Explore this comprehensive guide to popular Korean cooking ingredients and their uses in Korean recipes. Stock these Korean pantry staples for your Korean cuisine adventure. Discover what they’re made of and how to use them in easy Korean dishes.

A comprehensive guide to Korean cooking ingredients

In order to approach Korean cuisine and how to cook Korean food with more confidence, understanding the essential Korean cooking ingredients will help you achieve that goal.

Here is a comprehensive list of common Korean pantry staples including Korean condiments, Korean produce, Korean spices, and everything you will need for your Korean pantry.

You will learn how to say ingredients in Korean for each item, what dishes it is used for, and where to buy these Korean ingredients online. Take this Korean grocery list with you next time you go out shopping at Korean grocery stores, such as H-mart, near you.

To find more detailed information about different ingredients of Korean cooking, browse my Korean pantry page. You will get more ideas on what to look for and how to store them properly.

4 must-have Korean condiments (Jang, 장)

Array of Korean soybean paste (doenjang) is displayed on a shelf

1. Korean soybean paste (Doenjang, 된장)

Doenjang is made of fermented soybeans. It’s a signature Korean condiment and unique to Korean cuisine. It’s a Korean pantry essential to have if you enjoy doenjang jjigae (Korean soybean paste stew).

There are several varieties that you can find in commercially produced brands. Check my Korean pantry page for more information.

  • Jaeraesik doenjang (재래식) – slow fermentation for 6 months or more. It produces the Korean soup soy sauce as a by-product. It includes the remaining of soybean solids.
  • Tojang (토장) – 1-2 months fermentation. The process of making this deonjang skips the traditional meju (soy paste bricks) which makes the soup soy sauce production. It also includes wheat in the process of fermentation creating sweeter in taste.
  • Bori doenjang (보리된장) – Instead of rice, barley is used as a starch component.
  • Joge doenjang (조개된장) – pre-seasoned paste for soups and stews. This all-in-one product that is designed to use in soups and stews. You don’t need to make a separate soup stocks since it has all the flavor included.

Most commercially made doenjang contains some wheat, which makes it difficult to be a gluten-free. This product might help you if you are looking for a gluten-free doenjang.

A different variety of gochujang is displayed on the shelf

2. Korean chili paste (gochujang, 고추장)

Gochujang is another must-have Korean condiment. It contains fine red chili powder, barley malt, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. Look for the label that indicates a different level of spiciness or ingredients.

  • sunhan mat (순한맛) – mild taste
  • maewun mat (매운맛) – spicier
  • dul-maewun (덜매운) – less spicy
  • taeyangcho (태양초) – includes Korean sun-dried red chili pepper as a main ingredient.
  • jeju bori (제주보리) – barley is used instead of wheat or rice as a starch component.

Gochujang has a long shelf life, but once opened, it should always be stored in the refrigerator. If is is stored properly, most store-bought gochujang can last up to 2 years.

Although traditionally made homemade gochujang is naturally gluten-free, commercially made gochujang contains wheat. This product might be helpful if you are looking for a gluten-free gochujang.

A different types of Korean soy sauce are displayed on the shelf

3. Soy sauce

Soy sauce is a basic ingredient for Korean cooking and is a basic pantry staple for other cuisines as well.

There are two major different soy sauces are used in Korean cuisine. One is the regular soy sauce that most people are used to. The other is Korean soup soy sauce (gukganjang, 국간장), that is very unique to Korean cuisine.

Different types of soy sauce

  • Yanjo-ganjang (양조간장): This soy sauce is from the naturally brewed soybeans and wheat (or rice). It is a higher quality soy sauce than the other type of soy sauce that are also commonly used.
  • Jin-Ganjang (진간장): This soy sauce is a mixture of yanjo-ganjang and chemically fermented soy sauce. The cost of jin-ganjang is usually cheaper than yangjo-ganjang.
  • Mat-ganjang (맛간장): It is flavored soy sauce with additives like onion, sea kelp, mushroom, and garlic. This sauce is occasionally used to add another layer of flavor in the dish.

