Gochugaru: The Essential Spice for Korean Cuisine

May 1, 2023
Gochugaru
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Gochugaru, the bright red spice that lends many Korean dishes their characteristic flavour and colour, is likely already familiar to anybody who enjoys Korean cuisine. Gochugaru is a sun-dried Korean chilli pepper powder that is coarsely powdered. Depending on the kind and brand, it may have a mild to moderate amount of heat with a flavour profile that blends spicy, sweet, and smokey elements.

Gochugaru is a staple ingredient in Korean cuisine, and is essential for preparing kimchi, the fermented vegetable dish revered as the country’s national dish. Gochujang, a thick and savoury chilli paste used as a condiment and a foundation for many sauces and marinades, relies on gochugaru as a key component. Soups, stews, noodles, rice cakes, dumplings, pancakes, and many more dishes benefit from gochugaru’s vibrant colour and spicy flavour.

Everything you need to know about gochugaru is covered here: its origins, cultivation, varieties, medicinal properties, culinary applications, and potential alternatives. We will also discuss where to get gochugaru, how to keep it fresh, and how to incorporate it into your own cooking.

The History of Gochugaru

In the late 16th century, Portuguese merchants brought chilli peppers from Japan to Korea. Chilli peppers originated in the Americas. Before then, most Korean food was bland and salty, seasoned with salted fish and soy sauce. Koreans immediately discovered the deliciousness, beauty, and health advantages of chilli peppers. Food was preserved because they stopped germs from multiplying.

The 1614 encyclopaedia Collected Essays of Jibong has the first known reference to chilli pepper in Korea. Around the year 1700, a book titled Farm Management discussed the growing techniques for chilli peppers. Chilli peppers were a popular crop and food item in Korea by the 18th century.

Gochugaru is a Korean spice blend whose name comes from the words for “chilli pepper” (gochu) and “powder” (garu). Gochugaru is made by dehydrating fresh chilli peppers in the sun or a dehydrator, then flaking or powdering them after removing the seeds and membranes. Historically, stone mills were used either at home or by local millers to produce gochugaru. The vast majority of gochugaru consumed today was manufactured in a factory, ground using an electric grinder, and sold in plastic containers.

The Production of Gochugaru

The kind of chilli peppers used and the drying procedure greatly affect gochugaru’s quality and flavour. The “sun-dried” chilli peppers known as taeyangcho () are the most popular choice for making gochugaru. Harvested while bright red in colour, these peppers are sun-dried for many days until they become wrinkled and brittle. The peppers’ original colour and fragrance are maintained throughout the sun-drying process, and they acquire a subtle smokiness as a result.

Green peppers, or cheongyangcho, are another kind of chilli pepper used in gochugaru. These peppers are picked when they are still immature and green, then dried using heat or infrared rays. The cheongyangcho pepper, often known as the red pepper, is smaller and hotter than its taeyangcho counterpart.

Before they are ground into flakes or powder, dried chilli peppers have their seeds and membranes removed. Removing the seeds from gochugaru makes it less spicy since that’s where most of the capsaicin, the substance responsible for chilli peppers‘ heat, is found. Gochugaru’s flavour might be impacted by the membranes’ harsh aftertaste. Next, the flakes or powder are sifted to get rid of any remaining dust or debris.

The Varieties of Gochugaru

Gochugaru can be classified into different varieties based on several factors, such as:

  • Texture: The texture of gochugaru may range from coarse to fine. The bigger flakes of coarse gochugaru give food a more robust appearance and flavour. Smaller granules of fine gochugaru disperse more evenly when cooked. The size of the grinder and sifter employed will determine the consistency of the resulting gochugaru.
  • Heat level: The heat level of gochugaru may vary widely. Gochugaru’s spiciness may be adjusted by using milder chilli peppers or by leaving some of the seeds and membranes in. Red peppers are often hotter than green peppers, while cheongyangcho peppers are typically hotter than taeyangcho peppers. Gochugaru packages often have a star or chilli symbol rating its spiciness.
  • Origin: Gochugaru may be made using either locally sourced or imported ingredients. Peppers from other nations, including China, India, or Spain, are used to make imported gochugaru instead of the domestic Korean kind. The original flavour and higher quality of domestic gochugaru is why Koreans are willing to pay a premium for it. Although imported gochugaru is more accessible and often less expensive, it may have a different flavour profile or added ingredients.

Some examples of gochugaru varieties are:

  • Gochugaru for kimchi: This gochugaru is gritty and somewhat spicy; it was developed specifically for use in preparing kimchi. Its rich flavour and vibrant red colour make it a great addition to kimchi.
  • Gochugaru for soup: This gochugaru is a high-quality, mildly spicy type developed specifically for use in stews and soups. Its vibrant crimson colour and crisp taste provide stews and soups a welcome spiciness.
  • Gochugaru for seasoning: Designed specifically for use as a seasoning, this kind of gochugaru packs a serious punch. Its bright red colour and sharp taste make it an excellent choice for recipes that need a kick.

