The 5 Essential Korean Ingredients You Should Know

Learn about the most used Korean cooking ingredients! You can make a huge variety of Korean dishes using these ingredients, and having most or all of these things on hand in your kitchen will make cooking and meal planning easier.

Korean Chili Powder
Hot Pepper Flakes

Gochugaru is essentially made with dried Korean red chilies. Most Korean spiciness comes from this. Gochugaru is one of the most important Korean ingredients. Gochugaru is often vibrantly red in color and it has mild to moderate spicy taste with a hint of sweetness

Soy sauce (Ganjang)

There are a few different kinds of soy sauce available in Korea. Each of those have a different name based on the ingredients used and/or the method of brewing. Jin-ganjang it’s salty and a little sweet. It’s better suited for everyday uses as a dipping sauce or a light flavoring agent, not to flavor a whole pot of soup. Guk-ganjang (“soup soy sauce”) is very strong, fermented, salty, flavorful, and full of umami, so it’s perfect for flavoring and salting soups and side dishes.

Sesame Oil (Chamgireum)

Sesame oil is widely used in many Korean side dishes, rice dishes, Korean BBQ and in dipping sauce as a finishing touch ingredient. Sesame seeds (Cham kkage) are first roasted and grounded, then pressing it to produce oil. It is also used to add extra flavor and aroma as a finishing oil. If the recipe uses sesame oil as part of the seasoning, you can often drizzle a bit on top right before serving to highlight the flavor. Much like how Italians like to drizzle olive oil on pasta or other dishes right before serving.

Soybean Paste (Doenjang)

Korean fermented soybean paste, called doenjang, is more than just a seasoning or an essential ingredient in many iconic Korean dishes. It’s one of the essential ingredients in a Korean home cook’s pantry, along with other staples like soy sauce and gochujang, the sweet-spicy fermented red chile paste.

Salty, earthy, hearty, incredibly savory and delicious, it adds flavor to many dishes and makes them distinctly Korean. Doenjang is an assertively flavored, thick brown paste made from fermented soybeans and salt.

Korean Chili Paste
Hot Pepper Paste

If you’ve ever been to a Korean restaurant, you’ve undoubtedly encountered gochujang. It adds the heat to bibimbap, lends the rich red color you see in tteokbokki, stir-fried rice cakes, and forms the backbone of ssamjang, the sauce most often served with Korean barbecue. Gochujang is made from fine Korean chili powder, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt. While it’s spicy, it also has a very subtle sweet note. It is probably the most famous Korean condiment. It goes inside dishes, soup & stew, main dishes, marinade etc.