In almost any culture you visit, you’ll find out that each one of these places have their own kinds of dried and preserved ingredients. Now in the Asian culture, they have been drying and preserving foods for thousands of years. And depending on which region of Asia you decide to visit, you will find that these ingredients differ greatly from one another. They are an important staple to Asian cuisines and provide amazing taste and flavor to the dish.
But if you were to actually go to any Asian supermarket, you’ll notice that there are hundreds of different items out there for you to choose from. How are you suppose to know which ones to buy? Is it going to work with whatever you are deciding to make?
That is where this page comes in handy.
Although we can’t list out every single item out there as that would be impossible, what we can do is list out the most common and popular types that most families would use in their day to day lives.
We’ll try our best to tell you exactly what these items do as well as what they are normally used for.
So if you are ready, lets get started!
Full disclosure: In this glossary page, some of the posts will contain affiliate links, which means that if you do buy something as a result from following one of our links, you will be supporting our site “Cooking Sensei”. Prices are the same regardless if you use our link or not, so there is no harm!
Dried Goji Berries
Goji Berries have been gaining quite the popularity in recent years. Hailed as a superfood, this fruit has been used for hundreds of years since ancient China for its medicinal and health benefits. But aside from the benefits this fruit seems to provide, it is also great to use when cooking your dishes. Typically this type of fruit is mainly used in soups, but has since grown to be used in a variety of other ways. In fact, one of my favorite things to do is to simply eat them like a snack.
Dried Red Dates
Another food that’s been gaining in popularity is something called a red date. And just like goji berries, this food is also considered to be a super food offering a plethora of health benefits. For instance, not only are they filled with tons of vitamins and minerals, they also help deal with insomnia and anxiety. Dates have been extremely popular especially in China where it is used for a variety of dishes. Although the most common use for dates are to use them for sweet dishes like desserts or something. In China, these dates can be found commonly for sale during the holidays, but here in the United States, you can find them in almost every single Asian supermarket all year long.
Another variety of the dates group is one called the Honey Date. They are similar to that of the red date except that these have been cured in sugar. But other than that, they are usually used for soups or medicinal dishes.
Dried Lily Flowers
Dried Lily Flowers which are also called lily buds are the unopened flowers of the day lily plant. They are a yellowish brown color with the shape and texture of a straw. Lily buds also have a slightly fruity, floral smell and are commonly used for a variety of Asian dishes. They are mainly used as a flavor enhancer, primarily in vegetarian dishes, but also in certain soups and stews. You can typically find these at any Asian supermarket as they are a common item to buy. Just make sure to re-hydrate them before using and also cut off the hard stem as it’s not really that great.
Dried Lotus Seeds
Lotus seeds are the seeds of the same plants that produce the lotus root. These seeds are a common ingredient used in a variety of Asian cuisine and traditional medicines. The seeds have a variety of health benefits as well as being rich in protein, B vitamins and dietary minerals. Some of the most common dishes people use these seeds for include certain soups and desserts. They are most commonly sold in their dried form usually with the shells on, and you can typically find them in any of your Asian supermarkets.
Fox Nut Barley
Fox Nut Barley is the seed of a type of flowering plant classified in the water lily family. This seed has been cultivated around Asia for centuries and can be used for a variety of things. Typically the seeds are collected around the late summer to early autumn seasons and can be eaten either raw or cooked. But primarily they are most often found used in certain soups.
Chinese Black Mushrooms
One of the most common ingredients used in Asian cuisines are dried mushrooms. They provide a very tasty meaty flavor that helps elevate the flavors of many different dishes. And if you ever walk into an Asian supermarket, you’ll notice that there will be literally hundreds of different varieties of these dried mushrooms for sale. They can range from being small to big, light to dark, and more.
And for dried mushrooms, the most common one you’ll find are Shiitake mushrooms. They are actually a Japanese type of mushroom that provides a lot of depth and flavor. They are meatier than other mushrooms, thicker, and can be easily spotted by their floral pattern.
