Five Korean Ingredients You Need In Your Storecupboard Now

South Korean flavours are distinct from any other cuisine. Cooking techniques and recipes may look similar to those in Japan, with rich umami notes and a shared fondness for fermented sauces and condiments. Yet in South Korea there is also intense pungency and chilli heat.

Pickled garlic and vinegared chilli sauce are served with finely cut raw fish in Korea, instead of just the hint of salty soy sauce and wasabi for seasoning sashimi in Japan. Fiery hot and sour fizzy cabbage kimchi accompany every meal in Korea, instead of merely salted pickles with plain rice in Japan.

The ingredients are key to Korea's unique flavours - when mixing a sauce for the famous rice dish bibimbap there just isn't a substitute for the fermented red pepper paste gochujang. And gochugaru chilli powder used to make kimchi is intensely coloured with a uniquely coarse grind, mild heat and hint of acidity.

This is the list of the five store cupboard ingredients you need to start cooking Korean food.

Gochujang Hot Pepper Paste

Korean red chill bean paste - or gochujang is perhaps the most famous Korean condiment - spicy, sweet and rich in umami, it is receiving world renown. A spoonful of gochujang is the classic condiment for the Korean rice dish bibimbap; mixed with vinegar, gochujang is served as a dipping sauce with sashimi; and in the USA it is most famously the base of sauce for Korean Fried Chicken (KFC for short!). And gochujang is frequently stirred together with doenjang (see below) to make ssamjang sauce served with Korean BBQ.

Gochujang mixed with a little vinegar is the condiment for this squid bibimbap, topped with a runny fried egg
Gochujang is made by mixing cooked glutinous rice together with wind-dried cooked and crushed soybeans, red pepper powder and salt. It then left to ferment in earthenware pots in the sun - most famously in Sunchang in central Korea, where the landscape and climate is perfect for the fermentation process.

There just isn't another sauce like it - you'll just have to try the real thing.

Wang Doenjang Soybean Paste, 500g

Doenjang is a salty umami rich paste similar to Japanese miso paste. It is a key ingredient in sauces (such as ssamjang, when mixed in equal parts with gochujang above), salad dressings and in soup bases.

Doenjang jigae stew - a hearty vegetable broth enriched with umami-rich doenjang

Doenjang is made from cooked soy beans, pounded and formed into large blocks that are hung up to dry in the sun. Water and salt is added to the dried blocks and the mixture continues to ferment. The protein-rich liquid is drained off to make soy sauce, and the solid mass which remains is doenjang.  

Doenjang is similar to Japanese miso - the solids left after fermenting soybean and draining away liquid soy sauce

Kimchi, 369g

Kimchi is present with almost every meal in a Korean restaurant - breakfast, lunch or dinner. And with the increasing number of great Korean American chefs, kimchi is starting to be included in many other dishes worldwide - kimchi stirred into steak tartare, kimchi tacos, and hotdogs with kimchi mayo.

Large pieces of cabbage kimchi laid out on at an outdoor Korean BBQ restaurant in Seoul - to be wrapped up with the beef in a lettuce leaf. Kimchi is usually served straight from a jar, but cooking kimchi on a BBQ deepens the flavour.

Kimchi is a side dish made with pickled vegetables and chilli powder, left to ferment until slightly fizzy - not unlike sauerkraut. The lactic acid bacteria which form during fermentation are believed to be wonderful for the digestion, and if friends' amazing skin upon return trips to Korea is anything to go by, the all-round health benefits of kimchi are everything they are thought to be! See our article Kimchi - Korea's Greatest Food? for more of the famous condiment's history.

You can buy kimchi in a jar for store-cupboard emergencies, but it is also very easy to make at home. Home made kimchi uses vegetables (most often cabbage) and the other key ingredients of gochugaru (below) and anchovy extract.

Korean Red Pepper Powder - Gochugaru

Korean food is famed for its intense red colour and chilli heat - all of which comes from Korean red pepper powder, gochugaru. In early times, Korean dishes were mostly spiced with pungent vegetables such as garlic and chives. However when chilli came to Korea during the 17th Century via the Japanese from Portugal, and it became a huge part of the Korean diet.  Gochugaru red pepper powder is now an ingredient in most South Korean dishes - from Kimchi to dipping sauces, and from stews to Korean banchan side dishes.

Fermented seafood with gochugaru red pepper powder, at Noryangjin Fisheries wholesale market in Seoul

Gochugaru has a uniquely mild and slightly acidic citrussy heat. The large flakes also make an attractive garnish for dishes. The large shaker pots are great value, and will last well.

"Gochugaru" - coarse ground dried chilli powder with an intense red colour, used to make kimchi.

Pure Sesame Oil, 320ml

Sesame oil is in so many Korean dishes - used to fry rice in dolsot bibimbap, to bring rounded depth to dipping sauces in, and together with garlic and soy sauce as an all purpose dressing for vegetables (see spinach banchan recipe). The flavour of the sesame oil is hugely important, and so many bottles that are widely available taste nasty - acrid or sharp, without any of the toasted sesame smoothness and warmth. Looking for 'pure sesame oil' helps, but isn't any guarantee of quality. We use this sesame oil in all our Korean cooking.

