The Spice Route: Mia Kim on Gochugaru

I’m really excited to introduce Mia Kim, one of my besties from Berkeley to The Spice Route. Mia was my devoted eating partner in crime on the West Coast and I miss her dearly. She is a wealth of information when it comes to Korean cooking and I’m sure you are going to love learning about her spice and recipe. You can find her musings on LA, food and other cool stuff at dubudiaries and read her restaurant reviews on Loopt.

Name: Mia Kim

Where do you live? Downtown Los Angeles, CA

What do you love to do? Traveling, taking pictures, cooking, eating and spending time with my husband, friends and family. I also enjoy chronicling my adventures on my site dubudiaries.

What’s your spice? Gochugaru (Korean Chili Powder)

What do you know about it? Gochugaru is a very common ingredient in many Korean dishes. It can come finely ground, in flakes or in a paste (gochujang). Gochu literally means “chili” and garu means “powder.” Gochugaru differs from hot pepper flakes or cayenne pepper in that it hasa slightly sweet and smoky flavor (one can describe it as a very distant and much spicier cousin to paprika perhaps).

The quality of gochugaru depends on how well the chili peppers were dried in the sun or with heat (sun is said to be better because it generates more spice and keeps the color a vibrant red). Gochugaru can be spicy so one should not be heavy-handed when using it in recipes.

This spice can be found in Korean or Asian markets and should be stored airtight in the refrigerator or freezer so as not to lose flavor.

What do you like about it? First, I really like the way gochugaru looks. What a wonderful, vibrant shade of red. It’s very visually striking to me, like turmeric. I wish turmeric and gochugaru could get together and have beautiful little spice babies together.I also like the unique flavor it lends – it’s different than any other chili I’ve had. The spice is not immediate, in the same way that kimchi is not spicy in a fiery way. It’s more like an afterthought. The spice doesn’t sit on your tongue like western chilis, rather it subtly adds heat and flavor at the back of your throat. To me, it’s the anti-jalapeno because the heat comes later.

What else? I read somewhere that until the 16th century, Korean food didn’t contain any chili at all. Now Korea has the most per capita consumption of chili in the world.

What’s your favorite vegetarian recipe using it? Bok Choy Kimchi. It’s refreshing, healthy, crunchier than regular kimchi, very quick and easy to make and can be eaten immediately (no fermentation period). I add fish sauce for some extra depth, but you can still definitely make it without the fish sauce for a delicious vegetarian option.


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  • summer

    omg, this looks so good! i love gochugaru. this reminds me that i don’t eat enough korean food.