingredient of hot chilies is there, along with a tangy flavor.
Thai Chili Paste
Thai chili paste is a delicious, sweet, and spicy paste made for dipping and adding heat to Thai dishes. While it may appear similar, it does have some notable differences from gochujang in terms of flavor.
Most importantly, Thai chili paste is usually heavy on the garlic. Gochujang doesn’t have any garlic, so you may want to avoid this alternative if your recipe is garlic-free.
However, in many Korean recipes, garlic will work well and often compliment the dish nicely. You can find Thai chili paste in many grocery stores, or buy it online.
While sriracha is somewhat close in texture to gochujang, it is usually sweeter and less salty. It will also often contain garlic, which your recipe may or may not benefit from.
On the plus side, sriracha is easy to find, even in large grocery stores, so it may just be the easiest gochujang alternative to reach for. However, be sure to consider what food you are cooking to be sure the flavors won’t clash.
Personally, sriracha would be my last resort as a gochujang substitute (hence this being the last item on this list). However, if it was my only choice, it is certainly better than nothing!
I hope this article helped you find a suitable alternative for gochujang. No substitute will be a perfect fill-in, but you can get pretty close! For next time, I highly recommend getting some genuine gochujang and keeping it on hand (your taste buds will thank you)!