Korean cuisine, with its indistinctive flavours, is the result of a very ancient tradition and also thanks to K-dramas is currently capturing the world with its palate. Composed of dishes based on rice, meat, fish and vegetables it is in some way similar to other oriental culinary traditions but differs in the enormous number of side dishes served with each meal. Here, I will go through all the scrumptious Korean Healthy Food that I have tasted and absolutely adore!
The origins of Korean cuisine date back more than 5,000 years and during this time it has evolved along with the cultural and social development of the country. This cuisine, even if it is not yet as widespread as Japanese or Chinese cuisine, is growing in popularity thanks to its richness in flavours, healthy ingredients that make it unique and last but not least – the huge interest obtained from K-Dramas.
The correct nutrition? South Koreans follows the principles of Yin and Yang
Korean food has always favoured what is simple, natural and healthy. Each dish has a precise meaning and there are certain rules in the consumption of dishes, linked both to the Buddhist religion and to etiquette.
Food is medicine for the body (“yaksikdongwon”) . This is why it is essential to achieve a nutritional balance between the various ingredients, in terms of the harmony between flavours (spicy, sweet, sour, salty and bitter), textures (from solid to watery) and the colours (yellow, blue, white, red and black). Therefore, in the preparation of each dish, there should be a harmony with the energy of the Yin-Yang of the sky and that of the five primary elements on earth: tree, fire, earth, gold and water.
The dishes that best represent the concept of 5 colours and 5 flavours are Bibimbap and Ogokbap.
Is Korean food healthy?
Eating daily food that is low in Glycemic Index and the seek of using simple and natural ingredients is what makes this Korean food healthy. Furthermore, they take meat, fish and vegetables and ferment it with natural ingredients enhancing the nutrients and minerals rather than cooking in a way where we end up with lots of flavor but no nutrients on our plates.
However, as with other cuisines we must follow closely the authentic Korean diet rather than eating daily the current trendy food such as very salty ramen’s and fried chicken.
I have compiled a list of the healthiest Korean food choices:
- Fermented cabbage.
- Korean rice bowl (bibimbap).
- Seaweed and rice rolls (kimbap/gimbap).
- Cold soy milk noodle soup (konggusku).
- Sliced beef with vegetables and rice (bulgolgi).
- Soft tofu stew (soondubu jjigae).
- Steamed, stir-fried, and seasoned vegetable dishes.
A cuisine full of nutrients and flavours
Korean healthy food features various delicacies using fermented ingredients which are full of nutrients, favours and aid in digestion.
Fermented Soy Sauce
A great example is the fermented soy sauce (deon jang) well known to help with digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Also, few people realize that sesame oil, a healthy well known ingredient in oriental cuisine, is a powerful antioxidant and rich in vitamin E helping in the prevention of arteriosclerosis and chronic diseases thanks to the compounds help fight free radicals in your body.
Another important ingredient is marine algae in their recipes such as seaweed which is rich in iron, calcium, iodine, iron and vitamins including A, B6 and also B12. So a snack of seaweed is very tasty, full of nutrients and it’s under 100 calories!
Kimchi, Ganjang, Gochujang …
Other fermented foods include the most well-known are kimchi (fermented cabbage), ganjang (soy sauce), and gochujang (Korean chili paste).
Hansik: The taste of Korea
Traditional Korean food (called Hansik), is centered on rice, served alongside a bowl of soup and a variety of side dishes. Most dishes use meat, fish and vegetables as the main ingredients, and are boiled, steamed or grilled making hansik very healthy. Frying is used for only a few dishes, even if it is spreading due to the influence of Western and Chinese cuisine. To simplify, a complete Korean meal includes steamed rice (bap), soup (guk) and various side dishes (banchan) which are served at the same time.
Korean recipes can be time consuming. Furthermore, almost all of them use the ingredients cut and minced by hand into small pieces and ground: in thin slices, in strips (julienne), minced (mincing), in sticks, in cubes, in diagonal slices. Although the cutting techniques vary according to the ingredients and their final destination, the goal is always to facilitate the cooking and digestion of the dish, while enhancing the flavour of all the ingredients.
Haste is forbidden
It is forbidden to get up from the table before everyone has finished !
Kimchi – The most famous and widespread recipe of South Korean cuisine
There are nearly 200 documented varieties of kimchi in South Korea, but, among the basic ingredients , Chinese cabbage , peppers and chili peppers are never missing. In fact, it is more than a side dish or a condiment, it is a cultural symbol and a great source of national pride, as evidenced by the museum dedicated to it.
This dish of fermented vegetables (usually Chinese cabbage), to which spices and hot peppers are added in quantity, can also be used as a basic ingredient for the preparation of other dishes, for example, Kimchi Jjigae or Kimchi Bokkeumbap. Once fermented, these vegetables release beneficial substances for digestion and for the most delicate part of our intestines.
Korean healthy food for skin
Eating a plate of kimchi once or twice a week helps to digest better, but also to have more rested and radiant skin, because it is an ally of the immune system and promotes sleep balance . All splendid properties of this fermented cabbage seasoned with garlic, salt, vinegar and chili pepper are the gift of some bacterial principles contained in the vegetables which ferment little by little before preparation. The fermentation process produces lactic acid and probiotic lactobacilli which help improve the immune system. It is also rich in vitamin C and beta-carotene which improves skin elasticity. Simply put, more kimchi and less grilled vegetables!
Another typical element of the Korean diet is boricha , a sort of barley infusion, which Koreans drink both in summer and in winter, hot or cold, which helps the body cleanse itself of toxins , improves blood circulation and, being a substitute for water, it provides hydration.
Doenjang, a fermented soy bean paste, often used in vegetable and meat stews and with a particular taste which might need some time to get used to. Amazingly, because of fermentation this paste has a higher nutritional value, especially vitamin E , one of the strongest antioxidants in existence.
Finally, makgeolli is a fermented rice wine rich in vitamins and minerals, but also amino acids such as lysine which helps maintain skin firmness and vitamins B2 and B3 which make it brighter. Considering that it contains less alcohol than beer or any cocktail, Friday drinks based on Makgeolli is a win-win: you have fun and get glowing skin!