If you’ve been following my recent posts, then you know I’ve been traveling for the past few weeks.
Throughout this post, I cover foods that I rediscovered while in Korea, and just want to say that my deepest condolences go out to those who suffered the Ferry tragedy. It’s truly heartbreaking, and I feel it even more now that I’ve spent time with so many people in this beautiful country. Everyone I’ve met is so warm, respectful, and the culture is full of ancient traditions and is very rich.
Let’s please keep all the victims and their families in our prayers and meditation. I will do my best to share some things I’ve learned that make their food and culture so special.
A lot of people have asked or wondered what I eat while in Korea, as their cuisine tends to include meat, dairy, and add fish sauce along with some of their staple items. However, I’ve been able to enjoy a lot of wonderful, beautifying plant foods here. This post will outline some of the top beauty foods from Korea, some of which I’ve rediscovered and some of which are brand new, and have become a huge part of my diet while I’ve been here.
Korean Beauty Food #1: Kimchi
You know I love my fermented foods, and it’s been fun mixing things up with kimchi lately! Kimchi is a spicy cultured, fermented cabbage side dish popular in Korea—it’s served with almost every meal. It’s often made with ginger, chili powder, and a little bit of radish and spring onions, though the recipe can vary a little (the spices, type of cabbage, etc, may change).
Now, in my opinion actually a happy coincidence that the people here eat kimchi so often because Koreans typically eat meat and dairy every day (albeit the meat portions are fairly small). The probiotics (kimchi is full of them!) save their digestion and help break down the heavier animal-based foods.
Historically, Kimchi has been a part of Korean culture since around the 7th century. It was easy to make and store in anticipation of the colder months when other foods wouldn’t be so readily available. They didn’t typically make it spicy before the 18th century (up until that point, it was just salty).
But remember to avoid the fish sauce!!
There’s one downside: fish sauce is often added, so you have to really pay attention to the ingredients. It’s definitely not a necessary addition; I’ve been able to avoid it by seeking out some vegan restaurants that do not use it at all. Fish sauce is probably made from low quality fish with all kinds of PCB’s and toxins, so it’s not something you want to putting in your body.
One way around the fish sauce is to make your own kimchi at home. (I learned how to do it and filmed it so I could show you!) If making your own is a little too much of a time commitment for you, you’re still a little nervous about fermenting your own foods, or you don’t really like the spiciness of kimchi, you can make the Probiotic and Enzyme Salad instead or purchase raw sauerkraut. Many supermarkets, especially Whole Foods and local health markets (which are great to support when you can too!), now carry raw, unpasteurized Kimchi as well.
Just like Probiotic and Enzyme Salad, kimchi has benefits that go beyond the probiotics that improve gut health and make digestion easier (freeing up beauty energy in the process):
Vitamins A, C, and E from the cabbage (great for the skin!)
Anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties from the ginger
Blood cleansing and anti-inflammatory effects of the chili powder
Beneficial acids and enzymes that can greatly aid your digestive process
Last but not least, this improvement in your probiotic levels and digestion translates into more clear, glowing skin. A very big reason to make kimchi part of your diet!
Korean Beauty Food #2: Mushrooms
Mushrooms, mushrooms everywhere! I don’t remember the last time I ate so many mushrooms, but I am not complaining. They’re in the stews, the street food, served at breakfast, and generally a part of almost every meal. If you’ve read The Beauty Detox Foods, then you already know how much I love them!
Beyond the obvious yummy, earthy flavor and hearty texture, I enjoy eating mushrooms for their protein and mineral content. They contain iron, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc, copper, and selenium. They’re filling and a nice addition to a meal because their flavor won’t overtake a dish, but they complement other flavors well and can bring out the nuances in the food.
There’s so much I could say about mushrooms—they’re inexpensive, plentiful, and so full of nutrients. People in Asian countries say there are medicinal properties in mushrooms, like the shitake in particular. Studies have shown that shitake mushrooms may boost the immune system so much, they can help fight off cancer and AIDS.
It’s not just shitake mushrooms linked to health claims, though. White button mushrooms have been shown to have antiviral, antitumor, and antibacterial properties, as well. I don’t really think you can go wrong with any of the varieties in the grocery store or at the farmers’ market. As usual, choose organic whenever possible.
