Essential Korean Ingredients: A Comprehensive Guide
Korean ingredients are essential for anyone looking to embark on a Korean food adventure. This comprehensive guide will help you find your must-have pantry staples and spices, learn what they’re made of, and discover how to use them in Korean cooking.
If you’re looking to approach Korean cuisine with more confidence, understanding the essential Korean cooking ingredients is key. Korean ingredients, including condiments, produce, and Korean spices, form the foundation of many popular Korean dishes.
To help you build your Korean pantry, I have compiled a comprehensive list of common Korean food staples. Each item provides its Korean name, information on what dishes it’s used in, and where to buy it online. Take this Korean ingredients list with you on your next shopping trip to a Korean grocery store like H-mart.
For more detailed information on each ingredient and how to properly store them, browse my Korean pantry page. I have included a wide range of Korean spices, from common staples to harder-to-find items, so you can create a fully stocked Korean pantry and start cooking delicious Korean dishes at home.
4 must-have Korean condiments (Jang)
Doenjang (Fermented soybean paste)
Several commercially produced varieties are available, and you can find more information on my Korean pantry page. Some common types include:
- Jaeraesik doenjang (재래식) Slow fermented for six months or more, producing Korean soup soy sauce as a by-product, including soybean solids.
- Tojang (토장 Fermented for 1-2 months without meju (soy paste bricks) traditionally used in the process, and wheat is included, resulting in a sweeter taste.
- Bori doenjang (보리된장): Barley is used instead of rice as a starch component.
- Joge doenjang (조개된장) Pre-seasoned paste for soups and stews, designed to be an all-in-one product with all the flavors included, so you don’t need to make a separate soup stock.
Most commercially made doenjang contains wheat, making it difficult to be gluten-free. However, if you’re looking for gluten-free doenjang, this product might help you.
Gochujang (Korean chili paste)
Gochujang paste (고추장) is another must-have Korean condiment. This spicy paste contains gochugaru powder (red chili powder), barley malt, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. Look for labels that indicate 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 the 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, you should store it in the refrigerator. If stored properly, most store-bought gochujang can last up to two years.
Although traditionally made homemade gochujang is naturally gluten-free, commercially made gochujang usually contains wheat. This product might be helpful if you are looking for a gluten-free gochujang.
Soy sauce (ganjang)
Soy sauce (간장) is an essential ingredient for Korean cooking and a basic pantry staple in other cuisines as well.
There are two main types of soy sauce used in Korean cuisine. The first is regular soy sauce, which most people are familiar with. The second is Korean soup soy sauce, or gukganjang, which is unique to Korean cuisine.
Different types of soy sauce
- Yanjo-ganjang (양조간장): This soy sauce is naturally brewed from soybeans and wheat (or rice) and is of higher quality than other commonly used soy sauces.
- Jin-Ganjang (진간장): This soy sauce is a mixture of yangjo-ganjang and chemically fermented soy sauce. Jin-ganjang is usually cheaper than yangjo-ganjang.
- Mat-ganjang (맛간장): This flavored soy sauce uses additives like onion, sea kelp, mushroom, and garlic. It adds another layer of flavor in the dish.
Both soy sauce has a long shelf life. However, once opened, store them in the refrigerator to maintain its quality.
Korean soup soy sauce (guk-ganjang, 국간장)
Soup soy sauce, also known as guk-ganjang (국간장) or Chosun ganjang (조선간장), is a traditional Korean ingredient that you’ll want to stock in your Korean pantry.
To learn more about soup soy sauce, visit my site’s resource page for more information.
Guk-ganjang is specifically intended for seasoning Korean soups and stews. It has a lighter color than regular soy sauce and is almost translucent, which makes it ideal for soups because it doesn’t discolor the broth. Soup soy sauce adds a depth of flavor to vegetable and meat dishes.
Essential Korean Sauces
Ssamjang (Korean dipping sauce)
Ssamjang (쌈장) is a thick, spicy paste used as a dipping sauce for food wrapped in a leaf, such as grilled meats and various vegetable wraps. It’s also great for dipping fresh vegetable sticks. The sauce is typically made with doenjang (fermented soybean paste), gochujang (red pepper paste), sesame oil, garlic, and a hint of sugar.
Commercial ssamjang sauce comes in a green container to avoid confusion with other Korean pastes. However, it’s also easy to make ssamjang at home. Check out my Bossam (Korean pork belly) post for the recipe.
Note: ssamjang paste tends to dry out faster than other Korean condiment pastes once opened. I recommend to purchase a smaller size container and consume it sooner. Be sure to store ssamjang in the refrigerator at all times.
Korean fish sauce (aekjeot)
Korean fish sauce (액젓), also known as aekjeot, adds flavor to kimchi and is also a common ingredient in soups and stews to give more umami to the dish.
- Korean anchovy sauce (myulch aekjeot, 멸치액젓) is made from raw anchovies and coarse sea salt through fermentation.
- Kkanari sauce (까나리액젓) uses sand lance fish instead of anchovies to make the sauce.
