The daechu (대추, jujube) is a small fruit that you can find growing just as happily in the countryside as in the city, alongside sidewalks and between old brick buildings. (To listen to our Local Eats podcast about daechu and get a sneak preview of our post on persimmons, click here.) Daechu have been cultivated in China for at least 4,000 years, and we don’t have a record of when it came to Korea, though a document from 1188 indicates that it was being harvested in the Goryeo Dynasty Era. There are hundreds of varieties of daechu around the world, and since the ‘70s, certain traits have been cultivated in Korea and given names like Hongjo and Sanjo. But in general, if you go to the market in Seoul between September and October, the two kinds of fresh daechu you’ll find are a smaller, olive-shaped daechu and a large, egg-shaped daechu called 사과대추 (apple jujube), which has recently become popular. The smaller daechu are far more common, and many people simply grow them at home. Seoyoung remembers growing up with a prolific daechu tree in her yard, and getting sick of the fruit by the end of fall every year (she’s since learned to love the fruit again).
At the end of summer, the bright green fruits cluster like olives on spindly branches and slowly turn russet-brown in uneven patches, as if nature couldn’t bother to finish painting each fruit. Don’t worry, these patchy rust and green colored fruits are just fine to eat as-is—the crisp, bright flesh is reminiscent of apples, with a duskier hint of sweetness. Watch out for the seed, it has a wickedly sharp point.
Speaking of seeds, there’s a funny idiom in Korean: If you compare something to a “콧구멍에 낀 대추씨” (a daechu seed jammed into your nostril), you’re calling it tiny and worthless. Daechu are so commonplace and its seed is that much more common and trifling. As with many common ingredients, however, daechu is also an essential part of Korean food culture. You’ll find it year-round in its dried form. As daechu dries, it turns a beautiful deep, mahogany red, which is particularly valued on the charye-sang (차례상), or table for ancestral rites. The red color is said to ward off bad spirits. Daechu also used in pyebaek (폐백), the ceremony in which newlyweds pay their respects to the in-laws. At the end of the ceremony, the parents throw a handful of daechu and chestnuts toward the bride, and count up how many she catches in her skirt—the daechu represent future sons; the chestnuts, future daughters. Daechu symbolizes boys for two reasons: One, it contains a seed (while the chestnut does not) and two, the Chinese character for daechu is “jo” (조), a homophone for the Chinese character for “son.”
Daechu are also widely used in hanyak, or traditional Korean medicine, as it’s considered a food with warming energy. You can make your own daechu remedy at home using this handy four character idiom: Gang-sam-jo-i, 강삼조이 (薑三棗二), or “3 pieces of ginger, 2 pieces of daechu.” With this ratio, you can brew up a tincture that helps drive out cold energy and bring warmth to your body.
Fresh daechu taste as crispy, crunchy and sweet as fresh honeycomb apples. Daechu can be widely used in your savory cooking, desserts and even for medicinal purposes as well. Here are more tips for how to use this little fruit!
how to choose
Fresh daechu: Try to choose shiny and glossy one without any bruises. Also fruit that is half-brown, half-green gives you a nice, crunchy texture and sweetness.
Dried daechu: Look for uniform wrinkles and a bright, deep red color. If the color is too dark or almost blackish-red means it means it is rotten. Avoid those. The best season to buy dried daechu is the end of October to November—ask if they are “haet-daechu” (햇대추, this year’s crop).
how to eat
Fresh daechu: This can be eaten by itself as a snack, like an apple. We haven’t tried cooking with it yet, though it seems like there’s a lot of potential. If you try, let us know! 🙂
Dried daechu: This is used in many versatile ways. You may have found them in your samgyetang (삼계탕, chicken stew) or also in your yakbap (약밥, sticky rice cake seasoned with soy sauce), or you may see them tightly rolled and sliced and placed on your ddeok or other korean sweets as a garnish. And last but not least, you can find them brewed into teas at traditional Korean tea shops.
how to store
Fresh daechu: Keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for about a week.
Dried daechu: Keep in an airtight plastic bag in the freezer. When it’s time to use them for cooking, rinse them with cold running water and pat dry with a paper towel.