Every culture has their signature flavor that is developed from the staple ingredients used in every dish. The flavors of Korean cuisine are just as unique as the people and culture, and are sure make your taste buds dance! The following ingredients are used in just about every Korean dish to give us that special flavor we all crave, so get out your grocery lists!
- Gochujang (고추장)
To start off this list, we have an ingredient that is synonymous with Korean cooking, gochujang! This Korean red chili paste can be found in many dishes that Korea is known for, such as kimchi and tteokbokki but is also used as a dipping sauce for fresh vegetables. The spicy, savory, and sweet flavor of gochujang will be so addicting that you’ll find yourself adding it to dishes whenever you can for an extra kick.
- Gochugaru (고추가루)
Up next is the wonderful spice of Korean red pepper flakes, gochugaru. Just like gochujang, gochugaru is found in many Korean foods but is also used to make the red chili paste. It is added to the dishes to turn up the spice and flavor.
- Spring Onion
Next is the beautiful spring onion, which you have probably seen garnish many of your favorite Korean foods. Since many Korean dishes are packed with heavy flavors, the spring onion adds a crisp and bright flavor to the dish.
Equally as important is the onion. Often caramelized at the start of a sauce, the onion adds a sweet and hearty flavor that pulls a dish together. Onions also add great texture and a nice crunch to a soup or sauce.
Next is just sugar, which you should probably add to your grocery list anyway. Sugar is essential when cooking the spicy and sweet flavors that are abundant in Korean cuisine. A lot of spice also means a lot of acidity which can be countered with just a bit of sugar!
- Sesame Oil
Following the sweet flavor of sugar is the roasted and nutty flavor of sesame oil. Mainly used in dressings, sauces, and drizzled on top of finished dishes, sesame oil adds a unique flavor that can change an entire dish.
- Sesame Seeds
With sesame oil, comes the sesame seeds themselves! Often used as a visual garnish to make the dishes look more appetizing, sesame seeds also bring a nice crunch to a dish. Sesame seeds mixed with honey is also a common filling used for the popular Chuseok food, songpyeon.
- Soy Sauce
Next on the list is soy sauce. This dark salty sauce is used to flavor everything, from the savory bulgogi to the sweet treat of yaksik. Soy sauce is used in brines, dressings, and sauces of every kind. Even just a dash can bring a new life to your instant ramyun.
Nearing the end of our list, we have garlic. These strong-smelling relative to onions have a very pungent flavor that can cut and balance any strong flavors of a dish and is a staple ingredient in every savory Korean dish! Whether it is minced, sliced, or cooked whole, it is gracing the Korean dinner table in one way or another. To quote Daniel, a Korean YouTube chef, “We aren’t killing vampires, just being Korean.”
Last on the list is vinegar. This ingredient is used in many sauces and dressings worldwide, and Korean cuisine is no exception. Vinegar adds a bitter and acidic flavor but also allows for dishes to last longer, especially when refrigerated.
From the sweet to the spicy to the savory, these are the key ingredients you will need in your Korean cooking adventures to capture that authentic taste! Never be afraid to get creative in the kitchen and always have fun!