Salted shrimp (saeu-jeot)
Salted shrimp, or saeu-jeot (새우젓), is a type of jeotgal (fish sauce) using salted and fermented tiny shrimps. It’s one of the most commonly consumed fish sauces in Korean cuisine, along with anchovy sauce.
You can find salted shrimp in the refrigerated section at Korean grocery stores. Once opened, it will last about 4-6 months.
Gochugaru (Korean chili flakes)
Korean chili flakes, or gochugaru (고추가루), are sun-dried red chilies that have been crushed into either flakes or powdered form. It is one of the must-have Korean spices. There are two types of gochugaru that you need to be aware of:
- Coarse chili flakes(gochugaru): This is perhaps the most widely used and well-known type of gochugaru. It’s an all-purpose ingredient used in making various kimchi recipes and other Korean dishes that require a spicy heat.
- Fine chili powder (gochugaru powder): This is a powder form of dried chilies that has been finely ground. This chili powder is mainly used for making homemade gochujang (red pepper paste). However, some Korean dishes, such as tteokbokki (spicy rice cake), use this particular fine chili powder for added spiciness and color without clouding the dish with speckles of chili flakes.
Storage Tip: When you open the package of Korean chili flakes and chili powder, always keep them in the freezer. Freezing them can extend their shelf life up to 3 years.
Sesame oil (chamgirum, 참기름)
Sesame oil is made by pressing toasted sesame seeds. It has a distinctive, fragrant, and flavorful profile with a deep, nutty aroma. I recommend using Korean sesame oil pressed with Korean-origin sesame seeds.
Perilla oil (deulgirum, 들기름)
Perilla oil is produced by cold-pressing toasted perilla seeds. It’s used as a flavor enhancer, condiment, and cooking oil in Korean cuisine. In particular, Southern Korean-style anchovy kimchi stew uses this oil for its distinctive flavor and aroma.
Sesame seeds (chamkkae, 참깨)
Sesame seeds 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 unroasted (toasted) raw sesame seeds (참깨) and toast them yourself over low heat until nicely browned and nutty, or purchase pre-roasted sesame seeds in a bottle. There are two kinds:
- Toasted whole sesame seeds (bokkeum tongkkae, 볶은 통깨)
- Toasted and crushed sesame seeds (kkaesogeum, 깨소금)
Sweet syrup is often used to add subtle sweetness and gloss. There are three common types of Korean syrups that you will often find in stores. Check my resource page for more information about these syrups.
- Corn syrup (mul-yeot, 물엿) is made from corn and widely used in Korean cuisine as a mild sweetener. Its clear translucency gives dishes a shiny appearance.
- Rice syrup (ssal-jocheong, 쌀조청 or jocheong, 조청) is made with rice and barley malt powder. Korean rice syrup has a thicker consistency than corn syrup and a malty, rich flavor.
- Oligo syrup (oligo-dang, 올리고당), also known as oligosaccharide, is another version of rice syrup that can replace corn syrup in recipes. Jocheong tends to be higher in calories and absorbed quickly by the body. Oligo syrup is slower to absorb and less sweet, making it a lower-calorie option.
Korean plum extract (maeshil-cheong)
Plum syrup (Maesil cheong, 매실청) is another popular sweetener and sugar alternative in Korean cuisine. People believe that green plums (muesli) aged in sugar offer health benefits and add a sweet, mildly tangy taste that brightens up dishes.
Discover more about the health benefits of Korean plum extract and how to incorporate it into your cooking by exploring my ingredient resource page.
Other Pantry Staples
Dried anchovies (myeolchi)
Dried anchovies are a versatile ingredient, from making soup stocks to stir-fries, or even as a salty snack. They come in three different sizes, each with their own unique usage.
- Dashi myulchi (다시멸치) – These large anchovies are mainly used for making Korean soup stocks and broth.
- Bokkeum myeolchi (볶음멸치) – Medium-sized anchovies are used for making a side dish called myeulchi bokkeum, a stir-fried anchovy side dish..
- Jiri myeolchi (지리멸치) – Tiny anchovies are also used in making side dishes. They are often added to rice dishes to give an umami taste. Check out my oyster soft tofu rice bowl for ideas.
Dried Shrimp (mallin saeu)
Dried sea kelp (dashima)
Dashima is sold in large sheets and can be cut into various sizes depending on the recipe’s needs.
Korean black bean paste (chunjang)
Korean black bean paste (chunjang, 춘장) contains fermented soybean, wheat flour, and caramel coloring. It is the key ingredient for making black bean noodles dish called “Jjajangmyeon (짜장면)”.
Seasoned gochujang sauce
Seasoned gochujang (cho-gochujang, 초고추장, or bibimjang, 비빔장) is a bottled gochujang sauce that has additional seasoning and flavor than plain gochujang. It is a ready-to-go gochujang sauce used for bibimbap, dipping sauce, or to top grilled meat.
Buchimgaru (Korean pancake mix)
The mix is a combination of different flours, seasonings, and baking powder, which adds crispiness to the pancakes.
Tuigimgaru (Korean frying mix)
Korean frying mix (튀김가루) is a pre-seasoned flour mix that people use to make crispy fried vegetables, prawns, chicken, and more in a Korean tempura-style. Though it’s similar to Japanese tempura, the seasoning and texture are slightly different.