Mushrooms also provide antioxidants, B vitamins, and vitamin D, something that’s hard to come by even in a healthy diet because not many foods naturally contain it. Getting enough vitamin D usually requires a little sunshine, which may not always be easy depending on where you live.
Also, I get a lot of questions about how to healthy, lustrous, bouncy hair. Well, the rich protein and mineral content makes the mushroom one of the foods I often recommend most to help in that regard.
Dispelling the Myth About Mushrooms and Candida
Some people worry about whether they should eat mushrooms if they have candida because they’re concerned about creating a fungal overgrowth. Don’t! If you’re concerned, just eat them in moderation. In general I think the connection between mushrooms and candida is overblown and there’s no hard research I’ve found to support that theory.
There are other things that are much worse for candida sufferers than the unassuming little mushroom (like refined sugars and white flour products—even sweet fruits–for starters!). I found a study that said some wild mushrooms not only won’t make candida worse, but have even been shown to fight it. (Don’t go out foraging for mushrooms yourself though!)
In South Korea, I’m eating a lot of enoki mushrooms (they’re long, thin, and white with tiny little caps) and the stems of the king oyster variety (they’re almost all stem—a wide white stem with a small tan cap).
You may not be able to find those particular types of mushrooms in the US, but you can get the same benefits from hen of the woods, shitake, and cremini mushrooms. Those are much easier to find and just as delicious. Add them to stews, stir-fries, or salads to make your meals even more nutritious and filling.
Korean Beauty Food #3: Kabocha Squash (one of my all time faves)
I actually literally just a huge amount of one right before this second of writing to you. It’s a food I truly love!
The kabocha squash can be found in America—sometimes—but it’s not always local. It’s small (about two or three pounds) and shaped a lot like a pumpkin. Kabocha squash is a gorgeous deep green shade with white or celery green striations across the skin. The inside’s a beautiful creamy golden orange-yellow shade. Here in Asia they usually call it “basuba” or simply as pumpkin.
If you can’t get your hands on this one, you can really try any kind of winter squash in its place. The flavor is pretty sweet (a lot like a sweet potato) and just a tiny bit nutty, so you can substitute with something like butternut squash, or whatever your favorite is.
I love to roast squash because I can pop it in the oven and do something else while it cooks; it’s not something I have to babysit on the stove on a busy day. It doesn’t matter what kind you use as all forms of squash have similar benefits. Kabocha just happens to be my favorite.
Kabocha squash (and others) have lots of the antioxidant beta-carotene, fiber, vitamin C, and beautifying minerals like iron. They’re filling, but they’re low in fat and easy to digest—which makes them a fabulous beauty food. The nutrients can greatly help bring sparkle to your eyes, while also helping protect your skin against daily damage.
If you like to add warm veggies to your salads, this is one way to do it. Try it on top of a big kale salad for some sweetness. I will even much on pieces throughout the day as snacks for energy—yum!
Korean Beauty Food #4: Bitter Greens
It’s no secret that I love me some greens, and branching out to try new varieties is so much fun! Here in South Korea, chrysanthemum greens (Chrysanthemum coronarium), called ssukgat, are so popular. (These are very different from the chrysanthemum plants used as ornamental plants, so don’t go putting those in your GGS in the morning; you might be in for an unpleasant surprise!) They’re actually popular all over eastern Asia and frequently used in soups, stews, and stir-fries. There are so many other bitter greens over here, and I’ve been able to enjoy many that are specific to this seasonal time of spring.
These chrysanthemum greens have flat, serrated leaves and a bitter taste (kind of like the mustard family), so you would probably want to leave them out of your GGS anyway and incorporate them in stews and salads instead.
Bitter greens like chrysanthemum are astringent and very cleansing for the body, and they’re teeming with antioxidants (chrysanthemum greens also have a ton of potassium). However, they’re not as easy to use in smoothies as other milder greens like spinach and romaine. They are great for your palate, though, and for balancing tastes. Sometimes just a little inside a salad or on the side of the plate provides a nice added bit of flavor.
