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Korean spices: discover the flavors of Asian cuisine and spice up your dishes

Have you heard of names like Gochujang, Kimchi and Doenjang? They may be difficult to pronounce, but they are a treat to taste. Yes, we are talking about some ingredients that are part of South Korean cuisine.

Many people find Korean dishes to be too spicy. However, it is important to say that not all recipes use pepper. There is a wide range of different seasonings, tasty and beyond aromatic. They are responsible for leaving each preparation with a unique touch.

If you’ve never had the chance to taste Korean cuisine, this post is your gateway. We explain the main seasonings and even some recipes that can be easily made at home – in Brazil. Ready to put an Asian taste in your lunch?

Gochujang (Korean pepper paste)

With an appearance reminiscent of ketchup, Gochujang is one of the main spices in Korean cuisine. It is a pepper paste used as an accompaniment to dishes and as an ingredient in different recipes. Gochujang can be purchased ready-made and in various levels of spiciness. Its formula usually includes red pepper, fermented soybeans, glutinous rice and salt. In Brazil, it is possible to find ready-made Gochujang on a website for Korean products or eastern neighborhoods such as Liberdade (SP).

Preparation: It was traditional for Gochujang to be prepared at home. However, because of the difficulty level, this rarely happens nowadays. The base of chili paste consists of fermented soybeans and the process (which takes several months!) involves cooking the soybeans for several hours, letting them dry and exposing them to the sun.

Recipes with Gochujang

  1. Dakgalbi (Chicken Ribs in Sauce): This is one of the most famous dishes in Korea. It is made with chicken, onions, carrots, cabbage, garlic, chives and a series of seasonings – including gochujangm, of course. The recipe is usually prepared with chicken ribs, but it is worth using breast or the pieces of your preference.
  2. Tukbeguibibimbap (mixed rice): usually the recipe is prepared in a stone pot, but this version is in a ceramic pot. It consists of a combination of rice with meat and vegetables. The rice is lightly toasted in sesame oil, making it crispy. The result is a complete dish, full of flavor and textures!
  3. Gochujang noodles: you know the traditional spaghetti with tomato sauce? Here, the difference is precisely the use of Gochujang. Half a tablespoon of pepper paste is enough. The sauce is very thick, with pieces of tomato and onion, and is still seasoned with parsley and basil.

Gochugaru (Korean Pepper Powder)

The translation of Gochu is red pepper, while Garu is powder in Korean. That is, the Gochugary consists of dehydrated and dried chili. It can be purchased in the form of flakes or fine powder. The seasoning should be stored in the refrigerator in tightly closed glass containers. This ingredient is present in many of the Korean recipes, being essential in the most spicy dishes.

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Where to find it: Gochugaru is sold ready-made, in powdered, flaked or granulated versions. This famous Korean pepper can be found in establishments specializing in oriental cuisine. There are also different websites that sell the products, such as Asia Shop, Konbine, and Ebay itself.

Recipes with Gochugaru

  1. Sundubu (Tofu Stew): Consumed especially on cold days, Sundubu is a spicy soy cheese stew. The secret is to use seafood to make the broth more flavorful. Tip: Gochugaru tend to burn easily, so it’s important to control the fire when cooking.
  2. Golbaengyimuchim (Spiced Sea Snail): The ingredient you might have a hard time finding is the sea snail, available at Korean specialty stores and grocery stores. It is sold canned. The snail is seasoned with a range of chili peppers, both powdered and paste, as well as vinegar, garlic and corn syrup.
  3. Oi Mutchim (spicy cucumber salad): this recipe is very simple to prepare and is usually served as a side dish. The list of ingredients includes sliced ​​cucumber, onion, minced garlic, peppers (paste and powder), salt, corn glucose, sesame seeds and white vinegar. Makes a small but delicious portion!


Kimchi is actually not a seasoning, but a very traditional delicacy in Asian countries. It basically consists of fermented cabbage and well seasoned with pepper and spices. It can be considered the staple food of Korean cuisine, because it is an ingredient in other recipes and can also be consumed alone, as an accompaniment to different meals. Consuming Kimchi and rice in Korea is more or less like eating beans and rice in Brazil.

Preparation: There are many versions and ways to make Kimchi. Although it is much simpler to buy it ready-made, many Korean families still maintain the habit of making it at home. The main ingredients are cabbage, salt, water, garlic, ginger, chives, pepper and sugar. The recipe should be left out of the fridge overnight and then kept refrigerated. Learn here!

