ESSENTIAL KOREAN INGREDIENTS
If you are interested in cooking Korean food but are not sure where to start, then take a look at my Top 12 Essential Korean Ingredients below. You will find everything you need to get cooking my delicious, easy, authentic Korean recipes. The page contains useful links for hard to find ingredients and relevant content and recipes here on my blog. At no extra cost to you, I will earn a commission if you buy through the links. I only recommend products that I use myself. New recipes and videos are added every Monday and Thursday.
12 Essential Korean Ingredients
Korean Chilli Powder/Red Pepper Powder (Gochugaru: 고추가루)
Used in Kimchi, Jigae (stews), soups, salads etc… I have used English chilli powder in the past but, it is too coarse and it doesn’t taste the same. The chillies from Korea taste different from English ones I guess. Sold in most general Asian supermarkets but if you don’t have one near you, you can buy it through Amazon. It is made with dried chillies. The best chilli powders are made with sun dried chillies. Look for a label that says “Made With Sun Dried Chillies – 태양초 (Taeyangcho)”. Both of my grandmothers used to buy fresh chillies from the market and dry them on a huge picnic mat in their garden during sunny days. Once dried, they would take them to a local mill to be crushed into fresh chilli powder. I use Choripdong Taeyangcho Red Pepper Powder. I am sure other brands are as good.
Korean Chilli Paste (Gochujang: 고추장)
Made from Gochugaru (Korean Red Pepper Powder), glutinous rice, fermented soybean powder, barley malt powder and salt, but, the most important ingredient out of them is Gochugaru, so, the taste of Gochujang mainly depends on the quality of Gochugaru. Daesang Sunchang Gochujang is a popular brand in Asian supermarkets in the UK. It tastes sweet, spicy and warm. It is used in Bibimbap, Jigae (stew), as a dipping sauce, meat marinade and in Dukbokggi (spicy rice pasta). I remember my mum making it in her kitchen when I was a child and I could smell Gochujang in the whole house. Mmm it was lovely. These days, not many Koreans make Gochujang as it is far easier to buy it in the supermarket. There are mild and spicy versions for you to choose. I use a mild one and if I need to make it spicier, I add more Gochujang and Gochugaru. I don’t have a particular brand of Gochujang that I use as they all tend to be good but I do look out for the sun dried ones (태양초).
Soy Sauce (Ganjang: 간장)
There are two different soy sauces in Korea, Jinganjang and Gukganjang. Jinganjang is used for almost every dish except soup and Muchim (seasoned cooked or uncooked vegetable dishes). Gukganjang, unsurprisingly, is used in soup and Muchim. Jinganjang is sweet and dark in colour. Gukganjang is more salty and lighter in colour. Korean jinganjang is very similar to Japanese soy sauce. I used to use Korean brands but since I moved to the UK, I have used British brands, Chinese ones and Japanese ones as well. As I don’t live particularly near to an Asian supermarket (Manchester city centre is around 25 miles away) I have to buy soy sauce from a local supermarket when my soy sauce runs out. I found Kikkoman soy sauce the best. It tastes rich and sweet. For Gukganjang, homemade soy sauce is the best. However, it is difficult to make Gukganjang at home and the cooking process stinks your house out. It is impossible to buy homemade Gukganjang outside of Korea. I use Sempio Gukganjang as it has a rich, clean taste. I buy this in an Asian supermarket as Amazon don’t stock it.
Korean Soybean Paste (Doenjang: 된장)
Doenjang (된장) is made from fermented soybeans and is similar to Japanese miso. It is often used in soups, BBQ dipping sauce, salad dressings, etc. It is light brown in colour and it tastes tangy and salty. It is extremely good for your health as it contains many vitamins, minerals and flavonoids. In traditional style meals, Koreans usually eat Doenjang, vegetables and rice as Doenjang plays a major role in providing protein. When you make Doenjang, Gukganjang (soup soy sauce) is made at the same time. Not many Koreans today make Doenjang at home since the majority of Koreans live in apartments and don’t have the space. Traditionally, people dig their gardens and put in big pots to keep Doenjang, soy sauce and kimchi fresh throughout the year.