Chicken tuigimgaru (Chicken frying mix)
There’s also a version of frying mix formulated specifically for making fried chicken, known as chicken frying mix (치킨 튀김가루). It’s a mix of flour, corn, starch, and other seasonings that makes the chicken crunchy when deep-fried.
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.
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
Dangmyeon (Korean glass noodles)
If you enjoy Japcahe (glass noodle stir-fry), these glass noodles are a must-have in your Korean kitchen. These sweet potato noodles (dangmyeon, 당면)are clear dried noodles made with purified sweet potato starch
Other Dried noodles
For other types of Korean noodle dishes, there are various types of dried wheat or rice noodles available.
- Thin wheat noodles (somyeon, 소면) – dried thin wheat noodles for making noodles with beef sauce or simple one pot noodles with vegetables.
- Buckwheat noodles (maemil guksu, 메밀국수) – noodles made with buckwheat flour. You will find this noodle in the sesame soba noodles recipe.
- Rice vermicelli (ssal somyeon, 쌀소면) – vermicelli made with rice flour instead of wheat. It is great for those who follow a gluten-free diet.
Meat, fresh produce, and cold ingredients
Beef is an important Korean ingredients for a variety of dishes. You can find different cuts of beef (소고기) in the meat section of Korean stores.
- 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.
- 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 beef side dish (jangjorim).
Pork (dueji gogi)
Koreans love pork (돼지고기), especially the pork belly called samgyupsal (삼겹살) – another common pork cut is pork shoulder (or neck). People use this cut 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. Also,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 thin 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 pork bulgogi and other pork stir-fry dishes.
Fish dishes (생선) are an essential part of Korean diet. There is a vast array of fish and other seafood consumed. Here are four common types you will find in Korean stores:
- 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 popular Korean fish recipe.
- Yellow croaker (jogi, 조기) – This white flesh fish is often salted and partially dried to make gulbi (굴비). Jogi is great for grilling or making into spicy yellow craoker fish stew.
- Fluke (gajami, 가자미) – This flat fish has tender white flesh with a buttery taste, making it a favorite among many. Fluke is great for grilling, pan-frying, and quick stew dishes.
- Belt fish (galchi, 갈치) – This long, shiny, silver-skinned fish is highly popular. There are multiple ways to prepare it. You can cut it into sections and grill it until golden brown or simmer it with a few pieces of radish in a spicy sauce.
Tofu , also known as dubu (두부), is a staple ingredient in Korean cuisine. It is made by coagulating soy milk and pressing the curds into blocks. People commonly use tofu in soups (guk, 국), stews (jjigae, 찌개), and side dishes (banchan, 반찬).
There are three different types of Korean tofu based on their texture: firm, soft, and silken (or extra soft).
- Firm tofu (buchim-yong dubu, 부침용 두부) – People mostly use firm tofu in stir-fries and pan-fried dishes, as demonstrated in mycrispy 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. We use it in soups and stews such as Classic doenjang jjigae and kimchi jjigae. Additionally, people use it in side dishes like tofu with egg and tomato or watercress tofu salad.
- Silken tofu (saengsik-yong dubu, 생식용 두부, or yeondubu, 연두부) – Silken tofu has the highest water content and a custard-like texture. You can find it in a tube or a plastic container and use in dishes like Soondubu jjiage or quick soft fofu side dishs.
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 food. 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
- Soybean sprouts (kongnamul, 콩나물) – for making bean sprout side dish and bean sprout soup.
- Mung bean sprouts (sukju namul, 숙주나물) – for stir-fries and sprout side dishes.
- Peeled garlic (kkan maneul, 깐마늘)
Several varieties of mushrooms (버섯) are available. Here are the four most common variations and their usage in the recipes.
- Shiitake mushroom (pyogo beoseot, 표고 버섯): chayote mushroom stir-fry, pumpkin mushroom risotto,
- Oyster mushroom (neutari, 느타리 버섯): bulgogi hotpot, yukgaejang, spicy chicken soup
- King oyster mushroom (saesongi, 새송이 버섯): These mushrooms are great for grilling.
- Enoki mushrooms (paengi, 팽이 버섯): bulgogi hotpot, mushroom rice bowl
Korean Convenient Food
Instant Korean spicy rice cake (tteokbokki)
Instant tteokbokki (떡볶이) is a packaged food that comes in handy for a quick and easy meal. You can choose from various styles such as street-style tteokbokki or cheesy/soup tteokbokki.
Wheat noodles (guksu)
The most Korean grocery stores offer fresh wheat noodles in the refrigerated section, along with a variety of instant noodle packages in different types and flavors. Stocking these in the fridge allows for quick satisfaction of your noodle cravings.
- 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 instant 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 convenient food
Various types of prepared food and fish cakes (eomuk, 어묵) are available in the refrigerated sections of Korean grocery stores. Some of the most common items you can find include:
- 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)
These convenient foods are perfect for a quick snack or meal on-the-go.
There you have it! I hope this list of Korean ingredients has helped you find what you need for your next Korean cooking adventure. For more Korean grocery items, feel free to check out My online store.