Dureup, the king of spring: Aralia elata shoots
One of the last spring greens to grace the markets each year is dureup (두릅, Aralia elata shoots), a mildly bitter and fragrant vegetable.
Unlike most other spring greens, dureup is harvested from tree branches. The bark and roots of the dureup tree can be dried and used in Korean medicine, but it’s the shoots that are prized as a tasty, edible green. Some people call dureup the “king of spring greens” because it’s so delicious and relatively hard to grow. Dureup is harvested both from trees in the wild (heads up, American readers—we hear that dureup is an invasive species in the Northeast!) and farmed in greenhouses. Growing dureup indoors is a surprisingly old method. In the Gyuhap Chongseo (규합총서), an encyclopedia of advice for women written in 1809, Lady Bingheogak Yi writes that if you take dureup tree cuttings and stand them in warm water indoors, they’ll sprout new shoots which you can then harvest.
In mid-April, we made our way over to Gapyeong, in Gyeonggi Province, to meet a dureup farmer. The greenhouse is humid and hot, in contrast to the breezy spring day outside. Here, dureup branches are bound together in groups of a hundred, and these bundles are placed on damp, muddy cloth lining the ground.
Dureup is a sensitive plant, she tells us. You have to get the temperature just right, for one. Also, the branches are thorny, and if a thorn happens to pierce a young shoot, it will rot and die. Each branch cutting will put up shoots just twice before it’s done. And as for wild-grown dureup, over-harvest, and the tree dies (is it any wonder that dureup is one of the most expensive spring greens?). The first harvest of shoots, called cheot-dureup (첫두릅), has a thick base and stems that cling tightly together. The second harvest, called um-dureup (움두릅, pronounced “oom”), has a thinner base and thin stems that splay out more casually. They also have more pronounced thorns, so you have to be very, very careful.
Farmed dureup tends to be picked earlier than wild dureup, and by the time we visited the farmer, she only had one corner of one greenhouse left for harvesting. She carefully cut a basketful of shoots from her last bundle of branches and cooked lunch for us.
Dureup comes to the market starting in early spring, but those are mostly farmed dureup. Wild ones are sold starting in April and finish quite soon, in early May or even the end of April. Wild dureup has a stronger flavor and scent, so pay close attention to the markets if you want to try some!
flavor profile: First you get blanched asparagus or bamboo shoots with a slight piney, grassy scent following. The last note is sweet and pleasantly bitter, and the bitter flavor grows at the end. The texture when blanched is similar to blanched asparagus.
how to choose: Look for thick and squat (but not woody) stems and, ideally, leaves that are not fully unfurled, more bud-like than leafy. Try to avoid thorny stems (those are overgrown or from the second harvest, umdureup). If you look for dureup in the market, you may find three different shoots that all look like dureup:
1. The “original” dureup (Aralia elata), often called cham-dureup (참두릅)
2. Ddang-dureup (땅두릅, Aralia Continentalis kitagawa), a tree shoot with thicker, pale stems that have a lighter, crunchier texture than regular dureup.
3. Gae-dureup (개두릅), also known as eomnamu-sun (엄나무순, Kalopanax septemlobus), has thinner, purple-tinged stems. The “gae” in its name refers to its slightly cheaper and less precious value as an ingredient.
You can prepare these shoots in exactly the same ways that you use cham-dureup. Eomnamu-sun does have thorns, but they’re soft and harmless so you can eat the shoots without scraping them off.
how to prepare: We have a short video of the process below, but in summary:
1. Cham-dureup is often sold with the actual thorny branch attached. If so, cut the shoot off the branch and trim off any woody bits at the bottom.
2. If you are getting late-season dureup, you’ll need to scrape off the thorns. They do get softer after boiling, but it’s a good idea to play it safe.
how to eat: Dureup can be eaten like blanched asparagus: Simply blanch in lightly salted water, and enjoy with your preferred sauces. Here in Korea we dip it in cho-gochujang (초고추장, vinegared gochujang). You can also make a jeon, or savory pancake with dureup: coat in a simple flour and egg batter and pan fry. We also eat dureup twigim (튀김, deep fried), and rice cooked with dureup.
recipe: Dureup sukhoe (두릅 숙회, blanched dureup)
how to store: Blanched dureup doesn’t keep for longer than a day. If you have fresh, untrimmed dureup, wrap it with a paper towel and store in an airtight container. They’ll last for 5 or more days in the fridge. But if you are planning to keep them longer, blanch in lightly salted water and freeze them in an airtight plastic bag without squeezing out the moisture. Then you can use your dureup any time year-round, whenever you need it.