What’s the difference between sesame and perilla?

perilla or sesame

Sesame and perilla plants are sometimes both called ‘sesame’, but actually they are different plants. So which one is which?

My parents-in-law grow sesame and perilla plants on their farm, a couple of hours away from Seoul. The seeds of both plants can be made into oil  – perilla oil (dul girum 들기름) and sesame oil (cham-girum 참기름). The aroma of the oils are slightly different but they still smell like ‘sesame’.

Both plants have seeds but only one has the distinctive zig-zaggy edged leaves. And the plant with the leaves is …….

PERILLA (yes, I’ve been calling them sesame leaves too)


Perilla plant deulkkae 들깨 with leaves and seed pods

Only the perilla plant has edible leaves. The plant has leaves and seed pods.

So strictly speaking, sesame leaves are not ‘sesame’ but perilla leaves – kkaen-nip 깻잎.

perilla leaves

Perilla is a herb belonging to the MINT family and the plant is easy to recognise by its large green leaves. Japanese shiso leaves are also a kind of perilla and look similar to Korean leaves.

But the texture of the Japanese perilla is softer and the flavour is lighter which suits delicate Japanese dishes. The hardy Korean perilla has to hold its own against pungent Korean garlic, chilies, chilli paste and fermented soybean paste.

Aren’t the perilla seed pods adorable? They look like tiny bells.

perilla seed pods

By summertime the leaves can be picked. The stalks are picked in autumn and dried and shaken to remove the seeds.

So perilla leaves can be eaten raw with sashimi and bbq meats or the leaves can be cooked in stews. When the leaves are cooked I think they taste like a combination of mint and basil. yum. They can also be marinated in soy sauce as a side dish – kkaen-nip-jangajji 깻잎장아찌. There’s a recipe to make perilla leaf pickles at the great Korean cooking site Maangchi.

Perilla seeds are pressed to make perilla oil (deul gireum 들기름) which tastes similar to sesame oil. Both oils are good for us but perilla oil is considered to be even better for our health. So if possible it is the preferred choice of the two oils when used for salad dressings etc. But sesame oil is more widely available in the shops.

Ground perilla seeds make perilla powder (들깨가루) and can be put in soups to take away some of the saltiness in salty soups like soybean soup or ramen.

So what does a sesame plant look like? 


sesame seeds

sesame seed plant 참깨 

The sesame plant doesn’t have edible leaves, just seeds which grow in pods much larger than the perilla pods. Sesame seed oil cham-girum 참기름 is used for dressings and in cooking just like perilla oil.


at harvest time the sesame plants are picked and the seeds removed from the pods

sesame plants

Sesame seeds are used in various savoury dishes, salad dressings, desserts and as a garnish. Everything looks better sprinkled with sesame seeds. But Mr. Kim wouldn’t say that though since he doesn’t like sesame seeds!


sesame seed garnish on a seaweed rice roll  gimbap 김밥

3 thoughts on “What’s the difference between sesame and perilla?

  • August 9, 2014 at 3:17 am

    I have been watching a lot of historical drama’s as have you.
    Do you know anything about the poisons they make people drink? In the first episode of Jewel in the Palace ,first the deposed queen drinks,later the kitchen lady.The monk mentions Buja. Then they make her drink Mung bean tea ,so she can detoxify while the monks goed to the mountains for herbs. Looking at the internet I can’t find anything on these poisons. Since they are fast acting I was thinking strychnine. I love anything with the use of herbs in medicine.The practice of herbs for health. Since you live in Korea I was just wondering if you know anything…
    Love your web site!!! Lucky you!

  • December 10, 2014 at 12:04 am

    I always wondered about this too!! Thank you for the clear explanation, I always thought Perilla leaves and Sesame leaves are the same plants! Looking at the photos, now I know they belong to different family! I also learned from your blog – Korean perilla leaves are not actually from Sesame plants, and Shiso leaves also belong to Perilla family. :) thanks!

  • September 10, 2016 at 7:32 pm

    I was wondering about this topic after eating out on our first night here in Korea. Thankyou for clearing this up for us! We are going to try and grow some perilla leaf in our home garden if we can find seeds local to where we live.

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