Since it may be a challenge to find chrysanthemum greens and the plethora of other bitter Asian greens in the US, Europe or Australia (though if you do find them please share!), you can try watercress as a backup. Found in many supermarkets, watercress has a powerful flavor that’s kind of bitter and kind of spicy all at the same time. It is a member of the mustard family, so you may only want to add a little at a time to whatever you’re making until you become accustomed to the taste.
It’s fantastic for giving your skin a glow since it cleanses the blood and improves its flow. It can also help clear up acne and eczema. The alkalinity that is created can also help your overall pH balance and reduce that “tired” look on your face. Watercress has also been linked to decreased cancer risks and the death of cancer cells.
Korean Beauty Food #5: Doenjang Jigae (Get jiggy with it! :) )
That looks like quite a mouthful, right? Doenjang jigae, which I recently shared a recipe for, is a fermented bean paste stew that the Koreans eat a lot of. Doenjang is the name of the bean paste, which is similar to miso, and jigae basically means stew. I’ve been loving it during my stay here.
This stew has been a part of my lunch almost every day because it’s comforting, nourishing, and filling. It’s so rich in protein and minerals thanks to all the veggies and mushrooms (those mushrooms again—told you they show up everywhere!) that are packed into the delicious broth. Even the broth itself has protein, vitamins, and minerals.
I consider it a “building food” — excellent for strengthening and toning your body.
Since the bean paste is fermented, it makes for easier digestion. The fermentation also deactivates a lot of the issues with the soy, like the trypsin inhibitors that cause digestion trouble in unfermented soy. Doenjang has also been shown to inhibit the growth of tumors; the longer it’s fermented, the better.
Fermented soy has been studied in another form (Japanese natto) and was associated with higher bone mineral density. If you check out the Beauty Detox books, you’ll see a longer explanation of this. I don’t recommend eating lots of tofu and soy milk for instance, and certainly not fake meat soy products, which are all unfermented and difficult to digest.
If you want to make it at home and can’t find the doenjang, you’ll just need to improvise by using a raw (non-GMO) miso paste to make miso stew. From there, you just add lots of veggies and mushrooms of your choice. It’s super simple! Just make a big batch and pair it up with a salad first and maybe some brown rice on the side for a couple of easy meals through the week. Check out the recipe again for more inspiration!
Korean Beauty Food #6:Dandelion
Dandelion—as in, the weed–salad is a part of Korean food culture. The dandelions are foraged for the salads here, and it’s a very common dish that’s more nutritious than you might think.
The greens have also been used in traditional Chinese medicine for stomach trouble and milk flow. Throughout history, they’ve been used to treat issues within the digestive and excretory systems; even the Native Americans used dandelions for kidney health, swelling, and stomach issues.
This is another bitter green with a strong flavor that’s good for balancing out the palate.
Because dandelion is such a strong liver cleanser, it can greatly aid your body’s detoxification and blood cleansing processes–leading to more radiant, more clear, acne and blemish-free skin.
You may not want to go out looking for your own dandelions to eat, but you can still enjoy the benefits even if you don’t. You might be able to find dandelion greens at your grocery store or farmers’ market (I’ve seen them often at the Union Square farmers’ market in NYC and lots of groceries in NYC, including LifeThyme, but if you can’t (or don’t want to because the flavor profile scares you a little), you can always make dandelion tea.
Dandelion tea is an easier-to-find alternative that may be less shocking to the palate while giving you some of the benefits of dandelion greens. Here’s something else that may surprise you: Dandelion root tea is often used as a coffee substitute! Have you been trying to eliminate caffeine from your life? Maybe the dandelion tea will pull double duty and help you finally kick the habit for good. Check it out online or at the health market.
More International Beauty Secrets to Come
I hope you’ve enjoyed my little glimpses into life in South Korea! I also hope you get a chance to incorporate some of these six beauty foods (or their stateside alternatives) into some of your meals soon.
Now I’d love for you to me know what you think! What’s the first thing you want to try? Have you already tried any of these before? I’ll do my best to respond in the comments below.
Also, I’m only just beginning my world tour… though I’m going to leave the next location in my journey a secret for now. But I promise, there will be MANY more amazing pictures, foods and recipes coming next week.