While most Asian food is typically healthier than most American foods, there are health differences between certain Asian cuisine. Although Chinese and Korean foods are mostly healthy, the differences between the two can be important enough for certain people.
When considering what is healthier, you also have to consider what your health status is. For example, Korean food is the highest in sodium, making it an unhealthy choice for anyone with high blood pressure. For that reason only, Chinese food is a healthier choice.
There is no simple answer to the question of whether Chinese food or Korean food is healthier because it depends on what you choose to eat. Each of the Asian cuisines has healthy and unhealthy choices, just like any food. The best way to decide is to look at the details of each cuisine overall.
The History of Chinese Food
The Chinese put a lot of their beliefs and feelings into their foods. They believe that mealtime is a time for family and friends, making their meals a way of welcoming those they love. Because the North China Plain was mostly filled with millet and rice, these became the main food groups for Chinese families even back before 2000 BC.
By 2000 BC, wheat had also been introduced into the plains of China, and they used it to produce noodles, unlike other countries that used it for bread. In saving their food for future use, the Chinese found that certain preservatives like salt were very effective, and it also gave the food a better flavor.
At the time, nobody knew that salt was bad for your blood pressure, so they used as much as they assumed would be needed without worry. During the Qin Dynasty, meat was added to meals, and it was cooked in animal fat to make it taste better, starting yet another unhealthy habit that would continue for centuries.
It was during the Han Dynasty that the Chinese found that they could preserve food longer by drying meat and grains. They also found a way to roast flatbread to make it last longer. In the Tang Dynasty, northerners brought new foods like kumis, yogurt, and goat milk, which introduced dairy foods to Chinese cuisine.
Regional Cuisines of Chinese Food
There are different styles of Chinese foods in different regions. In fact, there are eight regional cuisines that are separated by their characteristics and tastes. These include the following:
Cantonese cuisine uses a lot of meats, including chicken and beef, but it also includes more unfamiliar meats like frog legs and duck tongue. You can expect to see just about any meat on your plate with Cantonese food, including snakes and snails. Also, most Cantonese foods are fried or steamed.
Shandong cuisine uses many different styles to cook, but they also use a variety of different seafood and vegetables with their meats. Also, there are two styles of Shandong, which include Jiaodong and Jinan. Jiaodong focuses on seafood with light seasoning, and Jinan fries their food and uses a lot of soups.
Jiangsu cuisine is described as soft but not mushy with meat that is tender but not falling off the bones. Seafood is popular with Jiangsu cuisine because of its proximity to the sea. The variations include:
- Nantong with seafood from the Yellow Sea or Yangtze River
- Wuxi enjoys freshwater fish from the Lake Tai
- Suzhou style has a stronger taste and is sweeter than savory
- Nanjing with matching tastes and colors
Bold flavors with a lot of heat from Sichuan pepper and garlic are popular in Sichuan food. They use a lot of chili peppers as well and enjoy four substyles:
- Buddhist vegetarian includes all vegetables and fruits but nothing from any live animal
- Zigong is known as the spiciest food in Sichuan
- Chengdu enjoys steamed or fried meats like chicken and beef
- Chongquing is another very spicy choice with a lot of garlic and mustard
Also known as Zhe food, pork is one of the most notable meats in this diet. The spices are mild, and the flesh is soft and fresh. Dried vegetables and fish are also favorites in Zhejiang cuisine. There are three styles:
- Ningbo is mostly salty and fresh or raw seafood
- Shaoxing includes both chicken and freshwater fish
- Hangzhou uses variations of bamboo shoots with their food
Also known as Hokkien or Min cuisine, Fujian dishes are typically flavorful and savory. They believe it is best to enjoy the original flavor of the food rather than covering them up with too many spices. Fresh and raw vegetables and fruits are popular. The four styles include:
- Western enjoys slightly spicy tastes with pepper and mustard
- Southern is the strongest flavored cuisine using spices and sugar more than the other styles
- Putian uses Doutuo clams and lor mee noodles in this style
- Fuzhou favors the lightest flavors with mostly sweet and sour dishes
Being close to the Dongting Lake and Xiang River, Hunan cuisine enjoys freshwater fishes with hot and spicy additions. They use a lot of garlic, shallots, and chili peppers in their meals. Some of the favorites include smoked pork with long beans and fried chicken with Sichuan spicy sauce.
