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Essential Korean Herbs and Spices You Need in Your Pantry

Essential Korean Herbs and Spices You Need in Your Pantry

Happy National Herbs and Spices Day! Today recognizes the vast array of fresh and dried herbs and spices that we use to boost the flavor profile of any dish. Absolutely essential to cooking, these seasonings provide both subtle and rich flavors while wafting irresistible fragrances and aromas. Amongst the endless herbs and spices, we’re focusing on those commonly used in Korean cuisine (or Han Shik)! Look out for these ingredients at your local Asian grocery store, or consider our all-in-one KPOP Foods sauces that make it easy to flavor your foods with a simple squeeze!

1. Red Chili Powder + Paste


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Known as the cornerstone of Korean cooking, red chili powder and paste (known as gochugaru and gochujang respectively) are used in many, many Korean dishes. Gochugaru, or the red chili powder, mostly comes in two forms: fine and coarse. Of course, size matters when it comes to cooking as well. The coarser powder is used in many Korean side dishes to add some spicy, savory goodness to any dish, including kimchi. The finer powder is actually used in many sauces and pastes, including gochujang (red chili powder paste). Gochujang, on the other hand, is used in many rice dishes and stews, often as a condiment. Gochujang is slightly sweeter and more pungent given its fermentation process. For more information on the health benefits of gochujang, look here. Interested in cooking with gochujang? Check out these 7 popular Korean dishes that use it here.

2. Fresh Ingredients
Garlic, Ginger, Onions, Chives, Green Onions


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What gives Korean cuisine its distinct tastes and flavors are largely due to fresh ingredients such as garlic, ginger, chives, onions, and green onions. While some describe the use of these fresh ingredients as yielding bolder, more pungent, spicy flavors, they are often used to balance the five colors of Korean cuisine: sweet, hot, sour, salt, and bitter. For example, these fresh ingredients are often used to cut into meatier, fattier dishes. The next time you’re cooking, try flavoring your foods with some of these ingredients and you’ll notice a huge change!

3. Korean Yellow Mustard Seeds


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Though similar in appearance to the yellow mustard condiment that we are familiar with, Korean yellow mustard is vastly different in taste. Known as gyeoja, Korean yellow mustard is much more similar to the Japanese wasabi in flavor. Quite piquant, zesty, and sharp, a tiny bit of this mustard is sure to clear your sinuses! On the other hand, you can also use the mustard seed powder version to make your own mustard, as a dip, or even in custom sauces. Korean mustard is often sparingly used in dishes such as cold buckwheat noodles, raw vegetable salads, cold jellyfish and shrimp salads, and more. Again, if you’re interested in using it, we recommend you use this condiment sparingly.

4. Toasted Sesame Seeds + Sesame Oil


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Recently becoming more popular and widely used, toasted sesame seeds and sesame oil bring a unique, nutty taste to all dishes, sauces, and broths. Its versatility and delightful flavor lends well when added to side dishes, especially vegetable ones. However, they are used in marinades, sauces, and lightly drizzled over rice, noodles, and broths as well. Out of our entire list, we highly recommend having a bottle of sesame oil in your pantry at all times! We 

5. Fresh Ginseng Root


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Okay, so fresh ginseng root might not be in the common Korean pantry, but it is a staple ingredient that many Koreans use in a variety of ways, from medicine to food to even homemade alcohol. Though fresh ginseng root can be quite pricey because of its medicinal properties, it is used in many broths and soups like samgyetang (or Ginseng Chicken Soup). While ginseng root is most often ground up and made into candies and teas, fresh ginseng is quite unique in dishes with its bitter, earthy, and slightly sweet flavor. Though these roots may be hard to procure outside of Korean grocery stores, we had to introduce this ingredient as an honorable mention for its distinctive, traditional Korean flavor. 

6. Perilla Leaves + Perilla Oil


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Perilla leaves (kkaennip) is an herby vegetable that is often consumed raw and has a lightly minty, licorice-like, grassy flavor that fits perfectly when used as a wrap for dishes such as Korean barbecue.  Similar to the raw vegetable, perilla oil (and perilla powder) also have a wild basil-like taste and are perfect to use when seasoning soups, stews, marinades, or even salads and side dishes. For more information on Korean veggies like the perilla leaf, read this article