It is so thrilling to know that more and more people are interested in cooking Korean food at home. However, it is sometimes difficult to identify all the Korean ingredients and how to use it properly. So I made this Korean Pantry page for those who are not familiar with Korean ingredients that I use often in my recipes. You will find the explanation of each ingredient with its use, and the actual recipe examples I used in my blog.
I also have posted H-Mart grocery store visit to help you guide how to locate all the Korean condiments. Most of the ingredients on this pages are easily found in major Korean grocery stores. But if you don’t have access to those major store, you can also find in online stores such as Amazon and H-mart online shopping site. Hope this page will help you to create tasty Korean dishes and share with your loved ones.
Disclaimer: I am affiliated with some of the product and if you purchase them through online, I do get a fraction of commission from the sales. That might be able to buy me a block of tofu to create something new to share with you.
Soy Sauce (간장, ganjang)
Soy sauce is an essential to Korean cuisine. It is from the naturally brewed soybeans. I use low sodium (저염, jeoyum) in most of my recipes. Any Korean brand is fine and you can go either low sodium or regular. Look for the words “양조간장 (naturally brewed soy sauce)” if not for low sodium soy sauce. If you can’t find Korean brand, Kikoman is great alternative as well.
The ingredient ratio of the sauce is about 30% fermented soybeans, 10% wheat, 10% salt, and 50% water.
Korean Soy Sauce for Soup (국간장, gook-ganjang, or 조선간장, chosun-ganjang)
Korean Soy Sauce for Soup is traditional Korean soy sauce made with 100% soybeans. No wheat is added unlike regular soy sauce. The ratio of the sauce is usually 20% fermented soybeans, 20% salt, and 60% water. It has more translucency than regular soy sauce and saltier. It will season the dish with punch without altering the natural flavor of the dish itself.
Koreans mostly use this sauce to season soups, stews, and various vegetable side dishes.
Korean Soybean Paste (된장, doenjang)
Korean Soybean Paste is made of fermented soybeans. It is known for its healthy benefit with a rich source of good bacteria, Bacillus subtilis. Since it is fermented, it is quite strong in flavor and smell.
Korean doenjang can be eaten raw or to be simmered in a stew. It is widely used in most soups and stews, occasionally some meat dishes and vegetable side dishes.
Although the traditional authentic doenjang is made with rice, soybeans, and salt only, many commercially made doenjang contains some wheat, which makes it difficult to be a gluten-free.
Korean Chili Paste (고추장, gochujang)
You can’t have enough Korean Chili Paste if you love Korean food. This is one of the most beloved Korean condiments of all. It is spicy but so addictive. It is widely used in many meat dishes, side dishes, stews and lots of sauces. Try to fuse with Western recipes. Amazingly good!
Gochujang is made of very fine chili powder with rice or barley, fermented soybean powder, salt and a little bit of malt. It yields slightly sweet in taste due the addition of the rice and malt.
Korean Seasoned Soybean Paste (쌈장, ssamjang)
Seasoned Soybean Paste is a type of dipping sauce. This sauce is used to top up on grilled meats, variety type of Korean style vegetable wraps, or just to dip in fresh vegetable sticks. It is a mixture of doenjang and gochujang with onion, garlic, and etc.
It is easy to make ssamjang at home but for the convenience, commercially made ssamjang is widely used in most Korean homes.
Korean Chili Flakes (고추가루, gochugaru)
Korean Chili Flakes , also known as Korean chili powder or red pepper powder, has two different types of coarse and fine powder. Fine chili powder is to make gochujnag (Korean chili paste). I use the coarse chili flakes (powder) mostly in my recipes.
Korean chili flakes cannot be substituted with South American style “chili powder”. It is different. Also people often mistakenly think Korean chili flakes are same as the crushed chili flakes which are widely used in other cuisines. Korean chili flakes comes from Asian type of red finger long chilies, and they are not overly hot compared to the crushed chili flakes which came from cayenne pepper.
I would recommend you to get Korean origin gochugaru if possible. Most gochugaru marked as Korean chili flakes are coming from the chilies grown in either Mexico or China. Korean origin chili flakes will be twice expensive but well worth for the outcome.
Korean Black Bean Sauce (짜장소스, Jjajang Sauce)
Jjajang Sauce is a type of black bean sauce. This sauce is mainly for making the Jjajangmyun or Jjajangbap. It has a bitter in taste so it is recommended to fry in oil with a little bit of sugar before adding to the recipe. However, there is pre-roasted version of this sauce that doesn’t require that step.
Anchovy Sauce (멸치액젓, myulchi ack-jeot)
Anchovy Sauce is basically an extract from the fermented anchovies. It is widely used in making various types of kimchi. It also adds a pungent flavor in Korean soups and stews, and even vegetable side dishes. There is a similar product called Kkanari ack-jeot, which is another kind of fermented fish extract.
Dried Shrimps (마른새우, marun saewoo)
Dried Shrimps are used often in making stock for soups and stews. You can also toast them and grind them to make shrimp powder to use as a natural flavor enhancer in Korean style side dishes. It brings out the best flavor without overpowering.
Sesame Oils (참기름 & 들기름, cham girum & deul girum)
Sesame Oil is an essential condiment in Korean cooking. Its strong nutty fragrance will entice the dish that can be marked as “Asian or Korean”.
There are two types. One is the most common sesame oil (참기름, cham-girum) and the other is the wild sesame oil (들기름, deul-girum). They are from two different types of sesame seeds. Wild sesame oil has milder flavor and fragrance than sesame oil.
There are varieties of rice Koreans use in their meal. For more detailed explanation, go to my “All About Korean Rice” post.
Sweet Potato Noodles (당면, dangmyeon)
Sweet Potato Noodles is clear dried noodles made out of sweet potato starch and it is gluten-free. You can soak in the water prior to the recipe or boil to make the famous Korean noodle dish “Japchae”. Most dangmyeon in the package comes in as a bundle and it is hard to separate. Use a pair of scissor to cut both ends of the bundle. You can also look for pre-cut bundles of dangmyeon.