Top 10 Must-Have Ingredients For Korean Food
must have korean ingredients

Love Korean Food? 10 Ingredients That You Must Stock In Your Kitchen

From savory soybean paste to fiery gochujang, these 10 ingredients will unlock the secrets to creating authentic Korean dishes right in your own home.

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Korean food is more than just a meal. It is a celebration of culture, history, and community. Unlocking the entire range of tastes found in Korean food requires an understanding of the staples of Korean cuisine. These ingredients, which range from savory soybean paste to tangy kimchi, are essential for giving your food an authentic Korean touch. 

Here are the top ten staple ingredients that form the foundation of Korean cooking.

10 Must-Have Korean Ingredients To Prepare Korean Food

At the heart of this vibrant culinary tradition are 10 essential ingredients that form the cornerstone of Korean cooking. These ingredients not only infuse dishes with distinctive flavors but also reflect the rich history and cultural significance of Korean food. Now create mouth watering Korean dishes right in your own kitchen with these must-have ingredients.

While some traditional Korean ingredients may not be readily available in every Indian market, there are several that you can commonly find, especially in larger cities or specialty grocery stores. Let us quickly explore the list :

1. Gochujang (Korean Chili Paste)

Gochujang is a red chili paste that has undergone fermentation and has a complex flavor. It combines flavors that are savory, peppery, and faintly sweet. The main purposes of this sauce are to give food some depth, spice, and subtle sweetness. This paste is often used in bibimbap, a mixed rice bowl, tteokbokki, or spicy rice cakes, and a variety of stews and marinades.

  • Cooking Tips: Add gochujang to soups, stews, marinades, and stir-fries. You can use this sauce two ways: as a thick paste or  as a thin paste where you dilute it with water, broth, or vinegar. 
  • Storage: Store gochujang in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. It can last for up to a year, but always check for changes in color or smell.
  • Essential Details: Gochujang is made from chili powder, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. It ferments over time, developing its unique flavor.

Why choose this?

  •   All fermented products are great for gut microflora. 
  •   Adds a spicy touch to soups and salads

2. Ganjang (Soy Sauce)

A staple condiment made from fermented soybeans and wheat. This ingredient works well for seasoning and marinating various dishes such as bulgogi (marinated beef) and kimchi. Ganjang is essential for seasoning, marinating, and adding umami to dishes. It also works well in bulgogi (marinated beef), kimchi, and various dipping sauces.

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  • Cooking Tips: Use soy sauce in marinades for meat, as a seasoning for soups and stews, and in stir-fries. It can also be mixed with garlic, ginger, and sesame oil for dipping sauces.
  • Storage: Keep soy sauce in a cool, dark place. Once opened, it can be stored in the pantry, but refrigeration can help maintain its flavor longer.
  • Types: Light and dark soy sauce are two of the various varieties. Dark soy sauce is thicker and used for color and richness, while light soy sauce is more seasoned and salty.

Why choose this?

  •   Great for marinating beef, mutton and chicken with a Korean twist of flavor. 
  •   Best tasted in soups and dipping sauces. 

3. Chamgireum (Sesame Oil)

A fragrant and flavorful oil made from roasted sesame seeds, commonly used as a seasoning in Korean cooking to add depth of flavor. Sesame oil is used as a finishing oil to add a nutty flavor to dishes. It’s common in bibimbap, namul (seasoned vegetable dishes), and various dipping sauces.

  • Cooking Tips: Drizzle sesame oil over cooked dishes just before serving to preserve its flavor. It’s also used in marinades and sauces.
  • Storage: Store sesame oil in a cool, dark place. Refrigeration will help extend its shelf life, however it may solidify. Hence, before use let it come to room temperature. 
  • Essential Details: Sesame oil is made from roasted sesame seeds and has a strong flavor, so a little goes a long way.

 Why choose this?

  •   Brings about a nutty flavour to the food
  •   Long lasting flavor

4. Doenjang (Fermented Soybean Paste)

Similar to miso but with a stronger and saltier flavor, doenjang is used to make soups, stews, and dipping sauces. It is used in soups, stews, and as a base for sauces. Its strong, salty, and umami-rich flavor makes it essential for dishes like doenjang jjigae (soybean paste stew).

  • Cooking Tips: Dissolve in boiling water to create a rich soup base. Mix with garlic, chili, and sesame oil for a dipping sauce. Use in marinades for a deep, savory flavor.
  • Storage: Store in the refrigerator after opening. Keep it in an airtight container to prevent exposure to air, which can affect its taste and quality.

