Do you crave for a sweet and hot gochujang paste but do not have it at home?
Maybe you are not able to buy it at all at your local stores.
Whatever the reason, if you like the flavor of the gochujang sauce, it would be good to know how you can substitute it when needed.
On a personal note, I really like gochujang and buy it quite often, but from time to time, I like to make it on my own too.
I will give you my not-so-secret recipe for gochujang substitutes and provide some other possible solutions as well.
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What is Gochujang?
I was quite skeptical about Korean food until I have tried gochujang, their most popular, and consumed chili pepper paste. If you want to make gochujang, you will need glutinous rice and fermented soybeans, as these are the two main ingredients.
Besides that, you will also need barley malt powder, salt, and red peppers. Sounds simple? Well, I would not agree, and you will see why if you keep on reading.
In fact, mejutgaru or the fermented soybean powder might prove impossible to find in your local stores.
On the other hand, without it, the taste will simply not be the same. This is why recreating the authentic flavor of gochujang in your home can be unachievable. Besides, traditionally, gochujang needs to be fermented in jangdok, a Korean old-style earthenware.
In Korea, gochujang is used for numerous traditional dishes such as bibimbap, kimchi, tteokbokki, and ssamjang.
It sounds quite intimidating when you read all these complicated names, especially if you are not Korean and have no connection to their culture, but in reality, gochujang is fairly easy to incorporate into your cuisine.
Namely, it is simply a great-tasting chili paste that you can use all the time and create your own recipes with it.
If you have never tried gochujang, it is a mix of spicy, sweet, and salty flavors, quite difficult to describe. You really need to try it to be able to decide whether you will become a fan or not.
If you do become a fan, you should be aware that despite its ever-increasing popularity, gochujang will be difficult to track down. The best option is to rely on online shopping or ethnic stores (if such exist in your neighborhood).
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What If You Cannot Track Down Gochujang?
Let’s imagine that you have traveled or went to a Korean restaurant, tried Gochujang, and fell in love with its sweet and spicy flavor. Then, after you have come home, you started craving for that taste and decided to buy it and be able to use it whenever you feel like it.
So, you go to your local supermarket all worked up imagining how great your home-cooked stew will taste once you spice it up with gochujang, only to discover that you cannot find it.
After you visit few more stores, you come home empty-handed, disappointed, and hungry as hell. You eat whatever you have lying around but cannot shake off the feeling that something is missing as nothing can replace the one thing you cannot have at that moment – Gochujang! A horrid scenario isn’t it??
The truth is that most of the time, you can simply order gochujang online, but you can also try some alternatives while you are waiting for it. I have come across quite a few suggestions and chosen the ones that provide the most similar taste and quality. I will also include a great recipe for the traditional gochujang that you can make in your kitchen.
I just need to warn you before you start reading that none of the substitutes for gochujang will have the same complex flavor. The real deal takes too much time to prepare as it needs to go through fermentation which takes months but also secures that sharp and sweet miso bight.
The Gochujang Alternatives
1. Red pepper flake paste
This alternative is not perfect, but it is the quickest solution for an “I want it here and now” situation. The ingredients you need to make this paste are easy to acquire.
In fact, you probably already have them all in your kitchen.
You will need:
- One tablespoon of red pepper flakes
- A few dashes of soy sauce
- A dash of sugar
To prepare the paste, just mix all the ingredients well.
Red pepper flakes will provide heat, sugar will guarantee sweetness, and the soy sauce will connect the two, moist the paste, and contribute a tangy bite.
The flavor might not be the same, but the emergency situation will definitely be resolved!
2. Thai chili paste
Thai chili has an almost identical texture as gochujang but, on the other hand, features a too intense garlic flavor that is not present in the gochujang paste.
It can be an emergency substitute as it will definitely satisfy your need for heat and sweetness.
At the same time, it will not spoil the texture of your dish (especially if you are aiming for a thicker one).
3. Sriracha chili sauce
If you do not plan to use gochujang to make any traditional Korean dishes, Sriracha chili sauce can make a decent substitute! You can also use all the different chilly sauce substitutes as well.
It does not provide the authentic Korean flavor as it is much thinner and tastes differently, but it is a great heat source with a sweet edge nonetheless.
I recommend trying the sauce ahead and deciding whether the difference in taste will spoil your recipe or not.
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4. Miso-based recipe
As far as efficiently tricking the taste buds is concerned, a homemade version of gochujang with some high-quality miso paste should do the trick. Miso has one key ingredient that is identical to the one you need for gochujang – fermented soy.
Fermented soy gives that unique flavor that makes gochujang so popular. Moreover, there is no need to spend a lot of effort or time to make it, and the ingredients are fairly easy to acquire too.
You will need:
- 1 cup of miso
- 1/2 cup Korean chili powder (or mix equal parts of cayenne and sweet paprika)
- 1 1/4 cup of brown sugar
- 1 cup of water
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of sake
- 1 teaspoon of rice vinegar
The preparation process:
- Pour the water into a saucepan, add the sugar, and heat over medium heat until the sugar is totally dissolved.