Because there are so many agricultural resources, the ingredients vary quite a bit. But the types of cooking are usually roasting or stewing, although frying and smoking are also used. The foods change with the season, with the hot pot found in the winter and cold meat during the summer.
The Anhui way of cooking is with a lot of wild herbs and simplicity. Stewing and braising are popular methods, with stir-frying used less often. With a lot of agriculture, this cuisine tends to have a lot of tofu foods and snacks like hairy tofu and stinky tofu. There are three styles, including:
- Anhui region features the flavors of forests and fields
- Huai River region enjoys a lot of raw materials from the mountains
- Yangtze River region boasts a lot of meats like beef and mutton
Chinese Staple Foods
Of course, rice is one of the staple foods in China since it is the most plentiful resource in the country. Most often steamed or boiled, rice is a healthier option than most European and American foods. You can find rice in almost every meal at a Chinese table.
Wheat is another staple that is healthy and plentiful in China. Used in making noodles, which is another common item found in Chinese dishes, wheat is an important agricultural resource. It is also used in making bread and dumplings.
Soybeans are important to Chinese food as well since it is the main ingredient in making tofu, which is a popular food in China. However, the soybeans are also used to make soy paste, soy oil, and soy milk. These are very healthy options that help make Chinese the healthier food choice.
Salt Content in Chinese Food
Although Chinese meals do have a large amount of salt in many of their dishes, it is much lower than what is in Korean dishes. In contrast to the 5,000 mg, the average Korean person consumes, the average Chinese person consumes about 3,000 mg a day. While this is still a very high amount of salt, it is a healthier choice than Korean food.
Check this post: Eight Culinary Traditions of Chinese Cuisine
The History of Korean Food
Korean food is mostly based on meat, vegetables, and grain. During the Jeulmun Period of 800 to 1500 BC, they hunted and fished for their food from the Liao River and surrounding area. Soon after, the people started growing rice and beans as well as wheat and millet.
From 57 BC to 668 AD, the regions split, but the foods remained similar. Cold foods were favored, and the art of fermenting food (kimchi) became popular. In the 13th century, more traditional foods emerged like dumplings and noodle dishes. Grilled meats were also popular.
Seasonings such as pepper and salt were found to be useful for preservation and taste. In the 15th century, farming was the main technique for food sources. Trading with other cultures like Japan and China brought other crops like potatoes and corn to add to their rice and grains.
In the 1900s, Japan took over most of the Korean agriculture, and most Koreans relied on less expensive grains like barley and millet. In those days, white rice was at a premium, and they were likely only to get one bowl per year. But with modern foods and European trading, the introduction of white bread and other commercially produced food became popular.
Regional Cuisines of Korean Food
Korean cuisine is characterized by locality and the styles specific to each area. The different provinces each have their own specific types of cooking and seasoning. Korean styles can be described as bland or basic compared to other Asian foods like Chinese. There are eight provinces in Korea.
Also known as Jeolla-do, this type of cuisine is filled with vegetables, both raw and cooked. Although they use some seafood and meat as well. The portions tend to be huge, assumably to boost energy. Some of their favorites include:
- Ddeokgalbi is grilled short ribs served as patties
- Kongnamul gukbap is soybean sprout soup with seaweed and scallions
- Yache Twigim, or Korean Vegetable Fries, is a popular snack made of fried veggies
- Hongeo is a specialty of fish fermented in its own juices
- Galbitang is also known as beef-rip soup, which is beef ripped up and boiled
Mostly a seafood style of cuisine, Gyeongsang dishes include a lot of soups and stews as well as dried and fermented foods. In fact, raw seafood like hoe and fermented anchovies are very popular. Some other popular dishes are:
- Jinu bibimbap is a Korean rice dish with kimchi
- Jaecheopguk is clam soup from the jaechop clam
- Dongnae pajeon is a green scallion pancake
- Bupyeon is popular at weddings and is made of steamed rice cake
This province prefers their food plain and simple with items like corn and potatoes. They also enjoy seafood on occasion but are more inclined to use natural grains and seasonings with their staple dishes. Some of the favorites include:
- Dakgalbi is stir-fried potatoes and chicken
- Patguksu is a red bean and noodle soup
- Gamjajeon is a potato pancake
- Gamja ongsimi is potato and dumpling soup
- Makguksu is a dish of cold noodles made from buckwheat
If you enjoy grains, Chungcheong dishes will delight you. The province’s landlocked section primarily uses millet and barley, while the southern section enjoys seafood from the Yellow Sea and Baengma River. Some of their most popular meals are:
- Pat sirutteok is a steamed rice cake with bean crumbles
- Deodeok gui is grilled deodeok flowers
- Jeyuk bokkeum is a stir-fried port with chili paste
- Yukhoe is raw beef seasoned and served on a bun
- Kaluguksu is a knife cut noodle soup
In the center of Korea, this province features a lot of mountain vegetables as well as seafood from the Yellow Sea. Fermented and salted fish, as well as fermented shrimp, are popular snacks. With a lot of grains, Gyeonggi foods include a lot of cereals and simple rice dishes.