4. Korean soup soy sauce (guk-ganjang, 국간장)

This traditional Korean soup soy sauce is known as guk-ganjang (국간장) or Chosun ganjang (조선간장) is another common Korean ingredient that you want to stock in your Korean pantry.

To learn more about how Korean soup soy sauce is made, see my Korean pantry page for more information.

Guk-ganjang is intended specifically to season Korean soups and stews. The color of Korean soup soy sauce is lighter than common soy sauce and almost translucent which makes it ideal for soups because it doesn’t discolor the soup broth. Korean soup soy sauce is also used to add the flavor depth to vegetable and meat dishes.

Essential Korean Sauces

Green containers of Korean ssamjang is displayed on a shelf

Korean dipping sauce (ssamjang, 쌈장)

Ssamjang is a thick, spicy paste used as a dipping sauce for food wrapped in a leaf in Korean cuisine, such as grilled meats, variety type of Korean style vegetable wraps. It is also great for dipping in fresh vegetable sticks. The sauce is made of doenjang, gochujang, sesame oil, onion, garlic, green onions, and a hint of sugar.

As you can tell, commercial ssamjang comes in a green container to avoid the confusion with other Korean pastes. It is easy to make ssamjang at home. See my Bossam (Korean pork belly) post for the recipe. 

NOTE: Ssamjang paste tends dry faster than other Korean condiment pastes once opened, so I recommend purchasing a smaller size container and consume it sooner. Make sure to store ssamjang in the refrigerator all the time.

Korean fish sauce (aekjeot, 액젓)

Korean fish sauce is called aekjeot and it is used in making kimchi to add flavor. Korean fish sauce is also used in soups and stews often to give more umami in the dish.

  • Korean anchovy sauce (myulch aekjeot, 멸치액젓): It is made from raw anchovies and coarse sea salt through fermentation.
  • Kkanari aekjeot (까나리액젓): Sand lance fish is used in place anchovies for making kkanari sauce.

Korean salted shrimp (saeu-jeot, 새우젓)

Saeu-jeot is a type of jeotgal (fish sauce) made with salted and fermented tiny shrimps. It is one of the most consumed fish sauce along with Korean anchovy sauce in Korean cuisine.

You will find salted shrimp in the refrigerated section at Korean grocery stores. Once opened, it will last about 4-6 months.

Essential Korean Spices

A variety of Korean chili flakes are displayed on the shelf

Korean chili flakes (gochugaru, 고춧가루)

Korean red chili flakes are sun-dried red chilies that have been crushed into either flakes or powdered form. Learn more about gochugaru in my Korean pantry. There are two types that you need to be aware of.

  • Coarse chili Flakes (gochugaru): This type is perhaps the most widely used and well known to Korean cuisine. This all-purpose gochugaru is used making variety of kimchi recipes, and other Korean dishes that require a spicy heat.
  • Fine chili Powder (go-un gochugaru): This is a powder form of Korean dried chilies that has been finely grounded. This chili powder is mainly used for making homemade gochujang (Korean chili paste). However, some Korean dishes, like spicy Korean rice cakes, use this particular fine chili powder for added spiciness and color without clouding with speckles of chili flakes.

Storage Tip: Korean chili flakes and chili powder should always be kept in the freezer once the package is opened. They can last up to 3 years if kept in the freezer.

Sesame oil (chamgirum, 참기름)

Korean sesame oil (chamgirum, 참기름) is made by pressing toasted sesame seeds. It’s one of the most distinctive, fragrant and flavorful oils in cooking with a very deep, nutty aroma. I recommend Korean sesame oil pressed with Korean origin sesame seeds.

Perilla oil (deulgirum, 들기름)

Deulgirum (들기름) is produced by cold-pressing toasted perilla seeds. It is used as a flavor enhancer, condiment, and cooking oil in Korean cuisine. Southern Korean style anchovy kimchi stew uses this oil for its distinctive flavor and aroma.

Sesame seeds (chamkkae, 참깨)

Sesame seeds (chamkkae, 참깨) are widely used in Korean cooking for seasoning and garnishing. The flavor and aroma of sesame seeds are enhanced when they are gently roasted.