The Health Benefits of Gochugaru

Gochugaru is not only delicious, but also nutritious. It has many health benefits, such as:

  • It boosts metabolism. Capsaicin, which is found in gochugaru, causes the body to generate heat. Thermogenesis is the process of creating heat by metabolising energy. Capsaicin boosts metabolism and fat burning by enhancing thermogenesis.
  • It reduces inflammation. Antioxidants in gochugaru, including vitamin C, carotenoids, and flavonoids, assist the body deal with oxidative stress and eliminate free radicals. Inflammation brought on by oxidative stress may eventually lead to a number of different types of chronic illness. Antioxidants are beneficial because they reduce inflammation, which may lead to or worsen health problems including arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
  • It improves immunity. Infections caused by bacteria and viruses may be warded off or treated with the aid of gochugaru’s antibacterial and antiviral qualities. It also helps with fungal diseases including athlete’s foot and candidiasis because to its anti-fungal qualities. Additionally, white blood cell production is increased by gochugaru, making it better able to fight off infections.
  • It relieves pain. By stimulating TRPV1 receptors in the nerve terminals, gochugaru functions as a natural analgesic. Pain signals are carried by these receptors to the central nervous system. Capsaicin works by stimulating these receptors in the brain, making them less sensitive to pain. Headaches, muscular pains, menstrual cramps, and neuropathy are just some of the ailments that might benefit from this impact.
  • It enhances mood. Gochugaru also causes the brain to produce more feel-good endorphins. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that provide feelings of happiness and well-being by mimicking the effects of the drug morphine. Endorphins’ mood-boosting effects make them useful weapons against stress, melancholy, and nervous tension.

The Culinary Uses of Gochugaru

Gochugaru is a versatile spice that can be used in various ways to add flavor and color to your dishes. Here are some of the most common culinary uses of gochugaru:

  • Making kimchi: Gochugaru is most known for its usage in making kimchi. Cabbage or other vegetables are combined with salt, garlic, ginger, scallions, and gochugaru to create kimchi, a fermented food. Kimchi gets its distinctive red colour and spicy flavour from the gochugaru. You may consume kimchi on its own or incorporate it into other recipes, including fried rice, pancakes, or soup.
  • Making gochujang: Another essential ingredient in Korean cooking is gochujang. Gochujang is a fermented soybean, glutinous rice, salt, and gochugaru paste that is thick and savoury. The gochugaru is responsible for the intense colour and flavour of gochujang. Gochujang may be used as a marinade or sauce for meats, vegetables, noodles, and rice cakes, or as a standalone condiment.
  • Seasoning soups and stews: Soups and stews, such doenjang jjigae (soybean paste stew), sundubu jjigae (soft tofu stew), and dakbokkeumtang (spicy chicken stew), may all benefit from the addition of gochugaru. The gochugaru gives the soup a spicy, smokey flavour and a deep crimson colour.
  • Spicing up noodles: Noodle dishes like bibim guksu (cold spicy noodles), jjolmyeon (chewy noodles with vegetables), and japchae (glass noodles with stir-fried vegetables and pork) may all benefit from the addition of gochugaru. The gochugaru gives the noodles some spice and sweetness.
  • Adding flavor to salads: Salads such oi muchim (cucumber salad), baechu geotjeori (fresh cabbage salad), and kongnamul muchim (bean sprout salad) all benefit from the addition of gochugaru for flavour. The salads are given a vivacious colour and a zingy, refreshing flavour thanks to the gochugaru.

The Substitutes for Gochugaru

If you don’t have gochugaru on hand or can’t find it in your local store, you can use some substitutes that have similar characteristics. Here are some of the best substitutes for gochugaru:

  • Aleppo pepper: Originally from Syria and Turkey, dried red peppers are the basis for Aleppo pepper, a coarsely powdered chilli powder. It’s comparable in consistency and heat to gochugaru, but its fruity and earthy flavour sets it apart. An equal amount of Aleppo pepper may be used in place of the gochugaru.
  • Ancho chili powder: Mexican poblano peppers are dried and then processed into a fine powder to create ancho chilli powder. It’s similar in appearance to gochugaru and has a comparable amount of heat, but its flavour is sweeter and smokier. A 1:1 substitution of ancho chilli powder for gochugaru is possible.
  • Paprika: Paprika, originally from Hungary and Spain, is a chilli powder produced from dried red peppers. Similar in appearance and taste to gochugaru, but milder in heat. Gochugaru may be made with paprika using a 1 to 1 ratio, but for more heat, you can add cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes.

Conclusion

Gochugaru is a sun-dried Korean chilli pepper powder that is coarsely powdered. Spicy, sweet, and smoky flavours combine with a moderate heat level that may vary by variety and brand. Kimchi, gochujang, soups, stews, noodles, salads, and more all benefit from the use of gochugaru in traditional Korean cuisine. Gochugaru has several positive effects on health, including increased metabolism, decreased inflammation, enhanced immunity, reduced pain, and improved mood. Depending on your location and taste, you may swap out the gochugaru with Aleppo pepper, ancho chilli powder, or paprika.

We hope this article has provided you with a thorough introduction to gochugaru and encouraged you to experiment with this wonderful spice on your own. Gochugaru is a staple ingredient in every Korean kitchen and may be used to create genuine dishes or to liven up daily meals. Don’t forget to tweak the proportions to your liking, and savour the tasty end product.

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