An overhead shot of sesame seeds

Sesame Seeds in Korean Cooking (Cham-Kkae)

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Have you ever eaten in a Korean restaurant or made Korean food at home? If so, you may have noticed people often finish Korean dishes with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. Sesame seeds add a rich, nutty, and warm flavor when used as a seasoning ingredient. 

Many of our recipes use this ingredient (and/or sesame oil) as a finisher to the dish. Here, we want to introduce sesame seeds for those interested in Korean cooking. But, before getting to sesame seeds in Korean culture, let’s learn what they are first! 

What Are Sesame Seeds?

Sesame seeds are the seeds of the sesame flowering plant in the genus Sesamum, otherwise known as benne. 

While most wild species of Sesamum are native to sub-Saharan Africa, S. Indicum, the domesticated and cultivated type, emerged in India. These seeds are one of the oldest known oilseed crops in the world with documented domestication dating back well over 3,000 years. Some archaeological remnants may suggest that sesame was first domesticated approximately 5,500 years ago in the Indian subcontinent. Interestingly, the sesame may have emerged as a crop because of its ability to grow and prosper in areas unsuitable for the growth of other crops. 

Not only are the seeds used to sprinkle raw or tasted over foods, but they are also used to produce sesame oil, which has one of the highest oil contents of any seeds.  

While the most traded and consumed type of sesame is slightly creamy off-white, other sesame varieties come in gold, brown, reddish-brown, black, buff, gray, and even tan. Typically, the color of the hull is the same as the fruit! 

Now that we learned about sesame seeds, let’s learn about how they are used in Korean cooking! 

A side shot of a sesame plant. The seed pods go up the stem.
A Beautiful Sesame Plant.

Sesame Seeds in Korean Culture:

In the Korean language, the term for raw sesame seeds is ‘cham-kkae’ (참깨). 

In South Korea, people use different forms of these seeds in cooking! We list them below:

  • Tong Kkae (통깨): Whole sesame seeds
  • Bokkeun Kkae (볶은깨) or Bokkeum Chamkkae (볶음 참깨): Roasted sesame seeds
  • Kkae Sogeum (깨소금): Finely crushed sesame seeds with salt. This can also refer to the crushed seeds without salt. 
  • Chamgireum (참기름): In English, this translates to sesame oil. Sesame oil is made using sesame seeds!

Note: To learn about sesame oil production in South Korea, I recommend watching a video produced by Eater. In this video, you follow Nam Seon-Sik as he makes it. As he says, ‘In Korea, many, if not most, foods include sesame oil.’

Sesame Seeds In Korean Cooking: 

Below, I list a few examples of Korean dishes that use these seeds as an ingredient. For reference, these recipes focus on the use of the seeds sprinkled onto the dish. Later, we will write in-depth about sesame oil! I hope you try making these dishes at home!

  • Tteokkochi (떡꼬치): This Korean street food is known in English as spicy rice cake skewers. Cham-kkae are often sprinkled onto the skewers at the very end by the food vendors. Try our recipe here! 
  • Kongnamul Muchim (콩나물 무침): In English, this translates to Korean soybean sprout salad. This salad is a light and refreshing side dish that is easy to make. Once made, you just need to add a few seeds as a garnish. Try making our recipe! 
  • Sukju-Namul Muchim (숙주나물무침): This dish is known as mung bean sprout salad. Like kongnamul muchim, this dish is light and refreshing. People sprinkle cham-kkae over top. Our recipe is listed here. 
  • Kim Bugak (김부각): Kim bugak is a type of fried Korean temple food. You make it by deep frying rice paste-coated dried seaweed. Usually, people add sesame seeds to the rice paste before drying and frying the seaweed. You can try our recipe.
  • Jumeokbap (주먹밥): In English, jumeokbap refers to handmade rice balls. Often, people eat these with spicy food! People add cham-kkae as an ingredient to the rice before forming them into balls. Try making it at home with our recipe! 

This is just a short list of dishes we wrote about on our blog. Cham-kkae are so common its impossible to list every dish!

A side shot of bright red Korean rice cake skewers topped with sesame seeds.
Delicious Rice Cake Skewers With Cham-Kkae.

Sesame Seeds Frequently Asked Questions:

Now that we learned about sesame seeds, we want to answer some potential questions you may have about them as well! If we do not answer your question, feel free to leave a comment in the section below or email us at carvingajourney@gmail.com

Are They the Same as Perilla Seeds?

You should not confuse these seeds with perilla seeds known as ‘deulkkae’ (들깨). While people often translate the Korean word for perilla to sesame, they are not the same plant. 

Where Can I Buy Them?

You can buy these seeds in any well-stocked grocery store. You can also buy them online and at your local Asian market. 

In Asian markets, you can buy both raw and toasted seeds! Remember, Korean sesame seeds are either labeled ‘cham-kkae’ (참깨), meaning raw, or bokkeun kkae (볶은깨), meaning toasted.

Where Are Sesame Seeds in the Grocery Store?

You can find them in two sections of your typical grocery store. First, you can find them on the spice aisle. Second, you can find them in the Asian section of the international food aisle. 

Interestingly, the sesame seeds on the international aisle tend to be way cheaper than those on the spice aisle. 

How to Store Cham-Kkae?

You can store these seeds in an airtight container in the pantry. Make sure to keep them in a cool, dark place to keep them good for prolonged periods. 

We Hope You Enjoyed Learning About Sesame Seeds in Korean Cooking!

In the end, we hope you enjoyed learning about sesame seeds in Korean cooking. If so, let us know in the comment section! 

If you would like to read more about cooking, you can find further recipes on our blog. We listed some of our favorite Carving A Journey Korean recipes below! For reference, many recipes are influenced by our blended Korean and Southern heritage.

Korean Ingredient Articles: 

Further Carving A Journey Korean Recipes:

If you have any questions or comments, you can also email us at carvingajourney@gmail.com.

And, finally, we would love to hear from you through our social media as well! You can follow us at @carvingajourney on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. Or, if you would like more articles like these, you can subscribe to our blog by joining our mailing list. We hope you enjoyed learning about cham-kkae (sesame seeds)! Thank you so much for stopping by!

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