Over the past few years, Korean cuisine has garnered well-deserved global recognition for its palate-satiating authentic flavours. From kimchi and stew to Korean fried chicken, bibimbap and a variety of stir-fried dishes, everyone wants to experience the rich culinary tapestry of the country through its appetising delicacies. However, one cannot appreciate the rich Korean food heritage completely without trying some of its traditional desserts and sweets.
From abundant varieties of tteok (rice cake) to the iconic bingsu (shaved ice dish) and distinctive cookies, Korean desserts offer a delectable blend of flavours and textures. Each bite transports one into the bustling lanes of Seoul, where they can imagine street vendors selling dalgona candy to excited kids, bakeries serving kkwabaegi (twisted doughnuts) or people relishing hotteok (Korean sweet pancakes) for breakfast.
Flavours, heavenly aromas, designs they’re made in and the all-around sensory experience that Korean sweets offer are what sets them apart from the rest. Consider delights like hwajeon (pan-fried rice cakes with flower petals) and dasik (pressed cookies imprinted with designs). The patterns and designs found in these dishes perfectly portray the art and craftsmanship unique to Korean confectionery. Some of the most commonly used ingredients in Korean desserts include rice flour, sweet red bean, sesame seeds, honey, chestnuts and pine nuts. However, most dishes can be innovated and tweaked by using alternative ingredients without losing out on their authenticity.
For anyone who’s a foodie or has a sweet tooth that can never be satisfied, trying a bunch of Korean sweets should definitely be on their culinary bucket list. If this statement resonated with you, bookmark this list right away.
Check out some of the best Korean desserts that one must try
Songpyeon (rice cake)
Songpyeon is a half moon-shaped rice cake (tteok) made with rice flour and filled with ingredients such as red bean paste, chestnut, honey and sesame. Resembling dumplings, this steamed Korean dessert is served especially during Chuseok, the traditional harvest moon festival. It has a chewy texture and tastes a little sweet and nutty with a subtle flavour of pine tree, which these Korean rice cakes get from being steamed in fresh pine needles. Additionally, to make them fun, their dough can also be coloured using edible food colouring or natural ingredients such as kabocha, mugwort and various dried fruit powders.
Yaksik (rice dessert)
Yaksik is a sweet rice cake made using glutinous rice. It’s a soft and sticky delicacy, set intact in a shape, usually square, rectangle or circle. Considered a healthy dessert, it also includes honey to bind the rice grains, along with the addition of chestnuts, pine nuts, dried jujubes and various dry fruits. While it tastes sweet, it also has subtle hints of saltiness owing to the flavour of nuts and sesame oil.
Bingsu (shaved ice)
Bingsu is one of the most popular desserts that everyone in Korea swears by in summertime. The dessert involves a large portion of shaved ice in a cup garnished with condensed milk and sweet red beans. What also makes it a favourite is how one can make this dish their own by simply experimenting with the toppings. From freshly chopped fruits, jelly and flavoured syrups to green tea, breakfast cereal and ice cream, the options are plenty.
One of the most popular varieties of this Korean shaved ice dessert is patbingsu which includes sweetened red beans for toppings.
Yakgwa (honey cookies)
Often served during ceremonies, feasts and rituals, yakgwa are honey-flavoured cookies wherein the dough is made using wheat flour, sesame oil and soju (optional). Cut in a classic flower or diamond shape, these cookies are deep-fried and then soaked in a rich and flavoursome honey and ginger syrup. While it has a sweet taste and a moist texture, one can also sprinkle chopped pine nuts and sesame seeds on top for added crunchiness.
Hotteok is a Korean pancake-like dessert that is made with wheat flour, water, sugar, milk and yeast. While it’s crispy on the outside, the inside is filled with sweet syrup mixed with cinnamon powder, brown sugar and pine nuts or walnuts. The moment you bite into the crunchy outer of this Korean sweet, the hot syrup oozes out, satisfying your palate with a burst of warm flavours. Its blend of chewiness and crispness is what makes this dessert an absolute delight to relish, especially when served hot for breakfast on a chilly winter morning.
Dalgona (sponge candy)
Remember the third episode of Squid Game where the contestants were supposed to carve out the shape from their candy without breaking it? Yes, that’s dalgona. A crunchy, melt-in-your-mouth candy that’s made from melted sugar and baking soda. It is similar to a toffee and has different shapes, such as a star or heart imprinted over it. This toasty caramel-tasting candy, also called ppopgi in some parts of Korea, is extremely easy to make at home.
Dasik (pressed cookies)
Served with tea, dasik is a bite-sized cookie that’s made by kneading flour or grains (soybean, glutinous rice flour, sesame seeds, pine flower powder, beans powder or chestnut powder) with honey. It is then pressed into a patterned mould to imprint different designs onto it. Light and only slightly sweet, these cookies melt in your mouth because of their soft texture.
They are made in a variety of flavours using ingredients that also lend them their colours. For instance, a matcha-flavoured dasik will have a green colour, while one made with black sesame seeds will have a black hue. This Korean sweet dates back to old times when they were served to the royalties with traditional tea during ancestral rites, ceremonies and other occasions.
Bungeoppang (fish-shaped pastry)
Another fun Korean dessert that promises a gustatory experience is this waffle and pancake mix made in the shape of a fish. With a crispy outer layer, bungeoppang is a rather spongy delicacy that has a sweet red bean filling inside. It is made by pouring the pancake-like batter (made with flour, eggs and milk) into a fish-shaped mould with sweet bean goodness in the centre.
Alternative fillings to give this dish a unique yet authentic spin include custard and sweet potato.
Hwachae (Korean punches)
A traditional drink ideal for hot summer days, hwachae is made with fruits and edible flowers that are soaked in honeyed water and served cold. From fruits such as watermelon, cantaloupe and melon to liquids such as Korean cider, Sprite or milk, the ingredients to make this drink are abundant. This also results in multiple varieties and types of hwachae that one can try making at home. Additionally, the seasonal fruits used make it a healthy summertime drink, thanks to their benefits. It usually has a tangy, punch-like taste that’s further flavoured with sugar and is often served in sliced and emptied watermelon or coconut.
Kkwabaegi (twisted doughnuts)
Kkwabaegi is your classic doughnut but with a twist. Instead of being round, they are twisted into a spiral-resembling shape. They are made with rice flour and melted butter and deep-fried in oil. Fluffy and spongy, they are generously sprinkled with a mix of powdered sugar and cinnamon. They taste the best when served hot; however, they can be reheated like any usual doughnut.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
– What is the most popular Korean dessert?
Some of the most popular Korean desserts include bingsu (shaved ice) and tteok (rice cake such as songpyeon).
– What is the traditional sweet in Korea?
Rice cakes, dasik, bingsu, yakgwa and dalgona are some of the traditional Korean desserts.
– What is a Korean cake called?
Korean cake is called tteok. The umbrella term includes different types of rice cake dishes, such as songpyeon, hwajeon, yaksik and bukkumi.
(Main image credit: Wizdata/CC0/Wikimedia Commons; Featured image credit: Vania Asc/Unsplash and Wizdata/CC0/Wikimedia Commons)