Why choose this?

  •   Heart of Korean cuisines for that specific umami flavour
  •   Korean stew speciality
korean soybean paste

5. Gochugaru (Korean Red Pepper Flakes)

Gochugaru, or roughly powdered red pepper flakes, are a common addition to Korean dishes like kimchi and kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew), giving them color and spice. These are used frequently to give food color and heat. It is an essential component of kimchi and other Korean soups and stews, such as kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew).

  • Cooking Tips: Add to marinades for grilled meats to give them a spicy kick. Use in kimchi recipes to provide the essential heat and red color. Sprinkle over dishes for a touch of heat and vibrant color.
  • Storage: Store in a cool, dark place. Keep it in an airtight container to maintain its potency and prevent it from absorbing moisture.

Why choose this?

  •   Brings that specific red color to Korean dishes
  •   Extremely hot and spicy
hot pepper powder

6. Bap (Rice) 

A staple grain in Korean cuisine, rice is served with almost every meal and is also used to make dishes like bibimbap (mixed rice bowl) and kimbap (seaweed rice rolls). It is also used in dishes like bibimbap (mixed rice bowl) and kimbap (seaweed rice rolls).

  • Cooking Tips: Rinse rice several times until the water runs clear before cooking.Cook with a 1:1.5 ratio of rice to water for perfect fluffy rice. Use leftover rice to make fried rice or rice porridge.
  • Storage: Store uncooked rice in a cool, dry place in an airtight container. Cooked rice can be refrigerated for a few days or frozen for longer storage.

Why choose this?

  •   Rich in Carbohydrates
  •   Stable dish of Korean cuisine

7. Korean Noodles (e.g Dangmyeon)

Dangmyeon, made from sweet potato starch, are used in dishes like japchae (stir-fried noodles) and various soups and hot pots.

  • Cooking Tips: Soak in warm water before cooking to soften. Stir-fry with vegetables and meat, seasoning with soy sauce and sesame oil for japchae. Add to soups and stews for a chewy texture.
  • Storage: Store dried noodles in a cool, dry place. Once rehydrated and cooked, they can be refrigerated for a few days.

 Why choose this?

  •   Authentic Korean noodles
  •   Best tasted with veggies and meat
korean glass noodles

8. Tteokbokki Rice Cakes

Tteokbokki rice cakes are cylindrical, chewy rice cakes that are a key ingredient in the popular Korean street food dish tteokbokki. They are typically stir-fried in a spicy, sweet sauce made from gochujang (Korean chili paste), fish cakes, and various vegetables.

Cooking Tips

  • Preparation: Soak the rice cakes in warm water for about 10-15 minutes if they are hard or frozen to soften them before cooking.
  • Cooking: Stir-fry in a pan with gochujang, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and a bit of water until the rice cakes are tender and the sauce is thick. 
  • Flavor Enhancements: Add a touch of sesame oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds just before serving for an extra layer of flavor.

Storage

  • Uncooked: Store uncooked rice cakes in an airtight container in the refrigerator if planning to use them within a few days. If you want to store for longer, keep them in the freezer.
  • Cooked: Once cooked, tteokbokki should be eaten fresh for the best texture but can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days. 

Other Essential Details

  • These have a unique, chewy texture that absorbs the flavors of the sauce they are cooked in. While tteokbokki is the most common dish using these rice cakes, they can also be used in soups, hot pots, and stir-fries.

Why choose this?

  • Authentic street food of Korea
  • Absorbs the flavor of the sauces well
rice cakes

9. Myeolchi (Korean Anchovy)

Dried anchovies (fishes) are often used to make stock for soups and stews, adding depth of flavor to dishes like doenjang jjigae (soybean paste stew). It is commonly used for making soups and stews, imparting a deep, umami-rich flavor.

  • Cooking Tips: Toast lightly in a dry pan to enhance their flavor before using in stock. Boil with water, kelp, and other aromatics to make a rich broth. Add directly to soups and stews for added depth of flavor.
  • Storage: Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Refrigerate or freeze for longer shelf life to maintain freshness.

Why choose this?

  •   Imparts typical Korean fish flavour
  •   Best suited for soups and stews

10. Kimchi

This is the most popular Korean ingredient that is a crowd pleaser. While you can make kimchi at home, some stores in India may also carry commercially produced kimchi, a traditional Korean side dish made of fermented vegetables (usually cabbage or radishes) seasoned with chili pepper, garlic, ginger, and other spices. This traditional fermented vegetable dish, commonly made with cabbage or radishes. It’s served as a side dish and used in various recipes like kimchi jjigae (kimchi stew).

