Korean cuisine is known for its savory flavors and unique dishes, but did you know that the country also offers a delightful array of desserts and sweets? From traditional rice cakes to mouthwatering milk ice cream, there is something to satisfy every sweet tooth. Discover the popular Korean desserts and sweets that are sure to leave you craving for more.
Traditional Korean Desserts
Tteok (Rice Cakes)
When it comes to traditional Korean desserts, one cannot ignore the delicious tteok, also known as rice cakes. Tteok is a versatile and beloved dessert that comes in various shapes, sizes, and flavors. Made primarily from glutinous rice flour, tteok is steamed or pounded to create a chewy and sticky texture.
Some popular types of tteok include “songpyeon,” which are half-moon-shaped rice cakes filled with sweet fillings like honey, sesame seeds, or red bean paste. Another favorite is “injeolmi,” a type of tteok coated in soybean powder, giving it a nutty and slightly sweet taste.
Hangwa (Traditional Korean Sweets)
Korea is also known for its delightful hangwa, traditional Korean sweets that have been enjoyed for centuries. These bite-sized treats are often made with nature-inspired shapes and vibrant colors, making them visually appealing.
One popular hangwa is “yakgwa,” a deep-fried honey cookie. With its chewy texture and subtle sweetness, it is a favorite among Koreans. Another must-try hangwa is “yugwa,” a crispy rice-flour snack that is often coated in a sweet syrup made from malted barley.
Jeonggwa (Candied Fruits)
If you have a sweet tooth, don’t miss out on jeonggwa, Korean candied fruits. Jeonggwa are fruits that have been cooked in sugar syrup until they become candied, resulting in a delightful combination of sweetness and natural fruit flavors.
One popular jeonggwa is “yakbap,” a sweet rice dish made with a variety of dried fruits, nuts, and sweetened with honey or sugar. It is often enjoyed during festive occasions and is known for its rich flavors and chewy texture. Another delicious jeonggwa is “yujacheong,” candied citron, which is often enjoyed as a traditional tea snack.
Modern Korean Desserts
Bingsu (Shaved Ice)
Moving on to modern Korean desserts, one cannot miss bingsu, a refreshing and indulgent treat perfect for hot summer days. Bingsu is made by finely shaving blocks of ice and topping them with various ingredients, such as sweetened red beans, fruit, condensed milk, and even ice cream.
One popular variety is “patbingsu,” which features sweet red beans, mochi rice cakes, and a drizzle of condensed milk. For fruity lovers, there is “fruit bingsu,” where fresh seasonal fruits like strawberries, mangoes, and kiwis are generously scattered over the shaved ice. Bingsu is not only visually appealing but also a delightful explosion of flavors and textures.
Hoddeok (Sweet Pancakes)
Hoddeok, also known as sweet pancakes, is another beloved modern Korean dessert. These pancakes are made by filling a dough with a sweet mixture of cinnamon, brown sugar, and chopped nuts before being pan-fried to perfection. The result is a crispy, golden brown pancake with a gooey and sweet center.
Hoddeok is a popular street food in Korea, often enjoyed during winter to warm up from the cold weather. The combination of the crispy exterior and the warm, sweet filling makes hoddeok a delightful treat for all ages.
Hotteok (Stuffed Pancakes)
Similar to hoddeok, hotteok is another variation of stuffed pancakes that is gaining popularity. Hotteok, unlike hoddeok, is made with a chewier dough and often filled with a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, and crushed peanuts. These pancakes are cooked on a hot griddle until they become crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside.
Hotteok is a favorite street food among locals and visitors alike, especially during the winter months. The combination of the warm, sweet filling and the chewy texture of the pancake makes hotteok a delicious and comforting dessert.
Street Food Desserts
Chapssal Donuts (Glutinous Rice Flour Donuts)
When it comes to street food desserts in Korea, chapssal donuts take the spotlight. These donuts are not your typical fried dough; they are made with glutinous rice flour, resulting in a chewy and slightly sticky texture.
The donuts are deep-fried until golden brown and often coated in various flavors such as cinnamon sugar, matcha powder, or even filled with sweet fillings like red bean or chocolate. Chapssal donuts are a popular treat among locals and tourists, serving as a satisfying and unique dessert option.