If it’s your first time preparing dried mushrooms, the process is simple.
- Place your dried mushrooms into a bowl and then fill it with enough warm water to submerge them. If you are in a rush, you can use hot water to help make things go faster.
- You want to soak the mushrooms until they are softened, which takes about 40 minutes to an hour. Obviously depending on the size of the mushrooms, some may take longer to soak than others.
- You’ll know the mushrooms are ready when they are soft to the touch. But make sure they are not too soft or else they’ll be mushy.
- Once your mushrooms are soft and ready, go ahead and squeeze out the excess liquid from the mushrooms.
- Now you can go ahead with using the mushrooms in whatever recipe you are trying to make.
Another variety of mushroom you may have seen in some of your Asian dishes is one called a “Wood Ear”. These are darker than your average mushroom but provides a more intricate flavor to your dish. They are a very versatile ingredient as their texture changes depending on how you want to cook them. For instance, when cold, they’ll have a slightly crunchy texture. But when used in hot dishes like soups or something, their texture will be more soft and slippery. All of which will bring tremendous flavor to your dish.
Now if you are wanting to buy some wood ear to make with your recipes, just know that almost all the time you’ll find these things being sold dry. It is rare to actually find them being sold fresh. So do not worry. The dry package will work just as well.
White Cloud Ears
The reason these things are called “White Cloud Ears” are because of the way they are shaped. They are actually quite similar to wood ears except that they are lighter in color and more fragile. Flavor wise, white cloud ears don’t actually have much of a flavor. Instead, they act like a sponge and take in whatever flavor you are cooking with it. They make for a great pairing with other ingredients when used in either a soup or stir fry as they provide a nice little crunchy texture.
Dried Chinese Yam
Chinese Yam is the swollen rhizome of a yam plant native to China that is also grown in Korea and Japan. It has a thin yellowish outer skin covering over its crispy white flesh. The flesh has a blend that tastes slightly sweet and can be eaten both raw and cooked. In its dried form, the Chinese Yam looks and feels much like a powdery white chalk. But when cutting into a fresh Chinese Yam, it’ll feel a bit like cutting into an okra as it’ll have a bit of a slippery mucilage. Fresh versions of the Chinese Yam is typically used for a variety of dishes, where as the dried version is primarily used in soups since they keep better.
Yu Zhu which is also known as Solomon’s Seal, is the dried edible rhizome of the Solomon’s Seal plant. The herb has a light and sweet taste, and is almost naturally yellowish white in color. They are almost always sold in their dried form. And are most commonly used to make traditional Chinese medicine and Traditional Korean medicine. But sometimes it can also be used in soups or even to make certain types of tea.
Dried Longan are the edible fruit of the tropical tree species Logan. In it’s fresh form, the fruit is sweet, juicy and succulent in superior agricultural varieties. Typically the seed and peel are not consumed when eating this fruit. The fresh version can be eaten raw just like other fruits and can also be used for cooking certain dishes. But the dried version is most commonly used for soups and traditional Chinese medicines. It is believed to have an effect on relaxation. And in comparison to the fresh version, the dried version is actually more darker in color.
Now I know what you are thinking, and no it is not hair or even seaweed. Although I do have to say that when I saw it for the first time, I thought the same exact thing. However I can guarantee you that it is not any of those things and is just your average mooss. This type of moss is typically found from the Gobi Desert and is most often sold dry. It is a popular ingredient to use in certain dishes for Chinese New Years. Other than that, I don’t really know too much about this ingredient. I’ll do some research later and update this post.
Salted Fish is a common ingredient used all throughout Asia, with many different types of fish available to be salted. It has historically earned the nickname of being the “poor man’s food” as its extreme saltiness is useful in adding variety to the simpler dishes. The most common type of fish’s you’ll find salted are the Eleutheronema tetradactylum fish and the Ilisha elongata fish. Some common dishes you can find using salted fish includes (boiled rice with steamed salt fish, salted fish bun, salted fish head with beancurd soup). It can be commonly found in any Asian supermarket, although it can be quite expensive depending on how big the fish is.
