When you think about Korean cuisine, desserts usually aren’t the first things you’ll think of. Korean cuisine is famous for kimchi, hotteok, and kimbap amongst an array of other popular street foods. Korean desserts, however, are slightly more underrated.
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It’s no secret that Korean cuisine is aesthetically pleasing - and this is definitely true for their beautiful and delicate desserts. Their desserts range from sickeningly yet satisfyingly sweet to interestingly sour or savory - each with their own history and story.
Whether you’re travelling across Korea or if you’re looking to make your own versions of the dishes, here are 21 traditional Korean desserts and how to make them!
Tea cookies (or Dasik) date all the way back to the 17th century, and are a popular Korean dessert (or light snack between meals) for their unique taste and texture. Not quite like American cookies, this unique dessert is made up of mildly-sweet candy that melts in your mouth.
Traditionally, tea cookies were piled high at banquets and special occasions. This is because the sweet treats were consumed with tea, which was associated with the wealthy and upper class. They are typically made of pine pollen, grains, and sesame seeds. You’re likely to see them at a Korean wedding or first birthday party!
Sweet rice dessert cakes are a common part of a Korean’s childhood. It’s crazy how food can open a portal of nostalgia, isn’t it? There are a bunch of rice cake varieties, but the sweet rice ones use (you guessed it) sweet rice along with nuts and dried fruits.
This is mixed together with a unique mixture of soy sauce, cinnamon, honey, brown sugar, and other ingredients to keep the cakes in place.
Yaksik is eaten throughout the year as a snack or dessert, and is traditionally consumed on the first full moon of the Lunar New Year.
Typically used as a tasty remedy for coughs and colds, baesuk is also a popular dessert option. The pears are often steamed or poached, and sit amongst a somewhat thick sugary liquid.
Usually, only the drink itself is consumed as the pears lose their natural sweetness to the liquid. This doesn’t stop baesuk from being a delicious and comforting dessert, though.
Hotteok is one of Korea’s most popular street foods and desserts that tourists and locals alike consume regularly. In short, these sweet pancakes consist of a golden dough outer layer with a brown sugar-based, gooey inside. When you bite into hotteok, you are met with a burst of sweetness and the occasional nuts or berries.
Plus, these pancakes are fairly easy to make!
Shaved ice is one of the best Korean desserts to have in summer. Patbingsu is the most traditional version of bingsu, which is shaved ice with red beans, but nowadays, there are lots of varieties of shaved ice.
If you’re asking why ice cream or sorbet isn’t eaten as a dessert to cool down in summer, remember that Korean summer can get very humid and muggy. The last thing people want is a heavy dairy-based dessert when they can have a bowl of refreshing shaved ice that also works to hydrate their body!
To almost completely counteract the shaved ice, Koreans make awesome ice cream that works brilliantly as a year-round dessert. Makgeolli is a Korean rice wine that has a distinctive milky appearance, which is what makes this particular ice cream so unique.
This recipe is easy to follow and even though it does require a lot of wrist action, it does not require an ice cream machine! The lemon verbena stems also provide a lovely refreshing flavor to the ice cream.
Yakgwa is a traditional Korean pastry or cookie that is somewhat similar to Baklava, instead the flavors are full of honey and ginger. These pastries are often sold in markets where the texture is gooey and slightly chewy, but homemade yakgwa is meant to be satisfyingly flaky. It is traditionally served during the festive season in Korea.
As tasty as these pastries are, this recipe is a complex one - though the results are worth it!
Chuseok is a major three-day holiday in Korea that celebrates a harvest festival in the middle of autumn. During this time, songpyeon is made in abundance to thank Korean ancestors for grains and fresh fruit. These unique rice cakes are shaped into half-moons and can come in a variety of colors, all of which can be made from natural ingredients like fruit.
These rice cakes can come in sweet or savory versions and are eaten throughout the festivities in a variety of meals.
Interestingly, the origins of the Korean sweet rice mini bundt cake is unclear. It is suggested that Koreans who lived in America originated this dessert, but so many variations have been invented that it no longer matters who invented it.
These mini bundt cakes aren’t dissimilar to cornbread, with a soft outer layer and a crunchier inside. Some bundt cakes include nuts, others have dried fruit, some have both and some have neither.
The sweet rice milled flour is much more fibrous and nutritious than processed flour, making this a seemingly healthy dessert.
Some people would rather opt for a coffee rather than a dessert after a meal. Dalgona coffee, most commonly known as whipped coffee, took the world by storm in recent years. Made simply of instant coffee, milk, sugar, and hot water, this coffee requires a lot of whisking to get its fluffy, whipped consistency.
This coffee is often compared to an “upside-down cappuccino” for its frothy appearance.