Hotteok (Hollow Pancakes)
As mentioned earlier, hotteok is a stuffed pancake that is popular as a street food dessert. However, there is also a variation known as “hollow hotteok.” Instead of a sweet filling, the hollow hotteok is stuffed with various toppings like cheese, vegetables, or even seafood.
The pancake is then cooked until golden brown and crispy, creating a savory and satisfying snack. The combination of the chewy pancake exterior and flavorful fillings makes hollow hotteok a popular choice among street food enthusiasts.
Gyeran Bbang (Egg Bread)
Gyeran bbang, also known as egg bread, is a beloved street food dessert that can be easily spotted at food stalls across Korea. It is essentially a fluffy, savory bread that contains a whole egg in the center, giving it a unique and delicious twist.
The bread is baked until golden brown and has a soft texture, while the egg inside remains slightly runny, creating a creamy and rich flavor. Gyeran bbang is a popular on-the-go snack, perfect for those who crave something savory amidst the sweet desserts.
Bingsu (Shaved Ice with Fruit)
Bingsu, as mentioned before, is a popular modern Korean dessert that often features fruit as one of its main toppings. Fresh fruits like strawberries, mangoes, and kiwis are sliced and generously scattered over the finely shaved ice.
The combination of the chilled shaved ice, sweet fruits, and toppings like condensed milk or fruit syrups creates a refreshing and delightful dessert, especially during the hot summer months. Fruit bingsu is a popular choice among health-conscious individuals who desire a cool dessert packed with natural flavors.
Hwachae (Fruit Punch)
Hwachae is a traditional Korean fruit punch that is not only delicious but also visually appealing. It is usually made by soaking various fruits in a sweetened liquid, such as sikhye (sweet rice punch), honey water, or fruit juice.
Some popular fruits used in hwachae include watermelon, pineapple, kiwi, and citrus fruits. The combination of different fruits creates a symphony of flavors that is both sweet and refreshing. Hwachae is commonly enjoyed during summer parties and gatherings as a cool and fruity alternative to traditional desserts.
Gangjeong (Crispy Rice Puffs with Syrup)
Gangjeong is a crunchy and sweet snack made from crispy rice puffs that are coated in a sticky syrup. These bite-sized treats come in various shapes and are often enjoyed as a dessert or snack alongside tea.
The syrup used in gangjeong can be flavored with ingredients like soy sauce, honey, or sesame seeds, giving it a unique and addictive taste. The combination of the crispy texture and the sweet, sticky syrup makes gangjeong a popular choice for those looking for a satisfying and addictive dessert bite.
Trendy Korean Desserts
Dalgona coffee took the internet by storm, and Korea is at the forefront of this viral trend. This whipped coffee drink is made by vigorously whisking instant coffee, sugar, and hot water until it reaches a creamy and frothy consistency. The whipped coffee is then spooned over milk, creating an aesthetically pleasing layered drink.
Dalgona coffee is not only visually appealing but also delicious, with its rich coffee flavor and creamy texture. It has become a trendy and fun way to enjoy coffee at home or in cafes.
Churros, a Spanish dessert, has gained immense popularity in Korea as a trendy dessert option. These deep-fried dough pastries are made by piping dough into long, ridged cylinders before frying them to a golden brown.
Korean churros often have a Korean twist, such as being filled with sweet fillings like Nutella or injeolmi (soybean powder) cream. They are often served with a side of dipping sauces like chocolate or condensed milk. Churros have become a trendy and delicious dessert that can be found in various cafes and food stalls across Korea.
Macarons, the delicate French meringue-based cookies, have gained a Korean twist and become a trendy dessert in Korea. Korean-style macarons come in a variety of unique and creative flavors that cater to different tastes and preferences.
From traditional flavors like chocolate and vanilla to unique flavors like green tea, strawberry cheesecake, or even Korean-inspired flavors like red bean and matcha, there is a macaron for everyone. These colorful and flavorful treats are not only delightful to taste but also visually appealing, making them a popular choice for dessert lovers.
