Must-have Ingredients for Cooking Korean Cuisine and Their Substitutes


Going to the Korean grocery store can be intimidating. With a wall full of condiments and pretty colours to choose from, how does one know what to buy? The truth is, 85% of Korean dishes can be made with simple salt, sugar and the following list of essential ingredients!

Fermented Soybean Paste (doenjang) 된장
“It contains whole as well as ground soybeans. A traditional Korean fermented soybean paste. Its name literally means “thick paste” in Korean. A spicy, salty paste made from fermented broad beans, soybeans, salt, rice, and various spices.” – Wikipedia


It is used to make…

Green Onion Pancake, Paste for all your Korean BBQ, Your favourite Hang-over cure – Pork Bone Stew, Soybean Paste Stew, 

Substitute: Red Miso

Hot Pepper Paste (gochujang) 고추장

“It is a savory, spicy, and pungent fermented Korean condiment made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt. Traditionally, it has been naturally fermented over years in large earthen pots outdoors, more often on an elevated stone platform, called jangdokdae (장독대) in the backyard”  – Wikipedia

Substitute: Hot Pepper flake slightly dampened with soy sauce with a dab of sugar

It is used to make…
Almost everything in Korean cuisine! Kimchi Stew, Kimchi, Budae-Jigae, Spicy Pork BBQ, Spicy Braised Chicken (Dak-bokkeumtang), Spicy Fried Chicken (Yangnyeom-tongdak), Spicy Stirred Rice Cake (Tteokbokki), Kimchi Fried Rice… List goes on

Red Hot Pepper Flakes (gochugaru) 고추가루
“ is a condiment consisting of dried and crushed (as opposed to ground) red chili peppers.”

A photo posted by @rkozeluh on Aug 7, 2015 at 5:26pm PDT

Substitute: 1/2 teaspoon Cayenne powder per 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Sesame Oil (chamkireum) 참기름
“ is an edible vegetable oil derived from sesame seeds. Besides being used as a cooking oil in South India, it is often used as a flavor enhancer in Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Korean, and Southeast Asian cuisine.”

Substitute: Peanut Oil

Minced Garlic  다진마늘

“Garlic is one the most important ingredients in Korean cuisine. Most Korean recipes call for minced garlic as part of the seasoning. Whole garlic cloves are also often used to make Korean broth, soups or stews. Koreans also enjoy pickled garlic as a side dish and grilled garlic with Korean BBQ and table cooking.” 

A photo posted by Sam (@glittergoldsam) on Jun 8, 2015 at 3:02am PDT

Substitute: None, but often omitting this ingredient won’t change the taste of the dish drastically.

Welsh Onion 대파

“The Welsh onion is an ingredient in Asian cuisine, especially in East and Southeast Asia. It is particularly important in China, Japan, and Korea, hence the other English name for this plant, ‘Japanese bunching onion’.” Wikipedia

A photo posted by AeGyeong Lim (@lovely_ag_) on Jul 26, 2015 at 6:05am PDT

Substitute: Scallion

Where to buy?

If you’re in Toronto, head over to Galleria, PAT, or M2M Korean specialty stores. Otherwise, try your nearby Korean Mart or online. My favourite Korean grocery is the one uptown – Galleria. It’s open 24 hours and has the largest selection of Korean groceries, housewares, and also has a Korean food court attached to boot!  Using the public transit to Galleria isn’t the most convenient, but it’s totally worth the trip. In terms of which brand of condiments to purchase, I wouldn’t worry about it. Most Korean brands are all on par in terms of taste and quality. Hope this was helpful and make sure to follow this blog and follow me (@tinasyhsu) on twitter for updates! 

Categories: 2015

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4 replies »

  1. Twenty-four hour Korean grocery store! What a. Great idea! Wish i had checked out that place the last time I visited Toronto!

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