Mochi is a Japanese rice cake dessert, and chapssaltteok is the Korean version. Made of glutinous rice and red bean paste, this dessert is popular for its dense and vaguely chewy texture. These rice cakes typically come in three colors: white, pink, or green. The white rice cakes contain no coloring, the pink contains red food coloring, and the green contains green tea powder.
In most situations, people will buy chapssaltteok in pretty boxes to give to neighbors and friends as gifts. It is most commonly given as a gift of good luck to students who have an exam coming up.
Kkwabaegi, Korean twisted donuts, are a popular and common dessert found in bakeries and street vendors. Unlike other Korean desserts, these aren’t a particularly healthy option - but that shouldn’t stop you from making them for a sweet treat!
These delicious donuts don’t require a lot of ingredients to taste as yummy as they do. Some twisted donuts come with a hint of cinnamon, which adds a lovely spiced kick. This is usually in the form of a cinnamon sugar coating.
Recognize the name from earlier? That’s right - Dalgona coffee was given its name from this unique sponge candy. Interestingly, the coffee doesn’t actually taste like the candy - they just share the same name.
Variations of sponge candy exist across the world, but Korean sponge candy is unique as it only involves three ingredients - sugar, baking soda, and vegetable oil. This candy is most known for its shape variations which are endlessly popular amongst children. The candy is also very easy to make, so get the kids involved and make your own shapes!
Bukkumi are small, pan-fried rice cakes with a sweet red bean filling. Koreans are experts at creating different foods using red beans and glutinous rice flour. These particular rice cakes are crunchy on the outside, and filled with a soft and sweet filling inside.
It’s not often that bukkumi are decorated, but to mark the season or occasion, they are often garnished with seasonal flowers or small fruits. The Chinese fruit jujube is a popular fruit in Korea on top of desserts.
This is a surprisingly easy traditional Korean dessert to make! All this candy consists of are various nuts and a sticky rice syrup. It can be bought in Korean grocery stores or at street markets, but most Koreans will agree that the homemade versions are much better. This is a sticky candy that will make your fingers sticky when eating it, but the taste is worth it!
Koreans are equally talented at making sweet drinks and punches as they are making desserts. This cinnamon punch is usually consumed during festivities like New Year’s Day and Chuseok. It is also believed that the properties help with digestion, which is why it is often drunk after a large meal.
This is a sweet drink that can either be drunk cold or hot. Most people recommend drinking this punch cold as the ginger and cinnamon sticks have a warming effect on the body anyway.
Honey bread is a thick bread that is filled with whipped cream, and then topped with honey, cinnamon powder, and caramel syrup. It is commonly found in restaurants and cafés as it is mostly eaten alongside a drink. Despite its large size, this is a delicious dessert that is usually consumed fairly quickly.
It is recommended to have a slice of Honey Bread alongside a cup of coffee, which is a great way to end a meal.
Bungeoppang is a fish-shaped pastry that is typically sold at markets in the street during winter in Korea. Interestingly, the pastry originates from Japan instead of Korea.
These pastries are a staple in every Korean’s childhood diet, which transcends to their adult diet for when they want to feel nostalgic. In most cases, these pastries include a range of fillings including red bean paste, peanut butter, Nutella, or custard.
Omija translates to “five flavor berries” in Korean, because the berries that make this tea offer five flavors: sweetness, sourness, saltiness, pungentness, and bitterness.
As you can imagine, this makes for a unique flavor. Often known as “Magnolia Berry Tea”, Omija tea is typically drunk in summer to hydrate people and keep them cool from the heat.
To make this tea, the Omija berries are dried and sat in boiling water overnight. This is the brewing process, and it is typically drunk with ice cubes the next day.
Hwachae is a traditional Korean punch that comes in a variety of flavors - around 30 of them, in fact. Subak Hwachae is a watermelon punch that is commonly drunk during the warm summer months to cool the individual down and to hydrate them.
As it is made from fresh fruits, Hwachae is often drunk as a dessert after a heavy meal by those who don’t want to eat an entire dessert!
Also, the fresh fruit ingredients make this a fairly healthy punch that is believed to boost the immune system and improve digestion.
Hodo Kwaja is a popular Korean street food that consists of a walnut-shaped cake mold with a sweet red bean filling (at this point, always expect a Korean dessert to include some form of red bean filling).
That’s right - not every walnut cake includes actual walnuts. However, this is an optional ingredient, so it’s worth considering this for those with nut allergies.
In most cases, Koreans are likely to buy Hodo Kwaja at rest stops to boost their sugar levels. While it’s not a typical dessert option, it’s still a sweet treat that can be tasty following a meal.
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