Popular Tea and Dessert Cafes
Cafe Gaene (Black Sesame Soft Serve)
Cafe Gaene is a well-known and popular tea and dessert cafe in Korea, famous for its black sesame soft serve. The soft serve is made from roasted black sesame seeds, which give it a rich and nutty flavor.
At Cafe Gaene, you can enjoy the black sesame soft serve as a simple cone or go for more elaborate creations like black sesame affogato, black sesame parfaits, or even black sesame lattes. The unique and intense flavor of black sesame makes Cafe Gaene a must-visit for dessert enthusiasts looking for something different.
Passion 5 (Artistic Dessert Creations)
Passion 5 is a renowned dessert cafe in Seoul, known for its artistic and visually stunning dessert creations. From beautifully crafted cakes with intricate designs to delicate pastries and macarons, Passion 5 is a haven for those who appreciate the artistry in desserts.
The cafe also offers a wide selection of beverages such as coffee, tea, and refreshing fruit juices, making it the perfect spot for an afternoon treat or a meeting with friends. With its dedication to both taste and aesthetics, Passion 5 has become a go-to destination for dessert lovers looking for a unique and memorable experience.
Osulloc Tea House (Matcha-based Desserts)
Osulloc Tea House is a popular tea house that specializes in matcha-based desserts and beverages. Matcha, a powdered green tea, is used extensively in Osulloc’s menu, providing a rich and earthy flavor to their offerings.
From matcha lattes and matcha-flavored cakes to matcha ice cream and matcha-infused pastries, Osulloc Tea House is a paradise for matcha lovers. The delicate balance of bitter and sweet flavors in their matcha-based desserts creates a unique and refreshing experience that cannot be missed.
Regional Korean Desserts
Injeolmi (Soybean Powder Rice Cake)
Injeolmi is a regional Korean dessert that originated in the Inje region. This rice cake is made by pounding glutinous rice into a smooth dough and coating it in roasted soybean powder, giving it a delicate nutty flavor.
Injeolmi can be enjoyed on its own as a simple snack or used as an ingredient in other desserts like bingsu or rice cake soup. Its distinct texture and flavor make it a favorite among locals and visitors exploring the traditional flavors of Korea.
Songpyeon (Rice Cakes for Chuseok)
Songpyeon is a type of rice cake made specifically for the Korean harvest festival known as Chuseok. These colorful and crescent-shaped rice cakes are made from sweetened rice flour and stuffed with various fillings like sesame seeds, red beans, or chestnuts.
The rice cakes are then steamed on a bed of pine needles, which give them a fragrant and earthy flavor. Songpyeon is an essential part of the Chuseok tradition, symbolizing abundance and good fortune. It is a delightful and meaningful dessert that embodies the spirit of the harvest festival.
Gyeongju Bread (Sweet Red Bean-filled Pastries)
Gyeongju bread is a regional specialty of Gyeongju, a city known for its rich history and cultural heritage. These small, round pastries are filled with sweet red bean paste and come in various flavors like green tea, pumpkin, or even cream cheese.
Gyeongju bread is often enjoyed as a portable snack or gift, with its fluffy texture and sweet filling making it a satisfying treat. It is a signature food of Gyeongju, and no visit to the city is complete without trying these delightful pastries.
Korean Rice-based Desserts
Patbingsu (Shaved Ice with Sweet Red Beans)
Patbingsu, as mentioned earlier, is a popular Korean dessert made with finely shaved ice. However, the classic version of patbingsu features sweet red beans on top, giving it a distinct and delicious flavor.
Alongside the red beans, patbingsu is often topped with fruits, mochi rice cakes, condensed milk, and even ice cream. The combination of the icy texture, sweet red beans, and the various toppings creates a delightful medley of flavors and textures that is truly unique to Korean desserts.
Sikhye (Sweet Rice Punch)
Sikhye is a traditional Korean sweet rice punch that is enjoyed as a dessert or refreshment. It is made by cooking rice with malt powder and sweetening it with sugar or honey before fermenting it.
