Gochugaru Vs. Red Pepper Flakes – How Do They Compare?

Gochugaru is a form of dried chili that you will often see in Korean cuisine. It is what gives kimchi its red color. Red pepper flakes are the same product that is sometimes known as crushed red pepper. You might see red pepper flakes/crushed red pepper in shakers on the tables of your favorite pizzeria. So they are both a dried form of chili pepper, but how do they differ? Let’s compare the two.

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How does gochugaru differ from red pepper flakes in form? 

If you want to ignore the details, you could say that gochugaru and red pepper flakes are the same spice. Gochugaru is, afterall, effectively the Korean equivalent of crushed red pepper. Gochu means chili pepper and garu means powder. But there are differences.

First – the consistency is slightly different. While red pepper flakes are in obvious “flake” form, gochugaru tends to be ground slightly further. It sits somewhere between cayenne pepper powder and red pepper flakes in terms of how fine it’s ground.

And while both red pepper flakes and gochugaru are both flakes, you would still notice a difference if you placed them side by side. Most gochugaru is seedless and therefore will be uniformly red in appearance. Red pepper flakes usually contain seeds and will have a speckled red and white look as a result. 

Which is spicier, gochugaru or red pepper flakes?

Let’s start with the chilies used. Gochugaru typically uses Korean chili pepper – a mild chili (roughly 1,500 Scoville heat units or SHU, a similar heat to poblano or ancho peppers.) Though it comes in a mild (deolmaewoon) and hot (maewoon) versions, so the chili peppers can vary.

–> Learn More: What Is Gochugaru? The Story Behind The Spice

Red pepper flakes tend to be a mix of chilies, but cayenne pepper is typically the base which contains some significant medium heat (30,000 to 50,000 SHU.) Other chilies used tend to be milder, like dried red serranos, ancho peppers, and red jalapeños.

But the chilies used isn’t the complete story in terms of heat. The form factor comes into play here, too. Most gochugaru consists only of the dried walls of the pepper fruit, typically the least spicy part of a chili.

Red pepper flakes, on the other hand, usually contain most of the pepper, including not just the walls of the pod but also the white membrane of the pepper and seeds too. The membrane typically has the highest concentration of capsaicin (what gives peppers their heat), so red pepper flakes can reach the full heat of the peppers used in the making.

So assume both of these ground chili blends have wide ranges. Gochugaru will range from 1,500 to 10,000 SHU (depending on mild/hot versions) while red pepper flakes will run from 15,000 to 30,000 SHU.

Is the flavor of gochugaru different to red pepper flakes?

Gochugaru offers a sweet smokiness that you will not get from red pepper flakes. Cayenne pepper, the chili base of most red pepper flake variants, is known for having minimal flavor aside from its heat. So if you’re looking for something to provide a subtle flavor to your food, go gochugaru. If you simply want heat – red pepper flakes.

Which is easier to find in stores?

You will have an easier time finding gochugaru in the United States if you shop at Asian grocery stores or supermarkets with well-stocked Asian sections. In comparison, you will find crushed red pepper in most grocery stores, and you may even find variations on the blend. So be sure to read the label to know what you’re getting.

Can you use gochugaru in place of red pepper flakes? And vice versa? 

Use gochugaru as a substitute for red pepper flakes if what you need is a mild heat. It is an excellent alternative if the spice level of red pepper flakes is too much for you. It will work in any application that would call for red pepper flakes. The big difference will be the appearance since gochugaru does not have seeds and is typically a little finer in texture.

–> Learn More: What’s A Good Gochugaru Substitute?

Red pepper flakes are a workable but not ideal substitute for gochugaru, especially when it comes to applications like kimchi. Korean dishes that require gochugaru tend to have the pepper’s sweet and smoky properties as fundamental aspects of their flavor profiles. 

When should you use gochugaru? Red pepper flakes? 

Use gochugaru in your homemade kimchi or in Korean recipes that depend on its specific qualities. You will also see it included in recipes for dipping sauces, particularly where smokiness is part of the flavor equation.

Red pepper flakes have a broader range of applications besides being used to spice up pizza. It’s an excellent table spice right next to that salt and black pepper – add them to any dish that could use some moderate heat. Its flake form makes it easier to handle than other ground alternatives, like cayenne pepper powder, which could easily over-pour and ruin a dish. Plus, flakes sit atop the food, instead of permeating it like powders do, so it’s a much more visible signal of the heat within a dish.


UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on April 27, 2023 to include new content.
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Diane Weber

Wish I had read your great article before I had made my first batch of kimchi! When I put the kimchi into smaller jars, the vapor from the liquid burned my eyes! Now I’m ordering the milder, slightly sweet Korean red pepper….

Gina

Very helpful. We like spice and so will tend to use the red pepper flakes even though I have a huge jar of gochugaru,

Emma

Thank you for the article!