Recipes with Kimchi

  1. Kimchi jjigae (Kimchi soup): it is said that this is the most consumed soup by Koreans. It’s served in many of the country’s restaurants! Spicy and slightly sweet, the soup is made with Kimchi, anchovies, pork, pork fat, spices and tofu. The broth includes anchovies, turnips, chives and dashima, a seaweed.
  2. Dubu kimchi (Soy Cheese with Kimchi): This dish consists of tofu and fried kimchi. It is served especially at happy hours, with alcoholic beverages. Kimchi must be fried together with pork, being previously seasoned with soy sauce, sake, honey and black pepper.
  3. Kimchijeon (Kimchi and Pork Pancake): Another option to be served as a snack or side dish, this savory pancake is very easy to make. It consists of thin slices of Kimchi and pieces of pork. The ingredients list still has white flour, water and salt.
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Doenjang (fermented soy paste)

Used to flavor vegetables, to add an extra flavor to snacks or as an ingredient in soups and stews, Doenjang is a fermented soy paste. Like other Korean seasonings, it can be found ready-made easily – but they say that homemade pasta, in an artisanal way, is much more special. Doenjang has a milder flavor than miso, the soy paste from Japan. It consists of a spice rich in vitamins and minerals. In other words, delicious and healthy!

Preparation: the first step is to wash, knead and shape the soybeans. Then there is a whole process of natural fermentation – the soybeans must be dried in the shade, for example. Afterwards, the mixture must be fermented in salted water. In the end, the solid components are separated. This video shows the complete preparation.

Recipes with Doenjang

  1. Doenjang Jjigae (Doenjang soup): quite traditional, this soup has shiitake mushrooms, zucchini, tofu, onion, potato, garlic, pepper, salt, gotchugaru (optional) and 2 to 3 full spoons of Doenjang. One trick is to use three glasses of rice water instead of plain water.
  2. Yangnyeomdwejigoguikimbap (Korean sushi): Korean version of sushi, this dish is a roll of rice and seaweed with various ingredients, such as egg and meat. Pickled turnip (danmudji) is an essential ingredient. Rice is prepared with sesame oil, sugar and vinegar. Doenjang paste is used to season meat.
  3. Bossam (Pork with Swiss Chard): This recipe is originally made with pork belly, but you can use another cut, such as sirloin. The meat is cooked for around 45 minutes in a broth of spices and vegetables – which is where the Doenjang comes in. Then it is chopped into thin slices and served with lettuce leaves.

Shoyu (soy sauce)

Korean cuisine is not limited to pepper seasonings. Shoyu, prepared with soy, sea salt, water and roasted cereal, is a traditional sauce in Asian countries and is very present in recipes. Unlike in Brazil, where shoyu is basically used to dip sushi or make yakissoba, in Korea it is part of several dishes, contributing to a salty flavor and helping to emphasize the flavor of food.

Where to find it: several Brazilian brands already sell their own soy sauces. It is possible to find small bottles, options with more than one liter and even the light soy sauce, with less salt. In some fairs and natural product stores, you can also find organic soy sauce, made without any chemical additives.

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Recipes with Shoyu

  1. Bulgogi (Korean-style beef): This dish is great for those who are going to try Korean cuisine for the first time, as it doesn’t contain any pepper. The ingredient list includes beef, vegetables and a sauce made with soy sauce, honey, cooking sake, garlic and sesame oil.
  2. Tteokbokki (Sizzling Rice Dough): tteok (rice noodles) + bokki (sautéed) is one of the most popular dishes in Korea. The recipe is quite easy to prepare. The sauce and stir-fry have several different seasonings, such as chili paste, seaweed (dashima), soy sauce and eomuk (fish cake).
  3. Korean Burger: This burger is unlike any you’ve ever tried! Although the meat is prepared similarly to the Brazilian one, the special touch is the sweet and sour sauce made with butter, onion, ketchup, soy sauce, sugar, water and vinegar.

Sesame oil

Responsible for a unique flavor, sesame oil (Chamgireum: 참기름) is widely used in Korean dishes – and Asian countries in general. Different types are available in the markets: golden oil, brown, light yellow… In Korean dishes, roasted oil is one of the main ones. The oil is extracted from sesame seeds, which are pressed. In addition to being used as a common oil, to sauté food, it is also an ingredient for sauces.

Where to find it: sesame oil is easy to find both in large supermarkets and in stores selling oriental food products. There are from 100ml bottles to 5 liter bottles of the oil.

Recipes with sesame oil

  1. Samgyeopsal Kenipssam (pork pancetta with sesame leaf): the presentation of this dish is the strong point, with the pancetta pieces arranged on top of sesame leaf bundles stuffed with rice. Rice is prepared with salt, sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds.
  2. Rice with curry: this recipe is made with ready-made curry, bought in a packet. The other ingredients are common in Brazilian cuisine, such as beef or pork, canoura, potato, sesame oil, chopped garlic and soy sauce.
  3. Doenjãsamgyopsar (typical Korean pancetta): this very traditional dish is made with pork pancetta (belly) and a vegetable stir-fry. The finish is with a touch of sesame oil. The dish is quick, made with just one pan.

Now that you know the main spices in Korean cuisine, it’s time to put them into practice. How about making unique mixes? It’s worth seasoning even the beans with a different pepper. After all, a different touch is always welcome in our daily lives!

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