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Learn about the essential Korean ingredients needed to start cooking awesome Korean cuisine. Spicy chilies, fermented bean paste and umami packed soy sauce are just some of the amazing parts of this cuisine.
Korean food is awesome. Period.
The spicy chili paste, kimchi, sweet and savory grilled meats and large quantities of garlic are enough to make me swoon.
How did I ever live without these flavors in my life?
It’s going to be awesome.
But before we get there, let’s get familiar with the essential korean ingredients you’ll need to start cooking this amazing cuisine.
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Kimchi is my favorite part about Korean food.
Kimchi is basically cabbage (also commonly made with cucumber or radish) fermented with chili paste, soy sauce Korean fish sauce, garlic ginger and scallions. It’s delicious.
But I have to admit I have not taken the plunge to make my own yet. If you’re interested in making your own, check out these popular recipes from other bloggers:
If you haven’t quite decided to make your own yet, you can find it at many local grocery stores, or your local Asian market. You can also buy it online.
Love, love, love the flavor of gochujang. A key ingredient in kimchi, this stuff has a slightly sweet, savory, spicy umami flavor and is used to season so many dishes. Get used to seeing this guys, I will be using this a lot over the next month.
And probably for a long time thereafter….You should be able to find this at your local Asian market (or Korean market if you’re lucky enough to have one). Gochujang is used is these recipes:
Sesame oil is exactly what it says….it’s oil flavored by sesame seeds. Not only is it used extensively in Korean cooking, but also heavily used in Chinese cooking. I use sesame oil all the time. It’s basically a vegetable oil made from sesame seeds. It has a slightly nutty flavor.
For an even better flavor, get some toasted sesame oil, which is made with toasted sesame seeds (duh…..). You should be able to find sesame oil at your local grocery store.
Gochugaru is a Korean coarsely ground red pepper consisting both of flakes and powder. It can be added to all types of different dishes for added spice and a slightly sweet and smoky flavor.
It is heavily used in kimchi, dipping sauces and soups – but I love it sprinkled over these Korean Beef Nachos. I can usually find it at my local Albertsons, but you can also buy it online.
Dark and light soy sauces are both used in Korean cooking. Light soy sauce is lighter in color and far saltier than the dark. It is typically used in soups.
Dark soy sauce is less salty and has a slightly sweeter flavor. This soy sauce is used in marinades and dipping sauces, and any other general cooking.
Your regular Kikkoman can be substituted in any recipe that calls for Korean dark soy sauce. I’m a condiment collector, so I buy it all! If you want to buy the dark Korean soy sauce, you can find it at your local market or buy it on Amazon.
Korean Fish Sauce
Korean fish sauce is not the same as Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce. It’s typically not recommended to use Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce, especially when using it to make kimchi. Other than kimchi, Korean fish sauce is used in marinades, side dishes and soups.
Korean fish sauce is great used in this Korean Rice Cake recipe (Tteokbokki).
Rice wine is commonly used in marinades to add a light sweetness to dishes. Japanese rice wine (mirin) is a great substitute here. You can also use regular white wine or sake, but choose one that has a hint of sweetness.
Soy Bean Paste
Korean soy bean paste is very similar to Japanese miso. The flavors are very close – Japanese miso can be substituted in recipes that call for soy bean paste. The paste is typically used in soups and stews, however, it makes a pretty mean sauce as well! I love it in the Udon Stir Fry!
Short Grain White Rice
And of course we have the rice. Korean short grain rice has a slightly sticky quality. Japanese sushi rice is very similar and can be used as a substitute.
I love this kind of rice (plus it’s easier for me to eat with chopsticks – LOL). You should be able to find short grain rice at your local Asian market, or buy it on Amazon.
Glass Noodles (Sweet Potato Noodles)
Very similar to cellophane noodles, these noodles are used in dishes like japchae (Korean glass noodles stir fry) and some soups and stews. Cellophane noodles can be substituted in a pinch. You can find these noodles at your local Asian market, or just buy them on Amazon.
Ginger, garlic and scallions are used in many Korean dishes. Garlic will show up in just about every recipe. Use fresh garlic cloves, minced garlic, or I like to use packages of peeled garlic (find them in your local grocery store).
For the ginger, I have become a sucker for this ginger paste because I also hate peeling and grating fresh ginger.
And lastly, scallions (green onions) are used often as a garnish, in kimchi and also used when making broths. Find them in the produce section of the grocery store.
Those are the essential Korean ingredients to get you started cooking. Obviously, once you really get into cooking Korean food, you’ll find there are so many more!
If you like cooking all different types of cuisines, check out these other essential pantry ingredients: