Perilla oil is flavorful and a loyal companion in Korean cooking – but what really makes it so special in this region?
South Korea presents such diversity with its cooking techniques and cuisines that it will literally take a few years to get to know them all, because there are regional variations, as well as unique takes in every province and city. But there are what we may call ‘universal constants,’ and one of these constants in Korean cuisine is perilla oil.
We’ve all cooked with the ubiquitous palm oil, corn oil, soybean oil, and even coconut oil. Coconut oil is extremely common in Asia and it’s touted as one of the miracle health oils.
The Chinese basil
The same can be said of perilla oil, which is derived not from the more common crops like coconuts or palm, but from a tall plant that goes by the name of Chinese basil. This plant grows in different countries and can be found in China, India, and even Japan.
Perilla oil leaves behind a nutty flavor when used for cooking, and is considered a staple in Korean cooking, from frying to making cookies. But what makes perilla oil really special is not its taste or appearance, but its chemical composition.
Perilla oil is traditionally associated with better health, and science explains why: it has more than 50% omega-3 fatty acids compared to other plant-derived cooking oils.
Omega-3 fatty acids are heart-protective compounds that strengthen the heart and also help reduce inflammation in body tissues. This means that like red wine, if you take perilla oil regularly, the natural health benefits of this food will resonate naturally through the years.
Recent studies show that perilla oil also has anti-cancer properties, can help with atherosclerosis or the hardening of blood vessels, and can even promote better memory.
Cooking with perilla oil
If you want to cook with perilla oil, you can use it as you would olive oil – for sautéing, frying, etc. You can also use it as a dressing for healthy salads. Like sesame seed oil it has a unique flavor that you will appreciate and it’s not greasy when consumed, and many Koreans agreed that Perilla is over taking the mighty Sesame oil status!