The Ultimate Guide to Korean Chopsticks
Korean chopsticks are an essential kitchen utensil in many households and are used for both cooking and eating. Nowadays, we see these metal chopsticks in Korean restaurants around the globe and at home. More luxurious Korean chopstick designs are even seen in museums around the globe and appreciated as a form of art and culture. This article will go into depth around the differences among metal chopsticks, stainless steel chopsticks, korean metal chopsticks and even how to say chopsticks in Korean. We’ll dive a little into the history of Korean chopsticks, why they’re important, and lay down the benefits of Korean chopsticks before showing some examples of them!
What are Korean Chopsticks (and Why Do They Matter)?
Korean chopsticks are eating utensils from Korea that consists of two sticks made of various materials like bamboo, wood, metal, and more. While chopsticks are popular in East Asian cultures and have been adopted in Western cultures as well, Korean chopsticks are usually made of stainless steel metal. Oftentimes, Korean chopsticks are accompanied by a spoon in a set called sujeo. This is the perfect duo for Korean soups and rice. Many Korean chopsticks are also flat shaped similar to the end of a spoon or knife whereas Chinese chopsticks are round.
Learning about the differences between Korean, Chinese, and Japanese chopsticks is important because it distinguishes between unique cultures that are usually viewed as one monolith. Chopsticks play distinctive roles across various East Asian cultures so understanding the differences will only honor them individually. Learning about Korean chopsticks and its culture will also teach about chopsticks etiquette. For example, in Korean culture, it is considered rude to eat with chopsticks while bringing a bowl up to your face. Dishes would remain on the table and you should let chopsticks bring food to your mouth. It could also be frowned upon to hold both a spoon and chopsticks in one hand simultaneously.
The History of Korean Chopsticks
Korean chopsticks date back to as early as the Baekje Period roughly between 18 B.C. to 660 A.D and were utilized as a food tester for the royal family during that time. Since Korean chopsticks back then were often made of silver, they served as a way for the royal family to detect poison in their food. Silver changes color when in contact with certain chemicals and were the primary material used to make chopsticks. In times of war, these silver chopsticks acted as an extra layer of security when it came to protecting the royal family from enemies. The upper class would also have their chopsticks made of ornate materials such as gold or brass to celebrate events, holidays, or special occasions. Korean chopsticks were used in important dinners and mealtimes These silver Korean chopsticks eventually were mimicked by the lower and middle classes and produced in steel.
With a history and expertise of producing metal, it’s no wonder Korean chopsticks are also made of metal. Korean metal chopsticks are in almost every Korean restaurant around the globe and are just as pervasive as metal eating utensils like forks, spoons and knives used in Western cultures. When the lower and middle classes started producing chopsticks, stainless steel was the preferred material for a number of reasons. It’s cheaper to produce than silver and was less prone to being scratched or damaged. These stainless steel chopsticks became a practical and essential part of life in Korean food culture. We’ll go in-depth about additional benefits of metal chopsticks later in this article.
Since the adoption of chopsticks into Western culture, Korean chopsticks have been a popular eating utensil across different cuisines and not just Asian food. Not only are Korean chopsticks used by consumers to eat with, they’re just as popular cooking utensils in the kitchens.
How to say Chopsticks in Korean
Chopsticks in Korean are called “cheot-garak” or “젓가락,” and, unlike Chinese or Japanese chopsticks, are one of the very few East Asian cultures that produce chopsticks in metal, steel or iron. They also have a flatter design compared to its round counterparts and primarily use a metal spoon with a pair of chopsticks.
5 Benefits to Using Korean Chopsticks
From metal chopsticks to stainless steel chopsticks, chopsticks in Korean culture serve many benefits. There are very few “cons” to owning a pair of Korean chopsticks. They have been picked up as an essential utensil in cooking and dining, so it’s prevalent in many homes. Here are 5 benefits to having a pair of Korean chopsticks.
- Stainless steel chopsticks are easy to clean
Unlike wooden chopsticks, Korean metal chopsticks are often stainless steel meaning its sleek and slick design make for easier cleaning. Metal chopsticks are also dishwasher friendly and more hygienic than wooden chopsticks which usually absorb more water and are prone to staining or picking up excess debris. This is especially true for Korean restaurants that serve hundreds of customers a day. It’s much easier for them to throw metal chopsticks in a sterilization unit than to scrub wooden ones by hand. In Asia, metal chopsticks are usually disinfected through a big bowl of boiling hot water. This convenience translates to household dinner times as well and stainless steel chopsticks make clean up much easier.