Doenjang’s beneficial effect has spread to China since there was news about Sunchang county in Korea (most doenjang, gochujang and soy sauce are produced there). The news showed life expectancy was between 90 and 100 in that county! Since then, a lot of Chinese restaurants have started to add Doenjang and Gochujang to their meals, changing Chinese tastes a little.
I don’t have any preference for specific brands. I have tried most of them including Soonchang, Chungjungwon, etc and they all taste great.
Korean Soybean Paste Dipping Sauce (Ssamjang: 쌈장)
My husband’s favourite sauce! Ssamjang is made with Doenjang, Gochujang, sesame oil, garlic, onions, Korean corn syrup, etc… You can make it yourself by following my easy recipe or you can purchase it from Amazon or an Asian supermarket. Ssam means wrapping and jang means sauce in Korean. It is often eaten with Bulgogi, Galbi and Samgyupsal (Korean BBQ meats). We take a lettuce or sesame leaf, lay rice or meat, kimchi and ssamjang inside of the leaf, wrap them and eat them. It tastes sweet and a little spicy. It goes extremely well with cooked meat. My husband is a Ssamjang lover. He even eats it with bread on a bulgogi sandwich. I often make Ssamjang unless I need a big portion for a BBQ party.
Korean Rice (Ssal: 쌀)
Korean rice is the same kind of rice as Japanese sushi rice. It is short grain and sticky. Rice is the main food for Koreans like bread for westerners. We eat rice, soup or stew, side dishes and kimchi in every meal. You can cook it in a pan over a stove as well as in a rice cooker. Today, most Koreans use a pressure rice cooker with various functions included. I eat brown and white rice mixed for a healthier diet.
Korean Sesame Oil (Chamgireum: 참기름)
Ottogi sesame oil. Korean sesame oil is very rich, fragrant and delicious. It is very important to have Korean sesame oil for me. I only use Korean sesame oil for cooking. I have used English sesame oil but, it doesn’t make my food taste right. If you want to make authentic Korean food from my blog, you have to buy Korean sesame oil. The best sesame oil is homemade. You can buy them at a mill (방앗간) in Korea, but, it is impossible to get outside of Korea. I use
Toasted Sesame Seeds (Kkae: 깨)
toasted sesame seeds over the majority of side dishes and food. You can purchase sesame seeds and toast them in a frying pan. When I do it, the whole house smells super delicious! My mum used to toast sesame seeds in a pan when I was a child. I could smell the sesame seeds all day in my house. Lovely! You can buy toasted sesame seeds in an Asian supermarket or Amazon. We sprinkle
Sea Kelp (Dasima: 다시마)
Sea kelp is mainly used for soups and stews. We usually soak it in a bowl of water for half an hour or so before use. It makes soups and stews very tasty. It is a natural food enhancer. Also, we cook them as a side dish. It is extremely good for your health as it is full of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.
Dried Anchovies (Myulchi: 멸치)
Used to make fish stock for kimchi as well as a soup base. Also, we use dried anchovies for side dishes. There are two types of dried anchovies, big ones and small ones. The big ones are used for a soup and stew base as well as kimchi. Small ones are used for side dishes. Dried anchovies are used in many Korean dishes. You can find them in an Asian supermarket. If you don’t want to make fish stock with dried anchovies or if you can’t find them in your area, you can replace it with fish sauce.
Korean Savory Pancake Mix (Buchimgaru: 부침가루)
Korean savory pancake mix contains flour, corn flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, etc. It is perfect to make Korean savory pancakes such as kimchi pancakes, potato pancakes, seafood and spring onion pancakes, etc. You can make your own mix of flour, corn flour and other ingredients to make Korean pancakes, but many Koreans just buy this and use it. It makes pancakes very tasty and crispy. I don’t have any preference for specific brands. They are all nice.
Garlic (Maneul: 마늘)
Koreans love garlic. We use garlic a lot in food. Raw garlic is spicy but cooked garlic tastes sweet and fragrant. We eat so much garlic that no wonder there are no vampires in Korea! I never believed in Dracula as a child as it sounded too unbelievable that he doesn’t like garlic. We peel the garlic cloves, mash them and use them in cooking. In Korea, you can buy freshly mashed garlic everywhere!