Ueong (우엉, pronounced ooh-ung) is known as burdock root in English, and can be found in temperate zones around the world.
In Korean cuisine, this crisp, earthy root is both an incredibly common ingredient (if you’ve ever eaten gimbap, chances are, you’ve also had ueong—it’s the thinly-sliced, deep brown vegetable) as well as one prized for its health benefits. For one, it’s so rich in fiber that some have nicknamed it the “janitor for your intestines.” And in a recent special episode of Koreascape on tbs eFM, we learned from Korean traditional medicine doctor Jennifer Yeseul Lee that ueong is high in saponins, a compound with all kinds of health benefits. Ueong is known for helping with blood circulation, warming cold limbs, and recent research has suggested that it can also help regulate diabetes, due to its high levels of inulin. You can listen to the full episode here (our conversation about ueong starts at 7:30).
It’s also said to have cold properties, according to traditional medicine categorization, so ueong relieves stress and soothes anger. Some say that this is why monks like to drink ueong tea.
Ueong can be easily found in marts and markets year-round, though it’s most plentiful, inexpensive and delicious in the fall at peak harvesting season. Since ueong has a relatively long growing period, it requires more fertilization than other root vegetables. Also worth noting: While the roots are the most commonly eaten part, ueong leaves are also occasionally harvested (though from a different varietal of ueong). You can watch a video of an ueong root harvest here—these skinny tubers are over a meter long!
Ueong has a very deep earthiness similar to the taste of raw beetroot or raw jerusalem artichoke (though it’s less sweet and sharply crisp). It has quite a unique texture—it’s something between woody, chewy, crispy and meaty. If you taste raw burdock root, it can be very fibrous and woody, but if cooked the right way, it can take on a nice meaty crunchiness.
how to eat
There are two main ways of eating burdock root in Korea. One is making tea by slicing the roots, drying them and roasting them. These days, there are a lot of pre-made burdock tea products on the market so you don’t have to go through the trouble yourself. The other way to eat ueong is jorim (braised) with ganjang (soy sauce) and sweeteners. You can also use this earthy and healthy ingredient in many other preparations, from deep frying to even baking.
how to choose
Choose roots that are not too thick and not too thin—a little less than 1 inch in diameter is the ideal thickness for braising. As it gets thicker, ueong can get woodier. Look for roots with dirt: it helps keep moisture in and guarantees a long fridge life. Choose firm, unbroken roots with taut skin. Avoid dried-out roots—you can tell which ones are dried out as they are relatively lighter than fresh roots.
how to prepare
Ueong skin is very nutritious and flavorful, so keep the skin and simply scrub off the dirt with a scouring pad. But if you’re feeling uneasy about it, you can use a peeler and skin the roots. Just keep in mind that it can easily get discolored and quickly turn a dirty grayish-brown. You can avoid this by adding a little bit of vinegar to water and soaking your peeled roots in this mix. (Don’t use too much vinegar, though, it can change the flavor of the root! Estimate about 1 dash of plain white vinegar to about 1 liter of water.)
how to store:
Wrap your raw ueong roots with newspaper or paper towels. Re-wrap them with plastic wrap and place them in a cool, well-ventilated place or in the fridge. It will keep for several weeks. If your roots begin to wither, the texture will become woodier and the flavor will become very bland.