The coldest months are yet to come and with fewer holiday celebrations this year to boost our endorphins, what can you eat to fortify your body?
Korean food has a tradition of being part preventative medicine. From nutrients to balancing one’s chi, these are some of our favorite immune system boosting foods.
1. Korean Ginseng
Yeah, people love seeing these roots as Mother Nature’s action figures or Barbie dolls. You’ll see them placed in all sorts of Daddy Long Legs positions. But what’s the deal with Korean ginseng and the hefty price tag? The ordinary layperson would probably say it boosts your energy. Yet there’s coffee for that. The real answer I’ve found is that it really works to balance your chi (life force) or thermogenesis. In other words, if you have the chills in the winter, it revs up your metabolism to keep you feeling warmer. If you’re sweating and overheating in summer, it can cool your inner motor down like antifreeze in a radiator.
Yes you can be skeptical. Or you can try one of the new stick pouches (에브리타임) like the ad here. It’s a quick shot of ginseng ‘juice’. It’s not as powerful as the marmite-looking goo that comes in small jars and taken by the spoonful. But the sticks are convenient and keep your intake consistent.
In the summer, I prefer the candied slices (절편). It tastes like ginseng gummy bears… but without gelatin, it’s more on the candied ginger side.
Is there a difference between the number 1 market leader Jeong Gwan Jang (정간장) and cheaper products that look exactly the same? I tried a number of cheaper options, but every time I really came back to the top brand. It feels like the quality is purer because the effects are there. The other products seemed a bit watered down.
2. Samgyetang (삼계탕)
If you want chicken soup and ginseng, you’re in luck. There’s samgyetang! Traditionally eaten in summer to beat the heat, people these days eat it whenever they need a boost. (Yes, Koreans used to feel eating a hot soup in summer would force your body to shut off its internal heater. Plus, the ginseng rebalances the chi like I mentioned above.)
The chicken is stuffed with rice, ginseng and other Korean medicinal herbs. The red balls are jujubes (대추). It’s marvelously moist meat and the rice is found after breaking up the chicken and scooping it out like stuffing from a Thanksgiving turkey.
The broth has a green onion base taste and feels wonderful on a cold, winter afternoon. There you go. It’s chicken soup for the soul and Korean medicinal herbs for your immunity.
3. Mugwort (쑥)
Mugwort or ssuk is a leafy green vegetable that gives green rice cakes that rich, dark green color. It can also be eaten as a side dish (쑥무침) or pan-fried into a pancake. Mugwort apparently helps your gastric juices rev up and so it helps with digestion. It also promotes circulation and has a calming effect. For women, mugwort assists in balancing out the menstrual cycle.
Of course there are many other immunity boosting Korean foods, but try to start with these this winter and let us know how it works out!