- Next, add the miso and stir the mixture until it becomes thicker and smooth. Mix in the Korean chili powder (or the alternative mixture) and stir until the sauce thickens some more.
- When the bubbles on the surface start to burst, turn off the heat and let the content cool down.
- When it reaches about 100 degrees Fahrenheit or cools down to room temperature, you can add the vinegar, sake, and salt that will stop the fermentation process.
- Now you can remove the homemade gochujang from the heat and let it cool down completely, pour it into the container, seal it and store it in the refrigerator. It will stay good for months.
My Homemade Gochujang Recipe
Although the alternatives that I have listed are all acceptable solutions, I was not 100% satisfied when I tried them out and therefore decided to continue my search.
That is how I stumbled upon the recipe that I now call my own.
It takes some time to prepare, but in the end, you will have a year’s supply of gochujang to use on your own or share with your family and friends; I opt for the latter option!
The recipe was given to me by my dear friend, who happens to be Korean. She got it from her grandmother, who had spent her entire life in Korea, and prepared this traditional paste the old way.
The grandma would make enough of gochujang for the entire family. It needed to mature and was kept in traditional Korean pots during the whole year, so all could enjoy it whenever they felt like it.
When I tried my friend’s version, I felt butterflies in my stomach. And no, that feeling was not the result of eating spicy food, but rather a pure delight. I like the store-bought gochujang paste, but homemade hit all the right buttons.
The taste was almost the same, or even better, but I also liked the fact that all the ingredients were natural and there were no additives or other harmful substances.
I will give you the recipe in its original form. As it is, the recipe yields almost six kilograms of gochujang sauce. Do not be intimidated by the amount, though, as it can be safely stored for quite a while!
You will need:
- 6 Liters of water
- 450g of Malt Powder
- 450g of Glutinous Rice Powder
- 450g of Soy Bean Powder
- 1kg of Fine Red Pepper Powder
- 350g of Salt
- 600g of Honey
Choose a rather large saucepan and boil six liters of water. In the meantime, take a tea towel or Muslim cloth and wrap the malt powder in it so that you form a kind of ball. When the water has boiled and cooled down a bit (it still needs to remain rather hot), put this ball in it and swirl it around.
After half a minute, squeeze the ball, and repeat the process. You should continue doing this until the water turns light brown (approx. 15 squeezes). After you finish this process, feel free to discard the malt powder ball as you will no longer need it.
Next, add the glutinous rice powder to the water. Place the saucepan over medium heat and let the content boil once more. Stir the content the whole time.
Let it boil for a couple of minutes before you turn off the heat. It will need about half an hour to cool down and should occasionally be stirred during this time as well.
After half an hour has passed, turn on the heat once again and let the content boil for as much time as needed to get it reduced to half (approx. 3 liters). The heat should be medium-high, and if the content bubbles too much, you can occasionally remove it for a few seconds and then return it.
You also need to stir from time to time, not allowing the mixture to settle. It is quite a tiresome task as it can last for up to an hour, but it is a necessary part of the process that cannot be avoided.
Finally, when the mixture is reduced to half of the original volume, turn the heat off, cover it and let it cool overnight. In the morning, add the remaining ingredients – red pepper powder and soybean powder.
The final product should be quite thick and have a texture similar to glue. Stir well, and it should develop a paste-like texture. When it does, leave it to rest for half an hour.
For the grand finale, add the honey for the sweetness and salt that will help preserve your homemade gochujang longer.
That’s all, folks! You now have your gochujang ready and can choose whether to eat it right away or store it away.
Another tip from my friend’s grandma is to let the mixture rest for one more day before you bottle it up. She used to use special Korean earthenware pots, but you are not likely to find those here and can use standard glass jars instead.
There is no need to keep it all in your fridge, only those jars that you have opened and started to use. The rest of the gochujang can be stored in a cool dark space and will stay good for more than a year.
Great, isn’t it? 🙂
If you’re desperate: Tomato paste could be used as a substitute
As one of the most popular condiments in Korean cuisine – Gochujang, is a spicy and savory sauce that adds just the right kick to many different dishes.
If you’re desperate for a substitute, but don’t want to use something like ketchup or soy sauce (which are not traditional substitutes) tomato paste could be used as an alternative! It might not have the same flavor as gochujang but it will do in a pinch.
However, if you’re going to substitute gochujang for another condiment make sure you check where it falls on the ingredient list – chances are that when recipes call for Gochujang it acts mostly as a flavoring agent.
Lastly, if you’re putting tomato paste on a dish that almost always calls for gochujang, chances are the flavor will not be the same and it might become too sweet.
I hope that you will try it out and like all of my suggestions!
I am sure you will be able to find an adequate gochujang substitute that will satisfy your personal taste and needs.
I will be eagerly awaiting to hear what you think!