  • Cooking Tips: Serve as a side dish with rice and other main dishes. Use in stews and soups for a tangy, spicy flavor. Add to fried rice or pancakes for a unique twist.
  • Storage: Store in the refrigerator to slow down fermentation. Keep it in a sealed container to contain its strong aroma. 

Why choose this?

  •   Popular side dish of Korea
urban platter kimchi

Tips For Selecting Korean Pantry Essentials

Here are a few key steps to keep in mind while buying Korean products in supermarkets: 

  1. Locate the International Aisle: Most supermarkets have an international or Asian foods section where you can find Korean ingredients.
  2. Specialty Asian Markets: Visit an Asian grocery store or a Korean market, which will have a wider selection of authentic Korean products.
  3. Online Shopping: Websites like Amazon, or specialty Korean food retailers offer a variety of Korean ingredients.

How To Pronounce & Identify Korean Ingredients?

Korean ingredients might be slightly difficult to pronounce. Here is a short guide on how to go about pronouncing the different Korean ingredients : Here’s how to find each product:

  1. Gochujang: (Pronounced as: go-choo-jahng) Look for a red tub or bottle labeled 고추장 in the Asian condiments section.
  2. Soy Sauce (Ganjang): (Pronounced as: gahn-jahng)  Check the soy sauce shelf for 간장; Korean brands like Sempio or Chung Jung One . these are good choices.
  3. Sesame Oil (Chamgireum): (Pronounced as: chahm-gee-rum)  Found in the cooking oils section, often in small bottles labeled 참기름.
  4. Doenjang (Fermented Soybean Paste): (Pronounced as: dwen-jahng)  Look for a brown tub or jar labeled 된장 near other miso and soybean pastes.
  5. Gochugaru (Korean Red Pepper Flakes): (Pronounced as: go-choo-gah-roo)  Found in plastic bags or containers labeled 고춧가루, usually in the spice or international foods section.
  6. Rice (Bap): (Pronounced as: bahp) Look for (밥) short-grain or medium-grain rice, often labeled as sushi rice or Calrose rice, in the rice aisle.
  7. Korean Noodles (e.g., Dangmyeon): (Pronounced as: dahng-myuhn)  Look for 당면 (sweet potato starch noodles) in the noodle or Asian foods section.
  8. Tteokbokki (Rice Cakes): (Pronounced as: tteok-boh-kki)  Found in the refrigerated or frozen section, usually labeled 떡볶이 떡.
  9. Korean Anchovy (Myeolchi): (Pronounced as: myeol-chee)  Look for 멸치 in the dried seafood section, often in small bags.
  10. Kimchi: (Pronounced as: kim-chee)  Found in the refrigerated section, often in jars or plastic tubs labeled 김치.

Additional Tips for Buying Korean Products

Here are few tips to bare in mind when heading out to buy Korean products:

  • Read Labels: Look for labels in both English and Korean to ensure you’re getting the right product.
  • Ask for Help: Don’t hesitate to ask store staff for assistance in locating these items.
  • Check Expiry Dates: Ensure freshness by checking the expiry dates, especially for fermented products like kimchi and gochujang.
  • Compare Brands: For better quality and authenticity, compare different brands if available.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some interesting FAQs on Korean Food:

Here are the 5 most commonly used ingredients in Korean cooking:

Gochujang, Ganjang, Sesame oil, Doenjang (Soybean Paste), Garlic(Manul) and Kimchi.

The different elements that lend taste and flavor to Korean dishes are:

1. Fermented ingredients
2. Seasonings and Spices
3. Sweeteners
4. Acidic elements

Lettuce, Cucumber, Bean Sprouts, Radish, Napa Cabbage, Sweet Potatoes, Spinach, Mushrooms among others.

Conclusion

That’s a wrap on our informative article on Korean ingredients and the different Korean food items you can prepare using them. These ingredients are an absolute essential if you love experimenting with Korean dishes at home. Now that your kitchen is stocked with essential Korean ingredients, the culinary possibilities are endless. Remember, Korean cooking is about stories and traditions as much as flavors.

Which ingredient excites you most? Is it the bold gochujang, aromatic sesame oil, tangy kimchi, or savory soy sauce?

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