You can purchase un-roasted (toasted) raw sesame seeds (참깨) and toast them yourself over low heat until nicely browned and nutty. Or purchase pre-roasted sesame seeds in the bottle. There are two kinds.

Korean syrups

Sweet syrup is often used in Korean dishes where it needs subtle sweetness and lust. There are three common types of Korean syrups that you will often find in the stores. Check my Korean pantry page for more information about these Korean syrups.

  • Corn syrup (mul-yeot, 물엿) is made from corn and widely used in Korean cuisine as a mild sweetener. The clear translucency gives a shiny look on the dish.
  • Rice syrup, (ssal- jocheong, 쌀조청 or jocheong, 조청), is made with rice and barley malt powder. It has thicker consistency than corn syrup and has a malty and rich flavor.
  • Oligo syrup (oligo-dang, 올리고당), also known as oligosaccharide, is another version of  rice syrup that often replace the corn syrup in the recipe. Jocheong tends to have a higher in calories and absolved into body quickly. Oligo syrsup is slow in absorption and less sweet (less calories).

Korean plum extract (maeshil-cheong, 매실청)

Korean plum syrup (Maesil cheong, 매실청) is another popular sweetener as a sugar alternative. Due to the alleged health benefits of green plums (muesli) aged in sugar, it adds a a sweet and mildly tangy taste and brightens up your dish.

Find health benefit of Korean plum extract and its usage in my Korean pantry page.

Other pantry items

Korean dried anchovies and shrimps are on the shelf of Korean store.

Dried anchovies (myeolchi, 멸치)

Dried anchovies (myeolchi, 멸치) are commonly used from making soup stocks to stir-fries , or even as salty snacks. There are three different sizes and each has its own usage.

Dried Shrimp (mallin saeu, 말린새우)

Korean dried shrimp are shrimp that have been sun-dried and shrunk to a thumbnail size. They are used in many Korean cuisines, with a unique umami taste. Usually a handful of shrimp is simmered in water to release the flavor.

Dried sea kelp (dashima, 다시마)

It’s an edible sea kelp commonly used in making Korean stocks for making various soups and stews. and other dishes. Dashima adds subtle umami flavor without overpowering the dish.

It is sold in huge sheets and you can cut it into various size of squares depending on the recipe needs.

Korean black bean paste (chunjang, 춘장)

Korean black bean paste (chungjang, 춘장) is made of fermented soybean, wheat flour, and caramel coloring. It is the key ingredient for making Korean style black bean noodles dish called “Jjajangmyeon (짜장면)”.

You can purchase either regular chujang, which requires frying in a little amount of oil prior using in in the recipe, or get already pre-roasted chunjang in a jar.

Seasoned gochujang (cho-gochujang, 초고추장 or bibimjang, 비빔장)

These bottled gochujang sauce has additional seasoning and flavor to plain gochujang. It is a ready-to -go gochujang sauce to use for bibimbap, dipping sauce or to top up the grilled meat.

Korean pancake mix and deep frying mix flours are on the store shelf.

Korean pancake mix (buchimgaru, 부침가루)

Commercially made Korean pancake mix (buchimgaru) is a pantry staple in Korean kitchen. It makes a variety of Korean pancakes such as haemul pajeon and kimchi jeon. Buchimgaru is a mix of different types of flours, other seasonings, and baking powder. It gives a crispier texture to savory pancakes.

Korean frying mix (tuigimgaru, 튀김가루)

Korean frying mix (tuigimgaru) is pre-seasoned flour mix for making Korean tempura-style crispy fried vegetable, prawns, chicken etc. It is similar to Japanese tempura but the seasoning and texture are slightly little different.

Chicken frying mix (chicken tuigimgaru, 치킨 튀김가루)

Chicken frying mix (chicken tuigimgaru) is a spin-off version of frying mix formulated for making fried chicken. The mix has combination of flour, corn, starch, and other seasonings to make the chicken crunchy when deep fried.

Various type of Korean rice flour, corn flour, and potato flour are displayed on the shelf

Types of Korean flours and starch

Some of these flours and starch are often found in Korean pantry.