You might also like to try chunjang black bean paste, which adds sweetness and umami depth to stir fries and sauces.


  • I’d like to try Doenjang as anything with umami gets my vote :) – would be great to have a copy of the book!

    Leah Ogilvie on

  • Such a great post. I love these flavors and it’s always fun to learn about new ingredients. :-)

    valentina on

  • Mouthwatering post and it’s getting so close to lunch time. I wished I was in London today where you can find a Korean place easily!

    The ingredient I really need to put my hands on is gochujang. Why? Well, I am trying to master the ability using just the right quantity, and this is the kind of ingredient one wants to use all at once!

    Petros Diveris on

  • I’ve love to try Gochujang. It sound amazing with the sweet and spicy flavours with a bit of the ‘funk’ you get from fermentation. It would be great fun to try using it in stews and sauces to add to the flavour profile, as well as using it to make dipping sauces for all kinds of dishes.

    Ed on

  • I love Korean food especially after visiting Seoul a few years ago and have bought all of the top five items from sous chef since as I love your range. One ingredient I’ve not tried cooking with yet but would love to is Samjang

    JJ Yip on

  • Love to try the Doenjang. I am a big fan of fermented food (already made my own kimchi) > So good for a healthy gut and be interesting to try an alternative to Miso.

    Julie Lord on

  • I’d love to find out more uses for kimchi! I’ve had some in my fridge for ages, and short of putting it on the side of a salad, I’d love some more recipes for this delicious ingredient!

    Victoria Wren on

  • I’ve experimented with different Korean ingredients in the past, but I’d love to sample doenjang, never having had it before! It’d be interesting to try it in place of miso in some of my favourite dishes, including miso roasted salmon and miso-tahini soba noodles.

    Claire on

  • I would love to try kimchi, I keep reading a lot about it, but having never tasted it would welcome some recipes and ideas for its use.

    Teresa Palmer on

  • I’d love to try Doenjang! I haven’t tried much Korean food but it seems like a good place to start :)

    Jess Lambirth on

  • I need to get Gochujang to make my own KFC! Couldn’t get enough of this when I visited Korea a few years ago. So hungry now!

    Sarah armour on

  • I would like to try Gochugaruu so that I can make kimchee. I’d also like to try to replicate the delicious chicken wings I had in a Korean restaurant while visiting Los Angeles.

    felice on

  • I’ve heard a lot about kimchi recently through reading and the chefs who teach me but I am yet to have a chance to taste it. I strongly believe to be a chef you should be open to try whatever ingredient there is to offer. Too much do chefs stick to what they know and are scared to venture into less the quirkier side of cooking or even food that doesn’t come from where they do. I would hate from myself to fall into that habit so I aim to try as much as I can whenever I can look. That is why I would like to taste kimchi

    Louis Chisholm on

  • I have watched with interest Judy Joo’s series on television and The Hairy Biker’s Asian trip. What has tickled my tastebuds is the thought of Kinchee. I have never eaten it before. It might even be something I could try to make myself. Recipes for making it and using it would be most welcome. I have quite an international selection of cookery books but, as yet, nothing from Korea, so a cookery book from there would be most welcome.

    James Crabbe on

  • I would love to try kimchi because I believe it contains good bacteria for the gut. Look at those Korean artists with smooth fair beautiful skin, I’m sure kimchi has done its part!

    Kin lien cheong on

  • It’d have to be Gochujang – seems to be a very flexible ingredient and I have an obsession with anything hot!

    Chris on

  • I would love to try all the ingredients but probably most curious about kimchi as it seems to be hugely popular right now and contains chilli one of my favourite ingredients in any food. The article almost transports you to Korea, each ingredient written about so descriptively.

    Jayne Garnett on

  • Now that summer has finally made an appearence I love the idea of making my own Kimchi, it would go fabulously with a whole range of BBQ flavours, helping to add punch to slow cooked ribs and burgers.

    Being a big sweet potato fan I would also love to try the noodles, it’s such a versatile veggie!

    michelle on

  • Gochujang and Gochugara. I feel the need to make a huge bucket of Korean fried chicken wings, with a spicy as you likey sauce made with lashings of Gochujang and a small mountain of Gochugaru. Topped off with spring onions and black sesame seeds, sourced from Sous Chef of course! Not for the faint hearted. Yum!!

    Chris Barker on

  • I would love to try everything… But my top choice would be Gochujang. Korean food as been one of my favs lately. So umami so good!!!

    nuvola bianca tivoli on

  • I’d love to try the Gochujang the thought of sweet, red chilli with a dash of umami – YUM!!
    I’ve only had Korean food once (on a trip to Thailand). Now I wish to try cooking it.

    Chris on

  • Kimchi for me as Nigella keeps going on about it and I want to give it a go.

    Emma on

  • I want to have a bash at using some kimchee in one of the seafood pancakes. Absolutely delicious!

    Danny on

  • I’d love to try Gochujang for a more authentic Korean taste in my dishes!