- Flat design makes it simple to store away
Another unique feature of Korean metal chopsticks is its shape and design. Korean chopsticks are often flatter than wooden chopsticks and are often decorated with ornate details at the end. Korean chopsticks’ flat design makes storage easier with the minimal surface area and better stackability design. This leaves room to store other important tableware or kitchen utensils. You’ll often see Korean restaurants lay out a box of metal utensils per table, storing many pairs of stainless steel chopsticks and spoons all at once. While its flat design and metal material often make it harder to use with its slippery surfaces, consistent practice and hard work make it rewarding.
- Affordable to buy & cost effective to make!
Because of its minimalistic design, Korean chopsticks are often cheaper to produce than wooden chopsticks. There are more preservation techniques needed to maintain wooden chopsticks, making metal chopsticks the preferred for reduced costs and savings for the end consumer. Because of its long shelf life and longevity in design, metal chopsticks are highly reusable and have a long shelf life.
- Multipurpose and highly versatile for many uses
While we mostly see Korean chopsticks used for dining, they are just as useful in the kitchen as cookware. From tossing salads to beating eggs, Korean chopsticks are versatile in the dining room and in the kitchen which make them a staple for many chefs and home cooks. Korean chopsticks can be used to pick up stray noodles or rice, or to separate vegetables. Its sleek design makes it perfect for picking up sushi, noodles or rice as it’s completely food-safe and usually BPA free. Rarely do Korean chopsticks rust, get moldy, or deteriorate so expect these to last long in your cabinet.
- Reusable and eco-friendly design
A pair of stainless steel chopsticks can last quite a while especially those made of high quality stainless steel. While Korean chopsticks on the market can vary, most of them are some version of a flat, metal chopstick design. Because they’re also extremely lightweight, they’re easy to carry when on-the-go and perfect for traveling as they’re completely portable. Adjusting to a more sustainable lifestyle means switching from disposable chopsticks to reusable ones. Korean chopsticks’ eco friendly design is a big value proposition when it comes to environmentalists and those who want to reduce waste.
Examples of Korean Chopsticks
While we’ve been discussing mostly standard metal chopsticks, the chopsticks industry has evolved to designer and contemporary styles that appeal and act more like kitchen and room decor rather than its historical practical usages of dining. From minimalist to contemporary styles, there is a wide range of Korean chopsticks designs available in the market – all at an affordable price due to its beautiful flat and simple design. Here are a few examples of what Korean chopsticks can look like in today’s society:
As a reference, these are the Korean stainless steel chopsticks commonly seen in restaurants displayed in boxes or tins at each table:
Contemporary versions of Korean chopsticks often seen in modern homes like this gold and silver stainless steel chopsticks set:
There are even designer chopsticks like an all matte and black stainless steel chopsticks set:
Novelty Korean chopsticks like these unique rainbow chopsticks are popular and especially fun for kids:
Intricate and engraved, anti-skid stainless steel Korean chopsticks show a more artistic side to these eating utensils.
4 Reminders about Korean Chopsticks
This is the ultimate guide to Korean chopsticks and we’ve covered a lot of ground. We’ve also included some popular questions about Korean chopsticks and its usage here.
Korean chopsticks are flat because of decisions that date back in history during mass manufacturing and distribution. Its flat design has many benefits like reducing costs and maximizing storage space. Having a flat design also led to easier ornate inscriptions at the end of the chopsticks. We believe it's a mix of these reasons that led to designing Korean chopsticks in a flat shape.
Yes, we’ve highlighted a number of benefits to why metal chopsticks are good. Not only are metal chopsticks easier to clean, they’re also more hygienic and dish-washer friendly. Stainless steel chopsticks are also usually BPA free and safe for consumers to eat food with. Korean metal chopsticks are also longer lasting due to their metal design and are less prone to damage or staining.
While Japanese use chopsticks, they are more often made of wood or plastic rather than metal. Korean culture is one of the only East Asian cultures that have a prevalent use of metal chopsticks.
Oftentimes, stainless steel chopsticks are produced with certain certifications and requirements set in place for it to be deemed consumer friendly and safe to eat with. Stainless steel chopsticks, along with other stainless steel eating utensils, are suitable for most classes of food and beverage products. Make sure to check product specifications to ensure its dishwasher safe before tossing it in there.
More Resources on Korean Chopsticks
Whether it's metal chopsticks or stainless steel chopsticks, Korean metal chopsticks are a popular cooking and eating utensil to have in your kitchen. It’s rising popularity is seen across restaurants and families for home cooks and chefs alike. Because of its durability and affordability, stainless steel chopsticks are a great addition to any pantry and are usually food safe, dishwasher safe and family friendly. Upgrade your standard metal chopsticks to more ornate and beautiful Korean chopsticks as room decor to impress your guests with. Our favorite Korean metal chopsticks are this set of contemporary rose gold chopsticks and this pair of anti skid stainless steel koi chopsticks.