  • Rice flour (ssalgaru, 쌀가루) – made with short grain rice.
  • Sweet rice flour (chapssal-garu) – made with sweet glutenous rice
  • Cornstarch (oksusu jeonbun, 옥수수전분)
  • Potato starch (gamja jeonbun, 감자전분 or gamja-garu, 감자가루)
  • Acorn jelly starch (dotori-muk garu, 도토리묵 가루 ) – flour made with acorn starch
  • Mung bean starch (cheongpodo-muk garu, 청포도묵 가루) – flour made with mung bean starch to make Korean jelly salad

Korean glass noodles (dangmyeon, 당면)

If you enjoy Japcahe (Korean noodle stir-fry), these glass noodles are a must have in your Korean pantry. Korean Sweet Potato Noodles (dangmyeon, 당면) is clear dried noodles made out of purified sweet potato starch.

Dried noodles

Dried wheat or rice noodles (vermicelli) are also available for other types of Korean noodle dishes

Meat, fresh produce, and cold staples

Beef (Sogogi, 소고기)

Various cuts of Korean beef are found in the meat section if Korean stores.

  • Korean beef short ribs for braising (jjim galbi, 찜갈비) – These beef short ribs are mainly for making Korean braised beef (galbi jjim) or beef short rib soup.
  • Korean short ribs for BBQ (gui glabi, 구이갈비)– beef ribs are sliced in later angle so that it shows 3 rib bones on each slices. This particular ribs are for making LA style Korean bbq.
  • Beef bulgogi slice (bulgogi-yong sogogi, 불고기용 소고기) – thinly sliced beef ribeye or sirloin are for making bulgogi (Korean beef). The slices are packed together and often sold as frozen. Make sure to thaw it completely before adding to the marinade.
  • Beef brisket (jangjorim sogogi, 장조림 소고기) – a chunk of brisket is for making spicy Korean beef soup (yukgaejang) or soy braised Korean beef side dish (jangjorim).

Pork (dueji gogi, 돼지고기)

Koreans love pork, especially the pork belly called samgyupsal (삼겹살). Another common pork cut is pork shoulder (or neck). It’s widely used in stir-fries and braised dishes.

  • Pork belly (samgyupsal, 삼겹살) – You can find either a chunk of pork belly for making bossam or thinly shaved pork belly for grilling or pan-frying. Thick pork belly is available in either with skin-on or skinless depending on your personal preference
  • Pork short ribs (dueji galbi, 돼지갈비) – pork short ribs make delicious Korean braised pork short ribs. You can use with other marinade to make pork galbi-jjim.
  • Shaved pork belly (daepae samgyupsal, 대패삼겹살) – These thinly shave pork belly slices are great for a quick grilled pork bbq wrap with lettuce and ssamjang sauce.
  • Pork shoulder (dueji moksal, 돼지목살) – comes in either in thick or thin slices. They are great for making spicy Korean pork bulgogi and other pork stir-fry dishes.

Fish (saengsun, 생선)

Fish dishes are often found in many local Korean cuisine. There are so many different types of fishes and other seafood are consumed in Korea. These 4 variety is, perhaps, the most common types you will see in a Koreans store.

  • Mackerel (godeunguh, 고등어) – This blue-backed fish is perhaps the most common fish dishes you will see. Pan-fried mackerel with spicy sauce (gogalbi), or braised mackerel with radish is well known Korean dish
  • Yellow croaker (jogi, 조기) – This white flesh fish is often salted and let it dried halfway to make gulbi (굴비). Jogi is great for grilling, or making into spicy yellow craoker fish stew.
  • Fluke (gajami, 가자미) – This flat fish is one of my favorites. It has tender white flesh with buttery taste. Fluke is great for both grilling, pan-frying and quick stew dishes.
  • Belt fish (galchi, 갈치) – This silver skinned long shiny fish is very popular in Korea. You can cut into sections and grill it until golden brown, or simmer with a few pieces of radish in a spicy sauce.
Various types of Korean tofu are displayed on the shelf

Tofu (dubu, 두부)

Tofu (dubu, 두부) is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing the curds into blocks. Tofu became a staple ingredients in Korean cuisine. Korean tofu (dubu, 두부) is used in many soups (guk, 국), stews (jjigae, 찌개), and side dishes (banchan, 반찬).

