Korean Gochugaru

An Informative Guide: Korean Gochugaru (Korean Red Pepper Flakes)

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Gochugaru, also known as Korean red pepper flakes or Korean red pepper powder, is a type of ground pepper spice used in Korean cuisine. This Korean spice has a unique and complex spicy, slightly sweet, and smokey flavor profile. 

The word ‘gochugaru’ (고춧가루) derives from ‘gochu’ (고추) meaning ‘chili pepper’ and ‘garu’ (가루) meaning ‘powder.’ This vibrant ingredient helps to give many Korean dishes their famous red coloring as well as their flavor. 

Here, we will go over information about Korean chili peppers and gochugaru as well as information about which type of gochugaru to buy based on the dish being cooked.  

About the Korean Chili Pepper:

In Korea, the word ‘gochu’ (고추)  means ‘chili pepper.’ 

When using this word, people typically refer to a specific type of Korean chili pepper which comes in the green and red varieties at the grocery store. Otherwise, people refer to types of peppers by their names. For example, they use the word ‘할라피뇨’ meaning ‘jalapeño.’ This word is pronounced the same as the Spanish equivalent ‘jalapeño’ but with Korean accentuation. 

Though chili peppers are now an integral part of Korean culture, they were not native to the peninsula. The chili pepper originated in the Americas. During the 16th century, the Portuguese introduced peppers to the Korean Peninsula through Japan. The earliest known mention of peppers in Korean recorded history comes from an encyclopedia published in 1614 titled Collected Essays of Jibong. Since then, Korean food culture heavily relies on chili peppers. 

Just think, the original recipes for kimchi do not contain red pepper flakes or powder. The kimchi tradition dates back thousands of years, while the use of red peppers in Korean cuisine only dates back approximately 400 years.

Types of Korean Chili Peppers: 

  • ‘Put-Gochu’ (풋고추): Green Chili Peppers. These peppers are also known as Korean dark green or Korean long green peppers. This chili pepper is medium-sized, long, and slim. Typically, it has a mild flavor with a tiny bit of heat. The green pepper comes from the same plant as the Korean red pepper, though they are distinguished in Korean food culture. The Korean green pepper is picked at an earlier stage of the ripening process. 
  • ‘Hong-Gochu’ (홍고추): Red Chili Peppers. People outside of Korea often refer to these peppers as Korean red or Korean long red peppers. These peppers are also long and slim, though they have a bit spicier flavor. Unlike the green versions, farmers allow these to fully ripen before picking them. 
  • ‘Cheongyang-Gochu’ (청양고추): Cheongyang Pepper. This chili pepper is a medium-sized variety that looks similar to Korean green and red chili peppers. Though they look similar, these peppers are MUCH spicier.
  • Dr. Yoo Il-Woong developed the cheongyang pepper by hybridizing the local Jeju Island Korean chili with a Thai chili. 
Korean red peppers growing on the vine.
Korean Peppers Growing.

Types of Red Pepper Powder:

When cooking Korean food, you need to pick the proper type of red pepper powder based on the dish you are preparing. First, you pick how coarsely the gochugaru is ground. Second, you need to pick the spice level. 

Korean Red Pepper Flakes vs Powder:

Like I stated above, you need to first pick the level of the gochugaru grind. Typically, you will find two levels finely ground (powder) and coarsely ground (flakes):

  • Finely Ground (Red Pepper Powder): On one hand, you use Korean red pepper powder to make gochujang, a type of fermented red pepper paste. 
  • Coarsely Ground (Red Pepper Flakes): On the other hand, you use Korean red pepper flakes for other types of dishes. For example, you use this version to make soups, stews, stir-fried dishes, and more!

Note: Unfortunately, because of a lack of proper translation, many bags of important gochugaru are not labeled properly as powder or flakes. Often, you can see the contents of the bags when shopping. Always check to make sure you are buying the proper version! 

Spice Level: 

In Korea, people also distinguish the gochugaru based on the level of spice. Typically you can find milder and spicier versions. The spice level is based on the region it is grown, the annual climate, and the cultivation. Once you fall in love with a certain spice label, you will rely consistently on a certain brand. 

If you want really, really spicy gochugaru, look for ones made from the Cheongyang pepper. This variation often has a darker color than the Korean red pepper alternatives. 

Dried Korean peppers before becoming Korean gochugaru.
Dried Korean Peppers.

Korean Gochugaru Frequently Asked Questions:

Below, we listed some questions you may have about Korean gochugaru. If we do not answer your question below, feel free to leave a comment or email us at carvingajourney@gmail.com!

How Long Can You Keep Gochugaru?

After opening, you should place gochugaru in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If you aren’t going to use it within a few weeks, you can store gochugaru in the freezer for up to six months. 

Once bad, the color changes from vibrant or dark red to brown or yellow. 

Can You Substitute Korean Gochugaru?

Unfortunately, gochugaru has a unique flavor that cannot be replicated with other types of peppers. If you cannot find gochugaru, try using paprika or chili powder. While it won’t taste authentic or nearly as delicious, your dish will still taste good. 

What Type of Brand Should I Buy?

Like I stated above, you should buy gochugaru based on your desired spice level. So, I will not recommend a specific brand for all eaters. 

That being said, I recommend that everyone buys gochugaru grown and processed in South Korea. Many brands outside of Korea sell gochugaru imported from other countries like China. 

We Hope You Enjoyed Learning About Korean Gochugaru!

In the end, we hope you enjoyed learning about Korean gochugaru. If so, let us know in the comment section below. Also, if you cook with Korean red pepper powder, what do you typically make?

If you would like to read more about cooking, you can find further recipes on our blog. We listed some of our favorite Carving A Journey Korean recipes below! For reference, many recipes are influenced by our blended Korean and Southern heritage.

Korean Ingredients: 

Further Carving A Journey Korean Recipes:

If you have any questions or comments, you can also email us at carvingajourney@gmail.com. And, finally, we would love to hear from you through our social media as well! You can follow us at @carvingajourney on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Or, if you would like more articles like these, you can subscribe to our blog by joining our mailing list. We hope you enjoyed learning about gochugaru, otherwise known as Korean red pepper powder! Soon, we will be publishing more recipes using this Korean ingredient! Thank you so much for stopping by!

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