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 죽
sesame seed garnish on stir-fried octopus nakchi bokkeum 낙지 볶음
I think you can put sesame seeds on pretty much anything!