One of the most common dried foods you’ll find in Chinese or any Asian type of cooking is dried shrimp. They are commonly found all around in any Asian supermarket but they can be a bit expensive. When used to cook your dish, they help elevate it by providing an awesome umami flavor to it. They can be used in a variety of dishes like stir fry, fried rice, noodles, dim sum dishes and more.
Dried Anchovies are a popular ingredient to use in many Asian countries. In fact, it is a staple ingredient of Korean cuisine where it will instantly provide a plethora of flavor to your dish. Depending on what type of dried anchovies you buy, you can even eat them raw like a snack which tastes amazing.
Dried Oysters are a pretty interesting ingredient to use when cooking. They are especially popular in certain regions of China like Hong Kong and Guangdong, but not too much in other places. You can typically find them in most Asian supermarkets although for a relatively high price.
Dried Scallops are another popular dried seafood ingredient used throughout Asia. They are similar to dried shrimp in that they help provide a nice umami flavor to the dish. In fact, one of the most popular dishes out there that uses dried scallops is called braised dry scallops. And they are also really easy to find as almost every single Asian supermarket will have them in stock. Although they may be a bit expensive.
One ingredient that isn’t too well known is dried cuttlefish. It is commonly used to make stock and soups or even certain traditional medicines. When used in a dish, it helps provide a rich flavor that is slightly sweet and has a hint of umami to it.
Chinese Pork Sausage
When you are talking about dried or preserved ingredients, one of the most common ingredients you’ll see in Chinese cooking is one called a Chinese Sausage. It basically looks like a dried out version of a hot dog. But I guarantee you the flavor is so much better. You can find these being sold in almost every Asian supermarket either being hung out for you to buy or packaged in a tight plastic seal. They can be used for basically any kind of dish you can think off, with fried rice being my favorite.
Chinese Liver Sausage
Another variety of the sausage is one that uses liver as the main ingredient. These types of sausages are usually using duck liver to make these. And the taste is so much more flavorful because of the high fat content contained in the duck liver. And just like any other dried out sausages, you can use this any way you want. One of the most common ways I have seen this being served is simply steamed and served as is.
Cured Pork Belly
Who doesn’t love pork belly? It’s flavorful, rich in fat, and also super delicious to eat. And the cured version of it is just as amazing if not better than the original. It can be used in a variety of dishes that uses meat. Simply prepare the cured pork belly and serve it with any type of dish you want.
Cured Salted Duck
Another popular item you might find in your local Asian supermarket is one called a cured salted duck. Depending on your store, they can either be found hanging off a rack for you to buy or prepacked in a tight plastic wrap. Their flavor is richer than their regular versions and is able to be paired with any dish.
Salted Duck Eggs
Salted Duck Eggs are a popular food to eat all around Asia. They can be paired with almost anything but most commonly found with soups or congee. And depending on certain holidays, certain holiday foods like zongzhi or even mooncakes use them as well. The reason people choose duck eggs over chicken eggs is that they usually contain a higher fat content which makes them so much more flavorful.
Thousand Year Old Eggs
Contrary to their name, they are not actually a thousand years old. Although they may look like it because the shells of the eggs look grey like stone and have a darker black color when cracked open. But the taste of the eggs is pure deliciousness. Basically think of a regular boiled egg but with a more intense flavor. They are typically made out of duck eggs and you can find these in almost every Asian supermarket you go.
Dried Kelp Seaweed/Hai Dai
One of the most common things you’ll find in an Asian supermarket are seaweeds. They come in many different types and packages and can be used for a variety of dishes. Depending on the store you go to, you’ll most likely find them being sold as dry. When used in cooking, they help provide a nice umami flavor that is out of this world. They are typically used in soups or salads, but can be used for other dishes too. If you never had seaweed before, it can taste a bit salty and depending on the type you buy, it can also be either rubbery, tender, crispy or even crunchy. It provides a lot of health benefits and is favored by people all over Asia.
