An overhead shot of perilla leaves

What Are Perilla Leaves? Perilla Leaves in Korea

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While uncommon in the United States, people in South Korea often eat a leafy green herb known as a ‘perilla leaf.’ These leaves are slightly bitter and spicy with a grassy note. In this post, we will discuss the perilla leaf. Specifically, we will learn about the leafy green, how people in Korea use it, and where to buy it.  

What Is a Perilla Plant?

In scientific biological study, the term ‘Perilla’ refers to a particular genus of plant. It consists of one major type of Asiatic crop species–Perilla frutescens, as well as other wild species belonging to the mint family. Most famously, the Korean perilla plant (known as ‘deulkkae’ (들깨) in Korea) and the Japanese shiso are members of the perilla genus. 

While the term ‘Perilla’ is used as a genus name in the scientific world, people also use it frequently as a colloquial term to describe and name particular varieties known within its genus. Most commonly, people use this term to describe a particular variety found, cultivated, and harvested on the Korean peninsula. 

What Is a Korean Perilla Leaf?

The Korean ‘deulkkae’ (들깨) is a species of Perilla in the mint family. It is an annual plant, meaning it completes its life cycle from germination to the production of seeds before dying in one growing season. 

The plant is native to Southeast Asia and parts of India. People traditionally grew and harvested these plants as a crop in the Korean peninsula, southern China, Japan, and India, though the varieties may differ. 

In the Korean language, ‘kkae’ (깨) refers to both the plant and seeds of sesame and perilla. While people refer to sesame as ‘chamkkae’ (참깨) meaning ‘true kkae’, they refer to perilla as ‘deulkkae’ (들깨) meaning ‘while kkae.’ 

Further, in the English language, we refer to the leaves of the plant as ‘perilla leaves.’ in Korean, people call the perilla leaves ‘kkaennip’ (깻잎), which literally translates into ‘leaves of kkae.’

Korean perilla leaves in a straw basket.
Perilla Leaves Tastes Slightly Bitter and Spicy–Yummy!

How Do People In Korea Use the Perilla?

 In South Korea, people commonly use different parts of the perilla plant to make popular dishes. Below, we listed some of the most common and popular ways people use the plant in Korean cuisine.

Perilla Leaves (Kkaennip):

  • Ssam: People often use fresh kkaennip (perilla leaves) as a ‘ssam’ vegetable when eating Korean barbecue (such as samgyeopsal). The Korean tern ‘ssam’ (쌈) means ‘wrapped’ in English. It refers to the method of wrapping barbecue meat and other side dishes in leafy greens.
  • Kkaennip Kimchi: Another traditional method of using kkaennip is making it into a type of kimchi. This kimchi is known as ‘Kkaennip Kimchi’ (깻잎김치). 
  • Pickled Perilla Leaves: Often, people make a popular banchan (side dish) by pickling the perilla leaves in a soy-based sauce or soybean paste. This side dish is known as ‘kkaennip jangajji’ (깻잎 장아찌).
  • Kimbap: Perilla leaves are often added into Korean seaweed and rice rolls known as ‘kimbap’ (김밥). If you are curious about the differences between kimbap and sushi, you can learn about the two here

Perilla Seeds (Deulkkae):

  • Perilla Oil: In Korea, people make perilla oil by toasting and pressing the seeds. This oil is known as ‘Deulgireum’ (들기름) in the Korean language. People use it for flavoring in sauces and dips. 
  • Perilla Powder: Often, people also toast and grind the perilla seeds into a powder known as ‘deulkkae-garu’ (들깨가루). They use this powder as a seasoning spice and condiment. 
A closeup shot of perilla seeds known as deulkkae in Korea.
Perilla Plant Seeds. People in Korean Use These to Make Perilla Oil and Perilla Powder.

Where Can I Buy Perilla Leaves?

While difficult to find in most western grocery stores, you can often find fresh perilla leaves in your typically Asian grocery store such as H-Mart.

To store fresh perilla leaves, wrap them in damp paper towels and place them in a Ziplock bag. Then, place them in the refrigerator. You should consume them within 2-3 days. Otherwise, these leaves will go rancid. 

Otherwise, you can easily find perilla leaf products such as perilla powder and oil online. I recommend looking on Amazon for packaged perilla products! 

We Hope You Enjoyed Learning About Korean Perilla Leaves!

In the end, we hope you enjoyed learning about Korean perilla leaves. If so, let us know in the comment section below. Also, if you cook with Korean kkaennip, what do you typically make?

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 kkaennip, otherwise known as Korean perilla leaves! Soon, we will be publishing more recipes using this Korean ingredient! Thank you so much for stopping by!

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