Korean Ingredients to Buy Online

Hard-to-find ingredients make for authentic Korean cooking

Close-up of red peppers in hotpot on table
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If you don't live close to a Korean grocery store or even an urban center with a good Asian grocery store, it can be hard to find the right spices and ingredients to cook traditional Korean food. In the past, Korean-Americans may have taken monthly weekend-long bus trips with other Asian families to buy groceries in cities that were many hundreds of miles away. Now, you can buy many of your favorite Korean ingredients online.

Purchasing specific ingredients will take your Korean cooking to the next level. Rather than make substitutions based on what's available at your local grocer, browse websites such as Koamart, SFMart, H-Mart, or even Amazon to find what you need.

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    Gochujang may be the most well-known of Korean specialty ingredients, so a local grocery store may or may not stock it. If you're not so lucky, you can find this savory, spicy, and somewhat sweet condiment online. It's made from chili powder, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, barley malt powder, and salt.

    Gochujang is a versatile ingredient, but a little goes a long way because of its spiciness, which can range from mildly hot to extremely hot. You can stir gochujang into dishes such as stews, bulgogi, or dipping sauces to give them a little extra punch.

    You can find this pepper paste in tubs, tubes, and bottles. Unopened containers can be stored at room temperature for up to two years before opening. Once opened, you should refrigerate it.

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    Mulyoet is a Korean corn syrup that's used as a sweetener and thickener, while ssalyeot is made from rice syrup. The name, mulyeot, translates to "sweet liquid candy." These sweeteners can be used interchangeably.

    It's also used to give a shiny look to Korean food because it's a clear liquid, so it doesn't change the color of the original dish. As with corn syrup, it is shelf stable at room temperature.

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    Doenjang in bowl

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    Made of soybean and brine, this paste is a byproduct of producing soy sauce. Some people eat it as-is, using it as a condiment for vegetables, while others prefer to use it as an ingredient in ssamjang, mixing the doenjang with garlic, sesame oil, and gochujang.

    Doenjang's flavor is salty, sour, and sweet, all at the same time, and it's fermented for at least six weeks, though often longer. It's an important component of the stew jjigae, which is often called doenjang jjigae. The package will keep for months in the refrigerator.

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    Ssamjang in spoon

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    Although ssamjang can be made with doenjang, you can also purchase it premade. This spicy dipping sauce is commonly served with grilled Korean barbecue, but it's also an essential part of ssam, a vegetable leaf wrapped around a protein, vegetables, and rice.

    Ssamjang's main flavor comes from doenjang, which gives it a fermented umami taste. It's also slightly spicy, sweet, and salty.

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    Although a significant number of Korean dishes are served over rice, sweet potato noodles—also known as Korean glass noodles—are prevalent as well, though never easily found in standard grocery stores. This type of noodle is most commonly used in Japchae, a mixed noodle and vegetable dish.

    Dangmyeon are fairly translucent, much like cellophane noodles, but they're firmer and chewier. The noodles, which are sold dried, must be soaked in boiling water before being added to a dish.