The result is a sweet and slightly fizzy drink with a hint of malt flavor. Sikhye is often served in traditional brass bowls and enjoyed alongside main meals or as a dessert. Its subtle sweetness and refreshing taste make sikhye a popular choice among Koreans, especially during special occasions and holidays.
Yakgwa (Honey Cookies)
Yakgwa is a traditional Korean honey cookie made with natural ingredients like honey, sesame oil, and wheat flour. These cookies are deep-fried to golden brown and then coated in a sweet syrup made from honey and rice wine.
The cookies have a light and delicate texture, with the subtle sweetness of honey and the flavor of sesame oil shining through. Yakgwa is often enjoyed during festive occasions like weddings or holidays, and its unique taste and beautiful shapes make it a favorite among those seeking a taste of traditional Korean desserts.
Desserts with Korean Traditional Liquor (Soju)
Soju, a Korean distilled liquor, is not only enjoyed in its liquid form but also incorporated into various dessert creations. Soju popsicles are a popular way to cool down during hot summer days while enjoying the flavors of this iconic Korean alcoholic beverage.
From fruity flavors like watermelon and mango to classic soju-infused flavors like yogurt or green grape, these popsicles offer a refreshing and unique twist to traditional frozen treats. Soju popsicles are a fun and boozy way to indulge in a dessert with a Korean touch.
Another creative way to incorporate soju into desserts is through soju-flavored jellies. Soju-infused jellies are made by mixing gelatin with soju, resulting in boozy, sweet, and jiggly treats.
These jellies come in a variety of flavors like peach, strawberry, or even the classic soju flavor itself. Soju-flavored jellies are popular at parties and gatherings, adding a playful and adult twist to the traditional jelly dessert.
Soju Cocktails with Sweet Fruits
Soju cocktails are a staple at bars and restaurants in Korea, offering a wide range of flavors and combinations. One popular way to enjoy soju in a dessert-like form is by creating soju cocktails with sweet fruits.
From classic combinations like soju and fresh watermelon juice to more unique pairings like soju and passion fruit or soju and lychee syrup, these cocktails offer a refreshing and fruity twist to traditional soju drinks. Soju cocktails with sweet fruits are perfect for those who enjoy a sweet and tangy dessert beverage with a splash of Korean flavor.
Desserts with Unique Flavors
Injeolmi Toast (Rice Cake Toast)
Injeolmi toast is a unique and popular Korean dessert that combines the traditional flavors of injeolmi rice cake with a modern twist. It is made by sandwiching pieces of injeolmi rice cake between slices of toast and then coating the outside with roasted soybean powder.
The result is a crunchy and nutty exterior with a soft and chewy rice cake center. Injeolmi toast is often enjoyed as a breakfast item or as a dessert, offering a delightful combination of sweet and savory flavors that is sure to satisfy any cravings.
Misugaru (Multi-grain Powder Drink)
Misugaru is a powdered drink made from a mixture of roasted grains like barley, black sesame seeds, brown rice, and soybeans. It is ground into a fine powder and often mixed with milk or water to create a nutritious and flavorful beverage.
Misugaru is considered a healthy and filling dessert alternative due to its high fiber content and unique blend of flavors. It can be enjoyed hot or cold, making it a versatile and satisfying treat for any time of the day.
Sweet Potato Cake with Chestnuts
Sweet potato cake with chestnuts is a unique and delicious Korean dessert that offers a combination of natural sweetness and nutty flavors. The cake is made by mixing mashed sweet potatoes with flour, sugar, and chestnuts before baking it to perfection.
The result is a moist and fragrant cake with a sweet and earthy taste. Sweet potato cake with chestnuts is often enjoyed during the autumn season when sweet potatoes and chestnuts are in season, making it a perfect dessert to celebrate the flavors of fall.
In conclusion, Korean desserts offer a wide range of flavors, textures, and unique combinations that cater to various palates and preferences. From traditional rice cakes like tteok and hangwa to modern treats like bingsu and churros, there is a dessert for every occasion and craving. Whether you’re exploring the streets of Korea or visiting a trendy dessert cafe, you’re sure to be delighted by the sweet offerings and cultural richness that Korean desserts bring. So embrace your sweet tooth and embark on a delightful journey through the world of Korean desserts.