Delicacy Lance Asiabell, aka Deodeok 더덕

How do you pronounce “the duck” in Konglish?* 🦆

If you do not speak Konglish, no problem! Here is the answer:

Deo deok (spelled 더덕 in Korean letters).

This piece of information may seem random, but it can also help you remember the plant that is the star of this post:

Deodeok (더덕).

The English name of deodeok is lance asiabell. The scientific name Codonopsis lanceolata suggests that it is “shaped like a lance” in Latin. But is that actually the case??? [Please let me know if YOU can make sense of these names!]

Regardless of its confusing names, deodeok is an amazing plant, and its roots are a characteristic food item in Korean cuisine. 💚🥕 Besides starring in several dishes and drinks, deodeok root is used in traditional medicine. 💊 Below is an introduction to this fascinating plant as well as the most common culinary uses of lance asiabell in Korea! 🇰🇷🇰🇵

Table of content:

🌱 The plant 더플랜트

The plant is native to the Korean peninsula, and originally grows in mountainous regions.** ⛰️ Wild deodeok, however, is rare and it is nowadays farmed on large scale because of its increased demand. 🚜👩‍🌾 At present, even China cultivates deodeok to supply the Korean market!***

Lance asiabell belongs to the family of bellflowers, but it grows like a vine that usually climbs on other plants. 🌿 It has bell-shaped flowers, which are rather unassuming because they are green like the rest of the plant. 🟢 On the inside, however, the flowers have patterns that are dark red or deep purple. These flowers produce seed capsules with countless flat seeds. When bruised, cut or peeled, the plant emits a milky, white liquid that is botanically referred to as latex. 🥛 On top of that, deodeok has a characteristic scent, which is perceived as pleasant by those who enjoy eating it.

Underneath the soil, deodeok develops a taproot, which grows larger and thicker with age and nutrition. Since the plant is perennial, it lives for many years and its root continuously grows in size. When humans eventually decide to harvest the root, they do so in fall after the plant has lost its leaves. Accordingly, harvesting season is normally from October to November. 🍂

🥕 The root 더루트

In Korea, deodeok roots are consumed as food as well as medicine. 🍽🥕💊

Regarding its culinary use, deodeok is a popular yet precious ingredient. These days, the roots are widely available and sold in supermarkets and traditional markets; even some street vendors seem to survive by selling solely deodeok. But the price for deodeok is higher than most vegetables in Korea: Currently, 400g of food-grade deodeok costs between 5000 and 10.000 KRW. 💰 [Deodeok for medical purposes is much more expensive!]

Traditional medicine ascribes several healing properties to deodeok. In this context, deodeok may also be called by its Sino-Korean name yangyu (양유 羊乳). 👨🏻‍⚕️🧑🏻‍⚕️ Various health claims are made about lance asiabell roots, e.g. helping during colds, cleaning the blood, preventing diabetes or cancer. [But this is not necessarily confirmed scientifically!] Due to similar characteristics, Codonopsis roots are also applied as a substitute for ginseng (Panax ginseng), which has been prized for its medicinal properties for centuries. Deodeok produces several phytochemicals that are supposedly beneficial to human health, particularly the components belonging to the group of saponins.

What does Deodeok taste like?

Different to ginseng, the roots of deodeok actually taste good! [This is my personal, subjective opinion, though.] The plant has a characteristic fragrance, which can be described as herb-like, slightly bitter and fresh. [Thankfully not as bitter as ginseng!]

Grilled Deodeok 더덕구이

Deodeok roots are edible both raw as well as cooked. Taste and texture of the root vary by the way it is consumed: In its raw stage, deodeok is rather crunchy! When cooked, grilled or steamed, the root becomes soft, yet it has a chewy and fibrous texture. In general, the texture of softened deodeok is kind of meaty! As a matter of fact, it is reminiscent of dried fish or meat, which is why it is particularly common in traditionally plant-based Korean temple cuisine.

Deodeok is also available in dried form, which can be stored for longer periods of time. Dried deodeok needs to be properly soaked in water before cooking and it has a much tougher texture than fresh roots. Otherwise, dried deodeok is used for teas or herbal medicine.

How do you eat Deodeok?

Common dishes featuring deodeok are introduced below 👇, but first some general information about choosing and cooking with deodeok. 👩🏻‍🍳

When preparing the roots for consumption, it is advised to peel off the skin. Beforehand, washing the root might be necessary as well, because it can be darkened with soil and is actually light brown after washing. 🔪 The skin is thick and leathery and thus normally not eaten. Beneath the skin is the cream-colored, almost white flesh. 🟤⚪

When peeling and cutting lance asiabell root, it releases a white liquid! 🥛💦 This milky fluid becomes very sticky on your skin and cannot be washed off with water or soap! ⚠️ To prevent sticky fingers, you could wear gloves before cutting or peeling deodeok. 🧤 Alternatively, you can smother your skin with oil or lotion afterwards to remove the stickiness from your hands.

