What’s the difference between sesame and perilla?

perilla and sesame

sesame and perilla plants. Sometimes we just call them both sesame. But actually they are totally different plants. So which one is which?

Since I’ve been writing about the drama Dae Jang Geum lately, I think it’s suitable to do a post on Korean food too! And by coincidence last weekend we went to Yanggu where the fields are full of plants and veggies essential for Korean cooking. Yanggu is about 2 hours from Seoul. It’s very rural with cool clean air – a joy after the concrete summer heat of Seoul! And this is where I got to take a closer look at sesame.


As you know, sesame is a popular ingredient in Korean food. Many people (I include myself here 😉 ) call the leaves and the seeds ‘sesame’.

But strictly speaking, sesame leaves are not ‘sesame’ but perilla. And they come from a very different plant to the sesame plant. Perilla is a kind of herb belonging to the mint family.

Perilla herb plant deulkkae 들깨
The perilla plant is abundant with large green perilla leaves. The seeds grow in the tiny perilla pods.
Perilla leaves (ggaennip 깻잎) are used in several different ways in Korean dishes:
They can be eaten raw –  used whole as a wrap for sashimi for example. Or they can be cut up and put in salads. They can also be cooked in hots pots to give extra flavour or pickled with soy sauce. (Japanese shiso leaves are also a kind of perilla leaf but although they look similar to Korean leaves, they taste quite different.)
The seed pods (can you see the little seed pods like tiny bells?) are shaken until the seeds come out and the seeds are pressed to make perilla oil (deul gireum 들기름). This oil is 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 usually in the shops I only see sesame oil …)
perilla leaf used as a wrap for sashimi
perilla leaves with grilled marinated chicken 닭갈비 dakgaelbi
perilla leaf pancake ggaennip jeon 깻잎전
sesame seed plant 참깨 
In the sesame plant the sesame seeds grow in pods which are much larger than the perilla pods. And there are no edible leaves on this plant.
Sesame seeds are often used as a garnish for Korean dishes. And sesame seed oil chamgirum 참기름 is used in similar ways to perilla oil but it is more commonly used as it’s more readily available.
sesame seed garnish on a seaweed rice roll  gimbap 김밥
sesame seed garnish on rice soup chuk
sesame seed garnish on stir-fried octopus nakchi bokkeum 낙지 볶음
I think you can put sesame seeds on pretty much anything! :)

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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