The difference between Japanese and Korean Food | Use of spices

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  August 29, 2020
I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more

Asian dishes are liked all over the world because of their unique and healthy nature.

These delicious cuisines are not just preferred in Asian countries but nearly all other countries consume it in one way or another.

Tow of the most popular cuisines in this regard are Japanese and Korean because they are both considered a healthy cuisine.

Differences between Japanese & Korean food

In this article I want to discuss the main differences between these two:

What are the differences between Japanese and Korean food?

In short, the main differences between Japanese and Korean food are the use of spices. While Korean food uses a lot of spices, Japanese food likes to keep things more natural with just a minimum of added flavors. Especially hot and spicy dishes are found in Korean, but not Japanese cuisine.

But most importantly, people don’t really know the difference between these cuisines so I went ahead and wrote up a detailed guide, that guide is this article:

What makes Japanese Cuisine original?

Japanese Cuisine encompasses the traditional and cultural foods of Japan, foods that have evolved through years of cultural and traditional changes.

It includes a variety of foods native to Japan such as sushi, ramen, hibachi-style cooked dishes, gyudon and many more.

Ramen is becoming so popular and I love the taste so much, I’ve written a complete article on all of the different ingredients you can add to the ramen broth to make it delicious and authentic.

The traditional and cultural food of Japan comprises of several dishes which are inherited from their ancestors, and there are also quite a few more recent dishes introduced by contact with the Americans.

Actually, Korea is quite the same way having many American influences and canned foods in their cuisine in more recent developed dishes, most often out of necessity after the occupation.

Although they use the same material and ingredients for preparing food, their cooking methods, style, and tools are quite different.

One major thing in which they stand out is their process of fermentation.

Fermentation process by the Japanese

Fermentation is the process of using microorganisms, yeast , and edible bacteria for the breakdown of food. It involves several steps through which the food can be preserved and made delicious.

Since the Asian climate is ideal for such processes, Japan has become one of the prime sellers of fermented products in the world.

Almost all of the Japanese diet contains something fermented. Because of this, a lot of original and authentic Japanese products came into being such as Miso paste, Natto, Vinegar, Soybean, Tempeh, etc.

Especially the use of mild flavoring with vinegar is just so interesting to me. I have this post on sushi vinegar that you should check out to read more on the intricate flavors of sushi rice.

What makes Korean cuisine remarkable?

Korean cuisine is a traditional way of cooking following Korean culture and norms using the culinary arts of Korea.

The most common Korean food encompasses a wide variety of dishes which include Korean barbeque, kimchi, rice, etc.

Korean food refers to food originated from Korea through their traditional and cultural outlook and their position in the world.

Since Korea is mostly surrounded by ocean, it is mostly popular for its seafood. A number of other dishes like Korean barbecue and special flavoring spices, sauces and products like Kimchi are also popular.

Japanese & Korean Cuisinea flatlay photo of sushi

Culinary dishes from East Asian countries have consistently been viewed as the absolute healthiest dishes available worldwide.

Particularly, when we talk about Japanese and Korean cuisines that are known to fuse the most beneficial and healthiest ingredients and seasonings in their dishes.

Adding to a healthy eating regimen, both the Japanese and Koreans think about food as an important part of their way of life and it stretches out to the way in which they set up the dishes too.

A portion of their customs developed around food is very discrete and only taught within families or from chef to chef, while others are known by almost every resident.

Modern Japanese cuisine developed out of relative detachment from the outside world and afterward an extended time of communication with and influence from all regions of the world.

There was a dynamic exchange between Japan and Korea during this sheltered time however, political and social trade appears to have been minimized now.

The two nations can both follow their culinary inheritance back to China and different other regions of Asia, such as rice, curries, soup, and noodles.

Although both of these cuisines have their own themes and cultural references, they have many similarities such as the wrap and roll style of their dishes and certain other seasonings.

Where Japan is celebrated for sushi and sashimi, Korean BBQ is a popular dish and becoming a worldwide phenomenon as of late.

To appreciate these local delicacies as much as the natives do and to have a great time in Japanese and Korean restaurants, here or abroad, you should find out more about their food cultures and standards.

The Japanese have a long history of incorporating complex rituals and a tradition into their food preparation.

They put a lot of emphasis on the significance of art and craftsmanship and the sources of the food, and not simply just by tasting them.