If you have walked the streets of Seoul or passed through its subway stations, you must have noticed that there are certain street vendors – mostly elderly ladies – who are peeling roots and selling them. These roots are either from lance asiabell (deodeok 더덕) and/or from balloon bellflowers (doraji 도라지). [A full article about Korean bellflower roots is planned for the future!] Skinning deodeok roots is tedious manual work and time-consuming. But thanks to those elderly ladies, lazy people people with less time on hand can conveniently purchase peeled roots today. 😉

In Korean recipes, it is often suggested to soak the peeled roots in fresh water with some salt for a few minutes to remove the bitter taste. 💧 However, in this way, you will also flush out some of its beneficial components! 💦

Then, the peeled roots may be cut and crushed with a flattening tool (e.g. rolling pin, mallet, hammer) to roughly break the fibrous structure. 🔨 This method can be applied to make the final texture softer and “meatier”.

How do you distinguish different kinds of Deodeok? What to look out for when buying Deodeok?

The older the plant gets, the larger the root gets. Most roots that are grown for consumption are 2-3 years old. 👶 Other typical ages are 5 years old or 10 years old. Some deodeok roots are older than 20 years! 👵 Such old roots are not only large and thick, but they also have a knotted surface that developed over the years. While younger roots are primarily used for food, older roots are more likely used for traditional herbal medicine. Correspondingly, you may see the name “medicine deodeok” (yak deodeok 약더덕) on certain labels.

The larger the root is, the more expensive it is. 💰 The size of the root largely depends on the age of the plant. But growing conditions regarding e.g. space and nutrition also affect the growth of the root. Large roots are easier to handle but harder to grow, so their price is higher. The expression “bigger is better” is valid for deodeok.

Apart from age and size, the origin of the root determines the price. Imported deodeok from China is generally cheaper than Korean deodeok. How can you distinguish Korean- from Chinese-grown deodeok? Unless the label reveals the country of origin, an important clue for identifying deodeok is the skin! Chinese deodeok roots are normally washed. Korean-grown roots are often still covered in soil. For one, this shows that they are fresh. 💦 Secondly, the color of the soil can indicate the region where they were grown. 📍 The soil from the volcanic island Jeju, for instance, is very dark, and unwashed deodeok from Jeju Island looks accordingly almost black! In other words, unwashed roots are a sign of quality.

The fresher the root is, the crunchier it is. Freshly harvested deodeok is very crunchy and does not taste bitter. Over time, the harvested roots lose moisture and with it their crunchiness. Simultaneously, certain components get concentrated and thus the roots taste more bitter. On the market, you can identify fresh deodeok if it has many rootlets. These fine, hair-like roots tend to disappear during handling, drying or washing the roots.

🍚 The food 더푸드

Dishes with lance asiabell are available at traditional Korean restaurants. They are not a standard item on the menu, but some dishes are more common than others. As a rule of thumb, restaurants offering rustic or healthy Korean food tend to serve deodeok. There are even restaurants that specialize in deodeok cuisine!

One of the most common dishes featuring lance asiabell is deodeok muchim (더덕무침). Deodeok muchim, which may also be referred as deodeok saengchae (더덕생채), uses raw deodeok roots. It can be considered as a kind of salad made of peeled and sliced deodeok roots that have been mixed with seasoning or dressing. 🥗 The typical seasoning of deodeok muchim features Korean chili paste (gochujang 고추장), and the dish tastes spicy, sweet and sour. 🌶️ Other seasonings are possible as well, although less common. Mild variants are seasoned e.g. with perilla seed oil or crushed pine nuts. In Korean restaurants, deodeok muchim is sometimes served in small portions as a side dish. If it is listed separately on the menu, you can order it in larger quantity and enjoy it as an anju, i.e. while drinking alcohol. [But you do not have to order alcohol.]

Another classic dish is deodeok gui (더덕구이), which can be described as grilled lance asiabell root or deodeok barbecue. There are different ways of roasting the roots: Simply inside a frying pan, or with a gridiron over fire. 🔥 Most of the time, grilled deodeok roots are covered with a spicy, red-colored seasoning sauce. Again, the key ingredient here is gochujang! 🌶️ But it is possible to season it in a different way of course! At restaurants, deodeok gui is available as a main dish or anju. Because the texture of roasted deodeok is similar to dried fish, it can serve as the main dish – one that is vegan by coincidence! 🌱

Deodeok Rice 더덕밥 at restaurant Sanchaehyang 산채향. Seoul 2019.

