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29 Essential Ingredients for Traditional Korean Cooking

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 6 min read

Learn how to stock a beginner's Korean pantry with these essential ingredients.



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11 Korean Spices and Condiments

Korean cuisine relies on a variety of sauces and pastes, the most common of which include:

  1. Gochugaru: Gochugaru are red pepper flakes. They come in two main styles: coarse hot pepper flakes similar to the kind you'd find in a pizza restaurant, and fine red pepper, which is used to make kimchi and the hot pepper paste gochujang. For the best flavor, look for bright-red, sun-dried pepper flakes and store them in the fridge or freezer.
  2. Huchu: Huchu is ground black pepper, used as a marinade for meats and in rice cake soup (ddeok guk).
  3. Ganjang: Ganjang is the Korean name for soy sauce. If you make a lot of Korean food at home, you might want to invest in a bottle or two (or three) of Korean-style soy sauce, such as traditional joseon-ganjang (also known as guk-ganjang or “soup soy sauce”), naturally brewed yangjo-ganjang, or the standard jin-ganjang, which is similar to Japanese-style soy sauce.
  4. Doenjang: Doenjang is a fermented soybean paste that's a little funkier than Japanese miso. Like miso, it packs an umami kick. Doenjang is commonly used to make marinades, stews (jjigae), and ssamjang, a dipping sauce for lettuce wraps and Korean BBQ. Doenjang is often sold in a tan plastic tub.
  5. Gochujang: Gochujang is a sweet and spicy fermented red pepper paste used in a variety of spicy Korean recipes—from kimchi fried rice to marinades—and as a dipping sauce for bibimbap. Like ganjang and doenjang, gochujang is made from meju (fermented soy blocks) with the addition of rice porridge and gochugaru (chile powder). Gochujang is often sold in a red plastic tub.
  6. Sesame seeds: Toasted and crushed sesame seeds, known as ggaesogeum, serve as a garnish and ingredient in dipping sauces. You can buy whole untoasted sesame seeds and toast them yourself as needed, but Korean grocery stores also sell toasted sesame seeds.
  7. Chamgireum: Chamgireum (sesame oil) has many uses in Korean cuisine. Blended with a neutral oil, it makes a great cooking oil. Mixed with gochujang, it becomes a dipping sauce. High-quality sesame oil makes a great finishing oil.
  8. Jeot: Korea's answer to fish sauce is jeot, a category of fermented fish pastes and liquids including mulchi aecjeot (anchovy sauce), saeu jeot (shrimp paste), and aekjeot (Korean-style fish sauce). Use jeot in place of salt or to season kimchi and soups. Substitute Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce in a pinch.
  9. Marun myeolchi: Dried anchovies, known as marun myeolchi, add umami flavor to soup stock and braises. They come in small and large sizes. The large dried anchovies are boiled with kelp to make Korean-style dashi, and the small ones are for everything else.
  10. Rice vinegar: Rice wine vinegar or brown rice vinegar is used to season banchan and make dipping sauces.
  11. Rice wine: Rice wine is often part of a marinade for cooking meat and fish. Cheongju (“clear liquor”) is the traditional choice, but you can substitute soju or mirin.
4 Common Korean Banchan

4 Common Korean Banchan

Banchan is a collection of side dishes typically served alongside a meal. You can buy the components at a Korean grocery store, or make them yourself.

  1. Kimchi: Possibly the most famous ingredient in Korean cuisine, kimchi typically refers to spicy baechu kimchi—fermented napa cabbage seasoned with sea salt, gochugaru, garlic, ginger, and jeot. There are many other kinds of kimchi, including radish kimchi, cucumber kimchi, and non-spicy white kimchi. You’ll find giant jars of kimchi at any Korean grocery store, but it’s easy to make kimchi at home. Korean cooks swear by son mat, or the flavor of your hands, which is only possible with homemade kimchi.
  2. Jangajji: Jangajji can refer to any type of non-fermented pickled vegetable, often seasoned with soy sauce. Common pickles include garlic scapes, perilla leaves, radish, and cucumber.
  3. Namul: Namul are steamed, blanched, or satuéed vegetables, typically seasoned with sesame oil, garlic, vinegar, and/or soy sauce. Common namul include blanched bean sprouts, dark greens such as spinach or amaranth, and seasoned seaweed.
  4. Jeon: Jeon are pancakes served as a side dish. The most famous are pajeon (scallion pancakes) and kimchijeon (kimchi pancakes).
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11 Korean Vegetables, Herbs, and Grains

Korean food is famous for its fermented vegetables. Especially in the south, hot summers and cold winters made fermentation an essential technique before the development of refrigeration. Today, fermented vegetables are still beloved for their tangy flavor. Of course, Korean cuisine features plenty of fresh, steamed, and sautéed vegetables, as well as rice and noodles.

  1. Daepa: Daepa is the Korean name for spring onion—a sweeter, larger version of a scallion. Use the white part for cooking and the green part for vegetable stock. If you can't find daepa, you can substitute scallions.
  2. Pa: True scallions are known as pa, and you can use them in kimchi, pajeori (green onion salad), and pancakes, as well as to garnish dishes.
  3. Baechu: Baechu, aka Napa cabbage, is a light-colored, feathery variety of cabbage that's the main ingredient in baechu kimchi, baechuguk (cabbage soup), and ssam (lettuce wrap).
  4. Mu: Mu is a squat white radish in the daikon radish family. Typically sold without its leaves, this root vegetable is the main ingredient in kkakdugi (cubed radish kimchi).
  5. Gganip: Gganip is the Korean term for perilla leaves or shiso leaves. You can use these large leaves in ssam, stir-fries, or banchan pickles.
  6. Manul: Most savory Korean dishes include some form of garlic, or manul. Minced, pounded, or crushed, it adds flavor to marinades, kimchi, and more.
  7. Saenggang: Saenggang is the Korean word for ginger, which often accompanies garlic in marinades and kimchi.
  8. Dasima: Dasima is the Korean term for kombu, or dried kelp. Like Japanese dashi, Korean cooking uses dried kelp to add umami flavor to broth.
  9. Gim: Gim, or dried seaweed, is thinner and more pliable than kelp. Gim is used for wrapping kimbap (Korean-style sushi), as a garnish, and as a snack.
  10. Short-grain rice: Short-grain white rice is the most popular variety of rice in Korean cooking. Cooked rice is known as bap, and can consist of barley, millet, brown rice, black rice, glutinous rice, buckwheat, and more.
  11. Dangmyeon: Dangmyeon are sweet potato noodles, also known as glass noodles. Made with sweet potato starch, they're an essential ingredient in japchae.

3 Essential Korean Meats

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Korean BBQ is one of Korean cuisine’s most popular exports. There are three types of meat you’ll almost always encounter in Korean BBQ:

  1. Samgyeopsal: Samgyeopsal, or "three-layer meat," is Korean-style pork belly, cut into strips that reveal striations of meat and fat. The thin cut makes this pork belly suitable for grilling.
  2. Deungshim: Thinly sliced deungshim (beef sirloin) is one of the most popular cuts of beef for bulgogi (literally “fire meat,” but actually grilled marinated beef). Other cuts include ansim (beef tenderloin), kkot deungsim (ribeye roll), and chimasal yangji (flank steak).
  3. Galbi: Korean-style short ribs, also known as galbi, are cut into long, thin strips with the bone at the short end. This makes them ideal for quick-cooking preparations such as Korean BBQ. Don’t confuse them with English-cut short ribs, which consist of a portion of meat attached to one rib bone, and take better to braising. L.A.-style galbi is flanken-style short ribs that are cut across the bone.

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