For instance, it is a common practice for the Japanese to talk to the individuals they’re eating with or to the chef and staff before eating as a token of thankfulness for their food.

The Japanese also fuse the tastes of soy sauce and umami in a lot of their dishes, and reaching the perfect umami taste is what a Japanese chef will strive for.

Which sauce and side-dishes are preferred among Japanese and Korean?

Soy sauce, or Shoyu in Japanese, holds a very important job in a wide range of cooking. The use of soy sauce can build the food’s fragrance, and more importantly its flavor.

It adds a layer of sweetness and saltiness to the food and improves the taste of the food in the mouth, umami.

On the other hand, Korean culinary style includes less complex customs than the Japanese, yet at the same time has its very own exceptional styles.

A national Korean dish known as Kimchi includes the process of fermentation to make chemicals that are helpful for processing, as well as a wide scope of probiotics, beta-carotene, and vitamin C.

These make for a new and fresh culinary experience.

The use of fermented food is predominant in other Korean dishes too. Each Korean dish will have a side dish known as a Banchan that is shared together with the table.

It comprises of cooked rice, soup, Kimchi and a serving of veggies that are fused with flavors and herbs.

Another example would be Saengchae, which is a sort of Korean plate of mixed greens that blends uncooked vegetable flavors and chicken and is served as a side dish to a lot of popular Korean main courses, such as meat and noodles.

In addition to the fermented dishes, the Koreans also love to incorporate their specially made pastes. The Gochujang paste, for instance, is pepper-based and includes a tad of chili with a trace of sugar blended in.

Or if you are inclined towards a deeper flavor, maybe you can go for Doenjang which is made from soybeans and salt to upgrade the flavor of soup, vegetables, and rice.

They really have a one of a kind way to prepare their cuisine by coordinating their cultures, customs, traditions and also the general experience of their guests with the healthy nutrients and hospitality that they offer.

The Differences between Japanese and Korean food

Food culture is a complete set of traditions and norms of cooking specifically related to a particular area, religion, or culture each with their own nuances.

These are the differences between Japanese and Korean cuisine:

Difference in taste

Korean food has a rich blend of spices and sauces which includes two major ones such as soy sauce and oyster sauce. These spices and sauces are a part of almost every Korean dish and they provide a savory flavor to every dish.

On the other hand, Japanese food is prepared with a low quantity of spices. The locals of Japan prefer a light taste and aroma and the dishes are mostly kept to the natural taste of the main ingredients.

Japanese especially don’t use that many peppers in their food, whereas Koreans often eat their food quite spicy.

Difference in rituals

Koreans enjoy their food thoroughly, without being too formal about rules and rituals.

They even eat their food with cutlery and sauces of their own choice, whereas in Japan, the ritual has to be strictly followed, such as:

They enjoy the art, history and traditional ways of eating more than their food.

Famous native Foods

Famous food native to Japan is sushi, ramen, and sashimi. All of which are found in Japan as well as all over the world but are originally from Japan and are eaten according to Japanese culture.

Famous dishes native to Korea are barbecue and grilled meat, and of course Kimchi (which is not actually a dish in itself but a side dish or a means to add flavor to other dishes).

The Preparation

Another difference between the two cuisines is the method of preparing food.

In Korea, meat and other raw foods are heavily marinated with spices and sauces to flavor the dish before the food is actually cooked.

While in Japan, raw food is most often cooked as it is with as little as possible seasonings and the taste is added after the food is cooked completely.

Sushi

Probably the most prominent difference between Korean sushi and its Japanese partner is the rejection of wasabi. Instead, Gochujang, a spicy, fermented Korean red pepper sauce is very often used as an alternative.

It conveys a comparable heat without the tingling sensation of wasabi.

Korean sushi’s fundamental components of fresh fish and expertly cooked rice line up with the Japanese style of making sushi.

Truth be told, numerous Korean sushi chefs are prepared by Japanese chefs who highlight the significance of flawless preparation and their noble arrangements. These standards apply to both Korean and Japanese sushi.

What makes them distinctive is the manner in which Korean chefs expand upon their Japanese teachings, by infusing their dishes with seasonings, flavors and cooking techniques from their own country’s culinary collection.

If you liked the information in this post explaining the differences between Korean and Japanese food, please also read my post on differences between Japanese and Chinese food with an in depth guide of the two.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.