    Vanessa on

  • I would like to try Kimchi because of its versatility and its centrality to Korean food and culture. The cleansing benefits are as intriguing as the flavouring itself and would be a joy to add to my cupboard.

    Tony Clare on

  • It would be useful if you carried the ingredient kochukaru for making Baechu Kimchi, Spicy Pickled Cabbage. Just a suggestion. Best wishes Roger

    Roger Denton on

  • Wild sesame oil as I understand it is highly nutritious; I am on a vegan diet so my nutrition is especially important to me. I use sesame oil a lot in marinades so to try the wild Perilla version would be wonderful.

    Debbie Joyce on

  • I love gochujang, but it’s difficult to get the proportions right. I’d love to try doenjang as I tried some amazing pork skewers once and that’s my missing ingredient!

    edwin peters on

  • Gochujang for bibimbap and fried chicken but also would go well on burritos,tacos, shawarmas, in meatballs..possibly even hummus …would need to experiment

    Lana on

  • I would love to try Kimchi. I never try real Kimchi before. I tried to make it myself but it didnt taste right because I didn’t have red chilli peppers

    I have read a lots receipts which you can make nice meals with it. Without Kimchi , it isn’t Korean food

    Minh on

  • I would like to try kimchi as I’ve heard a lot about it, as it’s becoming increasingly popular, and I think it would be really interesting and unique to try.

    Toby Fenton on

  • Would love to try gochujang as I seem to be hearing about it more and more! Korean cooking excites me and I would love to experiment! ?

    Gillian Gillespie on

  • I’m fully converted to Kimchi and make it regularly thanks to getting supplies from Sous Chef!
    But what I’d like to try is brined shrimp. I’ve seen it added to the cabbage in various recipes and never found it to buy.

    Rob Davies on

  • I’d try the sesame oil to make dolsot bibimbap, not only because it sounds delicious but because the name makes for a great scat lyric. Scatman John, eat your heart out!

    Angela ROUSE on

  • I’ve already tried all of these. But fernbrake (“gosari” in Korean) is featured in many Korean recipes, and as of yet I haven’t been able to find it for sale. I’m intrigued!

    Emil Bülow on

  • It has to be the Gochugaru – Korean red pepper powder. We all love our spices but need to compare how this matches up with its counterpart Thai mild yellow curry.

    Nigel on

  • I’m a major food lover, and have tried all the ingredients mentioned except Kimchee. I don’t know why, but it sounds so unusual that I have never taken the time to try and make it. I think what’s put me off is that people have said it has a very strong odour, and I don’t want complaints from the natives that the house smells funny!

    Afton on

  • Kimchi! Kimchi! Kimchi! It looks so moreish…I need to make this whilst repeating the mantra ‘Embrace the process and go with the flow!’

    susan on

  • I love Korean food and started cooking with gochujang a couple of years ago. I’d be interested to try Doenjang paste as I can imagine this would really add a great savoury note to dishes

    Maxine G on

  • I’ve tried (and made my own) kimchi. I’ve used Korean chilli powder, and gochujang. But I’ve not cooked withDoenjang Soybean Paste, so that’s what I’d like to try next.

    Kavey on

  • I would love to try gochujang, because I love kimchi and would use to make a delicious kimchee fermented cocktail which I have always wanted to try.

    Christian Tighe on

  • Such lovely ingredients can’t wait to use them

    MJ H-S on

  • I’d love to try Sannakji (live octopus) to experience something completely different, not only in flavour but in sensorial experience!

    Paul on

  • I’ve tried making kimchi at home so, I would love to try a proper version. Perhaps even the cucumber version. I’d also love to try ddukboki or budue jiggae. Gochujaru is great to cook with, adds a great bite to lots of dishes :)

    Susan Foster on

  • I love Korean food and happily live in central London – I get to indulge maybe a bit too often. I’d like to have a go at making kimchi myself so the anchovy sauce would be my pick of the ingredients (I have gochujang in my fridge already – makes a delicious additions to noodle soup dishes)

    Bekky on

  • It has to be gochujang for me. I love chilli and spice, and am so excited to discover new ingredients and cuisines.
    I can’t wait to get this book and get stuck into learning more about Korean cooking!

    Ian P on

  • I would like to get hold of some Gosari so I could make authenticYukgaejang. The greatest stew in the world!

    Chris on

  • I would love to try the japchae sweet potato noodles as I watched a video on YouTube where the girl who writes, just one cookbook, was cooking japchae with a friend and it looked divine, but where to find sweet potato noodles? Sous chef of course!!!

    Kelvin martin on

  • I love Kimchi…and can eat it with pretty much anything. Don’t think I have tried Doenjang which as a vegetarian is quite unbelievable as I have probably eaten all other soya products…..x

    Alison on

  • I’d love to try Gochujang, it sounds delicious and I’ve always wanted to make my own bibimbap. And it sounds like there is a lot of great things I could make with this paste. And of course, chilli is incredibly good for you. I love collecting new recipe books and trying out the recipes, I don’t have any Korean ones so this would be a perfect edition. It’s always easy to tell which are my favourite flavours since they tend to have slight splatters on the pages, heh.

    Eilidh Macleod on

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