How Spicy is Gochujang? Navigating This Condiment’s Heat Levels 

Gochujang is the tasty red chili paste that gives many Korean dishes their signature kick. But if you’re new to gochujang, you may wonder – just how spicy is this stuff?

While some varieties scorch taste buds, many types offer pleasant, moderate heat. Read on to learn all about gochujang spice levels and how to enjoy this versatile Korean staple without getting burned.

What Is Gochujang? A Quick Primer

Before diving into gochujang’s scoville units, let’s quickly cover what it is and how it’s made.

Gochujang consists of:

  • Korean red chili powder – Provides signature color and spice.
  • Fermented soybeans – Add nutty, savory umami flavors.
  • Sweet rice flour – Gives gochujang body and subtle sweetness.
  • Salt – Balances flavors.

This mixture is then:

  • Combined and placed into earthenware pots
  • Fermented for months to develop complex flavor
  • Aged anywhere from 3 months to several years

The result is a rich, sticky paste with unique sweet-spicy-umami taste.

Now let’s explore the wide range of spice levels found in different gochujang brands and recipes.

Spiciness Can Vary Widely Between Gochujang Types

Here’s the tricky thing about gochujang – there’s no universal scoville rating that covers all varieties.

That’s because gochujang spice depends on:

  • Chili peppers used – Types range from mild Korean green chilis to fierier varieties.
  • Chili proportion – More red powder = more heat.
  • Fermentation length – Ages mellows gochujang’s bite.
  • Personal taste – Korean palates perceive spice differently than Western ones.

So instead of a precise scoville rating, most gochujang uses descriptors like:

  • Mild – Noticeable but not overpowering heat. Safe for spice-sensitive.
  • Medium – Moderate kick ideal for many diners. Often labeled “Original”.
  • Hot – Serious spice lovers only. Similar to a hot salsa or Thai curry paste.

To give you a sense of the range:

  • Mild gochujang clocks in around 5,000 Scoville Heat Units.
  • The hottest varieties can reach over 10,000 SHU – on par with some types of raw jalapeños!

The bottom line is you can find gochujang to match almost any tolerance level – from kiddie-friendly to scorching.

Check Labeling To Pick Appropriate Heat Level

Luckily, most gochujang packaging provides guidance on spiciness. Here’s what to look for:

Numerical spice rating – Ranges from 1 (mild) to 10 (extremely hot). 3 is moderate heat, 4 quite spicy.

Descriptors like mild/medium/hot – Follow guidance above.

Color coding – Darker red = more heat. Green = least spicy.

Pepper icons – More icons indicates more heat.

Brand name – Some known mild brands are Chung Jung One and Mother-in-Law’s.ANNJOO is moderate spice.Soonchang extra hot.

Place of origin – South Korean-made tends to run hotter than Western/US producers aiming for less spice.

Checking this labeling ensures you choose a gochujang suited for your preferences. If in doubt, start mild!

Gochujang Heat Level is Flexible in Recipes

Another benefit of gochujang is that recipes allow you to adjust spice to your taste.

Use less for milder heat – Start with 1/2 to 1 teaspoon per serving.

Add more for extra kick – Up to 1 tablespoon per serving for bold spice.

Boost with other spicesMix in red pepper flakes, sriracha, etc.

Temper with sweet – Honey, sugar, fruits like mango or pineapple.

Cool with dairy – Stir in milk, yogurt, cheese, etc.

Dilute with broths/sauces – Simmer gochujang to mellow heat.

So begin with a mild-medium gochujang, then tweak amounts and pairings until you achieve your desired spice level.

Handling Hot Gochujang Safely

The capsaicin in gochujang’s red chili peppers can irritate skin and eyes. Follow these tips when cooking:

  • Use gloves when handling, especially with extra-spicy varieties.
  • Avoid touching eyes or other sensitive areas after exposure.
  • Thoroughly wash hands, utensils, surfaces with warm soapy water afterwards.
  • Cool skin with milk or yogurt if irritation occurs, then wash.
  • Remove seeds and membranes from fresh peppers when adding to gochujang.

With sound handling practices, you can safely bask in gochujang’s gloriously fiery flavors.

Let Gochujang Spice Up Your Next Meal!

This complex Korean condiment can seem mystifyingly hot at first taste. But by selecting a mild-medium variety and adjusting amounts, gochujang’s heat is highly customizable to your preferences.

Opt for a lower-spice brand, then tweak recipes to your comfort zone. With its savory umami depth and pleasant chili burn, gochujang is sure to become a staple in your pantry.

So grab a jar, and let this Korean favorite ignite your next culinary creation! Just be sure to take precautions when handling the hot stuff.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is gochujang supposed to be refrigerated after opening?

Yes, it’s best to store gochujang in the fridge after opening to maximize freshness. It will keep for several months chilled. Let it come to room temperature before use.

2. Can I substitute gochujang for sriracha or other hot sauces?

You can substitute, but the flavor will be different. Gochujang has a more complex umami taste compared to the vinegary brightness of sriracha. Start with less gochujang than the recipe calls for sriracha and adjust to taste.

3. What’s the difference between gochujang and gochugaru?

Gochujang is a spicy paste made from gochugaru (Korean red chili powder) along with fermented soybeans, rice, and salt. Gochugaru is just the ground dried chili seasoning used to make gochujang.

4. Is it safe to eat gochujang while pregnant?

In moderation, it’s likely fine, but check with your doctor. Some obstetricians recommend avoiding spicy foods in pregnancy, while others say mild-medium heat is okay. Exercise caution and monitor reactions.

5. What’s the best way to tone down gochujang heat in recipes?

Mix in a bit of honey, maple syrup, or sugar. Adding acidic ingredients like vinegar or citrus can also help mellow the spiciness. Stirring in yogurt, heavy cream, or coconut milk works too.

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Bill Kalkumnerd
Bill Kalkumnerd

I am Bill, I am the Owner of HappySpicyHour, a website devoted to spicy food lovers like me. Ramen and Som-tum (Papaya Salad) are two of my favorite spicy dishes. Spicy food is more than a passion for me - it's my life! For more information about this site Click

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