Savory grain dishes like mixed grain porridge and dumpling soup made from pumpkin or potatoes are found in many meals. They also use a lot of azuki beans and corn. Soybean soup and dongchimi broth with cabbage and scallions can be found at most meals as well. Other dishes include:
- Memilmuk muchim is buckwheat jelly and mixed vegetables
- Samgyetang is ginseng chicken soup
- Galbi is a grilled short rib
- Suyuk is steamed meat such as pork belly
Divided into northern and southern provinces, the two have separate ways of preparing and serving their food. The northern province is known for its high-quality cereals and millet they use to feed their livestock because they eat more meat. Both chicken and beef are popular in their dishes.
The southern province enjoys barley and millet for their own meals instead of feeding it to animals to be consumed. They use a lot of salt in this area because the Yellow Sea produces a lot of salt in the tidelands. Kimchi is also popular, and brine is used as soup and for soaking. Some of the common dishes are:
- Cheongpomuk is a mung bean and seasoned starch jelly
- Bindaetteok is a mung bean pancake
- Sundubu jjigae is a spicy tofu stew
- Japgokbap is rice with multiple grains
Pyongan cuisine is famous for its cold noodles, which are also known as Pyongyang naengmyeon. The noodles are made of buckwheat and are served in a cold meat broth. When heated, it is called haejangguk. Kimchi is also favored here with sweet Korean pears on top.
The Taedong River provides a variety of fish, including trout, which are typically cooked with salt and black peppercorns. Trout soup is also a staple in Pyongan, as is Pyongyan onban, which is chicken soup fortified with mushrooms and rice.
Another province that is divided into northern and southern regions; these both enjoy a variety of cereal crops. Most of the higher quality cereals in the area include:
- Barnyard millet
Other foods enjoyed in Hamgyong include many different types of fish from the Yellow Sea, such as Alaskan pollack. Seasonings typically include chili pepper and garlic rather than salt here. A lot of the dishes have cold noodles and dadegi, which is a chili powder sauce. You can also try:
- Dubujeon is a tofu pancake
- Injeolmi is a rice cake covered in steamed bean powder
- Myeongran jeot is Alaskan pollack roe
- Sundae is a blood sausage
Korean Staple Foods
Korean cuisine benefits from the abundance of local agricultural resources, including seafood and freshwater fish. Most of the dishes include certain ingredients that you can find in many types of Korean foods.
Grains have always been an important staple. It is this ingredient that makes this Asian food a healthy choice when compared to European and American tastes. Although the main staples in their foods include barley and millet, they are often supplemented with dishes made with buckwheat and sorghum.
Rice was not originally one of their staples but became popular during the Three Kingdoms period in 220 to 280 AD. Because it was expensive, beans were often added to the rice to fortify it. Beans are another staple of Korean cuisine. Mung beans and soybeans are the most plentiful and healthy options.
Salt Content in Korean Food
It is the addition of salt for preserving and flavoring foods like meats and seafood that make Korean food the least healthy option. The fermentation of food called kimchi has been connected to hypertension in Koreans. Koreans consume the highest amount of salt in the world, with over 5,000 mg per day.
Regardless of which type of Asian food you choose to eat, it is up to you to make the best choices. After all, there are some healthy choices in each type of cuisine. For example, a healthy Chinese meal may include egg foo young or steamed dumplings, while a healthy Korean meal would be Korean sushi or ginseng chicken soup. Bon Appetit!