Shrimp Chips or Prawn Crackers as some may call them, are colorful fried chips that are often served during special holidays or events in Asian cultures. They are relatively easy to make at home and have a slight seafood/shrimp flavor that makes for a wonderful snack. Typically it can be eaten as is or they can be served as a pairing item with some other foods.
Preserved Salted Radish
Preserved Salted Radish is a unique and interesting ingredient that is used for a certain amount of dishes. For instance, it is a usually found in dishes like Pad Thai, Kao Dtohm Rice Soup, Thai Salads and more. This type of salted radish is usually made from salted and preserved daikon-like turnip or radish. You can find it in most of your Asian supermarkets. They are retailed in various forms which includes whole, flattened elongated pieces, or even shredded into fine strips.
Sui Mi Ya Cai
Sui Mi Ya Cai is a preserved vegetable that is commonly used in a variety of Chinese dishes. Although the exact vegetable I am not really sure off, as I have seen many different kinds being called this. For instance, some stores have it labeled as semi-dried pickled mustard greens/kale/cabbage like mixture. But honestly, it is more closer to mustard greens. Some of the dishes you can use this in includes steamed salty pork belly, dan dan noodles, savory buns and more. It’s a really delicious ingredient that you will absolutely love once tried.
Zha Cai is a very popular preserved vegetable that is used in a variety of Asian dishes. It is typically made from the stalks of the mustard plant which has then been salted and pickled to perfection. Although there are some versions which use the roots of the mustard plant instead, but the end result is the same. It’s a salty, crunchy and in some cases spicy taste that is a perfect fit for many dishes like soups, noodles, porridge, and more. You can find these in every single Asian supermarket for a very cheap price. In my city, you can typically find one pouch selling for about $0.30 cents.
Pickled Mustard Greens/Suan Cai
Pickled Mustard Greens or Suan Cai is a traditional Chinese pickled Chinese Mustard that is used for a variety of dishes. They are typically made with the stem portions of the green mustard plants. You can find these commonly used for a whole lot of things like noodle dishes, stir-fry, soup and more. In fact, one of the most popular dishes “Gua Bao” uses this as an ingredient too.
Chinese Pickled Long Beans
If you love pickles, then you’ll be happy to know that there is another ingredient which tastes just as similar. And that is the pickled long beans. They have a slightly salty and sour taste that is mostly enjoyed by people who love pickled foods. They are a great ingredient to use in stir-fry, soup or many other dishes. Plus they are easily available to buy at any of your local Asian supermarkets.
Tianjin Preserved Vegetables/ Dong Cai
Tianjin Preserved Vegetables or Dong Cai is a popular ingredient to use for a variety of different Chinese dishes. It’s origins come from the city of Tianjin, which is the 4th largest city in China. It is a type of preserved cabbage typically made from a smaller variety of the napa cabbage. This cabbage is then chopped up, salted, dried in the sun, and then placed into special pots for it to ferment. Once the fermentation process is complete, it is then usually pickled and ready to start using in your cooking. Some of the popular methods you can use with this ingredients is to use it in soups, stir-fry, steamed dishes and more. It’s a pretty versatile ingredient. And just like other fermented or pickled items, you can typically find them in your local Asian supermarket where all the other preserved or pickled items are.
If you ever strolled through an Asian supermarket at one point or another, you might have seen something that looks like a bamboo leaf for sale. These leaves have only one use for them and that is to make zongzi. Depending on what market you go to, some may only have it for sale during the holidays or some may have it all year round. I will have a recipe for making the best zongzi ever so stay tuned.
Dried Lotus Leaves
Another type of leaf you might see is the dried lotus leaf which are used for only certain foods. For instance, they can be used to line the bamboo steamers in which you steam your fish or meats. Or they can also be used to wrap certain type of foods like sticky rice, which helps add a delicious smell to the dish and helps keep the food moist when cooking.