Korean tofu is divided into three texture types: Firm, soft, and silken (or extra soft).

  • Firm tofu (buchim-yong dubu, 부침용 두부) – firm tofu is mostly used in stir-fries and pan-fried dishes as you see in my crispy Korean pan-fried tofu and meat tofu patties.
  • Soft tofu (jjigae-yong dubu, 찌개용 두부) – soft tofu has more water content and retains its soft texture without falling apart even after the long simmering. It’s widely used in soups and stews like Classic doenjang jjigae, and kimchi jjigae. It is also used in side dishes like tofu with egg and tomato, Korean watercress tofu salad.
  • Silken tofu (saengsik-yong dubu, 생식용 두부, or yeondubu, 연두부) – Silken tofu is undrained, unpressed tofu that has the highest water content and a custard-like texture. It comes in either in a tube, or in a plastic container. We call silken tofu as soondubu (in tube) or yeondubu (in container) depending on the type of dish that this tofu is used, but it is all the same silken tofu. Soondubu jjiage or quick soft fofu side dish is a well known example of this tofu.
Korean napa cabbage and radish are filed together

Produce – vegetables (야채)

  • Napa cabbage (baechu, 배추) – for making cabbage kimchi and other side dish. Look for heavy and densely packed head of cabbage.
  • Korean radish (mu, 무) – Korean radish has light green on the bottom. It’s sweeter and crispier than Japanese daikon radish. It makes radish kimchi , other radish side dishes or radish soup.
  • Perilla leaf (kkaennip, 깻잎) is a fragrant herb that are unique to Korean cuisine. Similar to Japanese shiso leaves, the flavor of perilla has notes of anise or licorice.
  • Asian leek (daepa, 대파) – Asian leek is tender and milder than western leek. Even the green part of the leek is tender and usable in the dishes.
  • Asian chives (buchu, 부추) – Asian chives are milder than western garlic chives and has a pleasing fragrance to it. Buchu kimchi is a great dish to use up a bundle of Asian chives.

Bean Sprouts and Garlic

Mushrooms (Beoseot, 버섯)

There are several varieties of Korean mushrooms used in Korean cuisine. Here are the four most commonly used variations and their usage in the recipes.

Prepared Korean Food

Various Korean wheat noodles are displayed in the refrigerator section of Korean grocery store.

Instant Korean spicy rice cake (tteokbokki, 떡볶이)

Prepared tteokbokki comes handy and quick to fix right out or package. You can choose from street style tteokbokki to cheesy or soup tteokbokki.

Wheat noodles (guksu, 국수)

Fresh wheat noodles are found in a refrigerator section. You will also find instant noodle packages in different types and flavors in the same area. They are handy to stock in the fridge to satisfy for your noodle craving quickly.

  • Knife cut noodles (kalguksu, 칼국수) – Thick and slightly flat wheat noodles for making Korean knife cut noodle soup.
  • Udon or black bean dish noodles (udon or jjajang guksu, 우동 짜장국수) – Thick chunky wheat noodles for making udon soup or jjajangmyeon.
  • Spicy cold noodles (nangmyeon, 냉면 or jjolmyeon, 쫄면) – You can make spicy cold noodles (nangmyeon) from scratch but the prepared cold noodle packages are also tasty and much quicker to prepare. Both noodles have similar in taste but comes in different thickness of the noodles. If you prefer thin noodles, choose nangmyeon.

Other popular prepared food

Various Korean prepared food and fish cakes (eomuk, 어묵) are also available in the refrigerator sections. The most common items you will find are;

  • frozen Tonkatsu (돈가스) patties
  • cheese balls (치즈볼)
  • dumplings (mandu, 만두)
  • corn dogs (It is called hot dog in Korean, 핫도그)
  • potato chips (yangnyeum gamja, 양념감자)
  • fish cake balls (eomuk 어묵) and fish cake sheets (sagak eomuk, 사각어묵)
  • fish cake hot bars (hot bar, 핫바)

There you have it! Hope this Korean grocery list will help you find the right items you are looking for your next Korean cooking adventure. Please check my online store for more Korean grocery items you might like.