Essential Korean store cupboard ingredients

Essential Korean store cupboard ingredients

by Tom Wildman 29 April 2016

Authentic Korean food doesn’t have to be expensive to make at home. Chef Judy Joo lists her top ten Korean store cupboard essentials.

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A Cordon Bleu graduate from Tante Marie Culinary Academy, Tom shares his food passions both in the kitchen and by writing about his favourite dishes.

Although a history graduate, Tom soon realised his call for the culinary arts and trained for a Cordon Bleu qualification at Tante Marie Culinary Academy. He loves sharing his equal passions for food and travel, with Mexican and Vietnamese foods being top of his hit list. When not in the kitchen, he can be found out on a foraging trip or perhaps playing ultimate frisbee.

When discovering a new cuisine, it can be easy to be put off by long lists of exotic ingredients. But a well-stocked store cupboard can immediately open up your kitchen to a whole range of new dishes. Just as how olive oil, tomatoes, garlic and Parmesan form the foundation of many Italian dishes, Korean cuisine also relies on a few select ingredients. Many of the items on this list have a long shelf life, so they are well worth stocking up on for when you next feel the urge to cook a Korean feast.

Gochujang (Korean chilli paste)

This deep red fermented chili paste is the Korean hot sauce of choice. It has a spicy, earthy flavour and is used in signature Korean dishes such as bibimbap (mixed rice with beef) and tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes). Because of its thick consistency it is typically used by the spoonful to add a kick of heat to broths, stews, marinades and sauces. Scott Hallsworth creates a tangy sauce for his barbecued lamb chops by mixing gochujang with miso, vinegar and sake.

Dwengjang (fermented soybean)

Dwengjang is a fermented soybean paste similar to Japanese miso, but with a coarser texture and a saltier, more assertive flavour. Together with gochujang it is considered one of the most important ingredients in Korean cuisine. It is has a distinct umami flavour and, like gochujang, is a quick and easy way to add depth to broths.

Gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes)

A core ingredient in kimchi, the Korean national dish, these chilli flakes are made with sun-dried Korean peppers, giving them a distinctive, smoky flavour. Gochugaru can vary in spiciness, but Judy opts for flakes with a medium heat in her cooking.


This sweetened rice wine is a core ingredient in Japanese cookery, but it is also used to enhance many Korean dishes. If you can’t find a bottle (although it is now stocked in most large supermarkets), Judy recommends using a lemon and lime-flavoured soft drink as a substitute.

Sesame oil

Sesame oil has a high smoke point, making it ideal for stir-fries. It also has a wonderful nutty flavour, which is further enhanced in roasted sesame oils. Galton Blackiston uses it as the base for his fragrant Sesame dressing, while Marcus Wareing’s sticky pork ribs are marinated in sesame oil, soy and ginger.

Ganjang (soy sauce)

Soy sauce is a staple store cupboard ingredient throughout the southwest and east of Asia and is made from the by-product of dwengjang. Korean supermarkets typically sell light soy sauce (gukganjang) and a darker, less salty sauce (jinganjang). An incredibly versatile sauce, it is used in seasoning, dipping sauces, soups and marinades.

Roasted sesame seeds

Both black and white sesame seeds are used in Korean cooking, although the white variety is more common. Roasted sesame seeds can be found in most Asian supermarkets, but you can easily make your own by dry roasting a handful of seeds in a frying pan over a medium heat. Try using them as a garnish or to add a crunchy texture and a subtle nutty flavour to your dishes.

Rice vinegar or apple vinegar

Korean vinegar is said to have a cleaner, purer flavour when compared to Japanese and Chinese vinegar. Diluted vinegar fruit drinks have recently become a popular health trend in Korea, but its main, conventional use is in salad dressings and sauces.

Garlic (Manul)

Garlic is packed with antioxidants and eaten both cooked and raw in Korea. Another key ingredient in kimchi, it is also used in barbecue marinades and salad dressings. Korean dishes often use a large amount of garlic (Judy’s kimchi contains sixty-four cloves!), so it is sometimes easier to buy pre-peeled fresh cloves, which are available in the chilled section of most large supermarkets.

Spring onions

Garnishing dishes with a handful of chopped spring onions will instantly add an earthy freshness and cut through rich, fatty flavours. A delicious spring onion pancake called pajeon is a popular Korean street food dish, which is sometimes also made with seafood (haemul pajeon) and beef (dongnae pajeon). Use them to garnish soups, stir-fries and dipping sauces.

List provided by Judy Joo, author of Korean Food Made Simple: Easy and Delicious Korean Recipes to Prepare at Home (Jacqui Small, £22). Photography by Jean Cazals.