In general, Koreans love mixing rice with other ingredients – not just in the renowned dish Bibimbap! Among the countless variants of “rice cooked with xyz”, there is deodeok bap (더덕밥): Rice cooked with pieces of lance asiabell root. 🍚 This rice is served like any cooked rice as the staple dish during a meal.

Creative cooks have come up with more dishes using lance asiabell. Deodeok can be used like a vegetable and added to other dishes. Other plant-based dishes worth mentioning are for example lance asiabell steamed with rice powder (deodeok beomuri 더덕버무리) ♨️ and lance asiabell roots in mung bean pancakes (deodeok bindaetteok 더덕빈대떡). 🥞 A modern invention is deodeok jerky (deodeok po 더덕포), which is made from seasoned and dried deodeok that can be enjoyed as a vegan jerky. 🌱🥓

☕ The drinks 더드링크스

Deodeok tea made from skins of lance asiabell root. Home-made.

If you are familiar with Korean tea culture, you will not be surprised hearing that there is indeed tea made with lance asiabell! ☕ For this deodeok cha (더덕차), the roots are boiled in water infusing it with the nutrients of lance asiabell. Normally, pieces of dried lance asiabell (with skin) are used for tea and simmered for 1-2 hours until the water soluble components have properly seeped into the liquid. You can even use the leftover peels of deodeok roots and cook them into tea! [Upcycling food waste! ♻️]

Lance asiabell tea is clear and has a light brown color. 🟠 Surprisingly, deodeok tea smells earthy and not too similar to the fresh roots. It is also possible to use dried deodeok that has been toasted – this makes the flavor of the tea darker and adds roast aromas. It is said that tea containing deodeok has a soothing effect on the throat. Hence, it is occasionally enjoyed as a medicinal tea for treating symptoms of a cold. 🤧

Glass containers filled with Deodeok liquor.

Another way of consuming deodeok in liquid form is as alcohol:

Deodeok ju (더덕주) is liquor flavored with lance asiabell. 🍶 Preferably old roots, which allegedly contain more nutrients, are put into clear liquor (usually soju with more than 30% alcohol) and left for several months or years to mature. Over time, the taste and color of the liquid changes. There is no maximal period for keeping the roots inside the alcohol. In fact, the longer the roots are inside the liquor, the better! ⏳ I’ve seen recipes suggesting a minimal waiting time of 3 years!

Lance asiabell liquor is typically a brown but clear liquid. 🟤 In addition to that, it exhibits the characteristic fragrance of deodeok.Since this liquor is best made with so-called medicinal deodeok (약더덕), it is likewise considered to possess health benefits. Some elderly Koreans tend to drink small portions of this liquor as a kind of preventive medicine.

Deodeok jeup 더덕즙 in individual pouches.

Apart from these kinds of drinks featuring deodeok, there are more ways to enjoy lance asiabell (and its purported health properties)!

For example, there is deodeok jeup (더덕즙), a liquid extract of deodeok roots, deodeok rice wine (deodeok makgeolli 더덕막걸리), and even deodeok milk (deodeok uyu 더덕우유).

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🌿 The greens 더그린스

Young sprout of Deodeok. At farm Sapdari Duduk 삽다리더덕. Yesan 2022.

Neither well known nor widely available are the young greens of deodeok, which are edible as well! 🌿 The shoots of the lance asiabell plant (deodeok sun 더덕순) can be consumed as long as leaves and stems are still soft. They are as fragrant as the roots, but naturally have a different texture. In fact, the entire deodeok sprout (saessak deodeok 새싹더덕), i.e. baby root plus young greens, can be eaten!**** 🌱

Unfortunately, fresh deodeok shoots and sprouts are hard to find at the moment. Hence, eating the young greens is still an unconventional way of consuming deodeok.

The rest 더레스트

After all, deodeok has absolutely nothing in common with ducks. ❌🦆 [Other than both being fascinating life forms! 💚🦆💚🥕💚]

For some reason, lance asiabell is used as a vegetable only in Korea. 🇰🇷🇰🇵 Fresh deodeok roots are difficult to find outside of Korea, making it a unique ingredient in the local cuisine. Overall, deodeok is in high demand as a food ingredient and a medicinal plant.

I dare declare that deodeok is one of the most cherished vegetables in present South Korea. Not only is deodeok more pricey than other vegetables, it is also more precious because of ascribed health benefits. Deodeok dishes are generally considered a delicacy.

In short, deodeok is an amazing ingredient – particularly for vegans and vegetarians! 💚 Whether you believe in the wondrous health benefits of deodeok or not, it is a pleasure to eat and drink it! Deodeok has a sophisticated flavor and varied texture profile. You can enjoy the crunch of raw deodeok, or the fibrous and stringy texture of cooked roots! 😋🥕 You can even find several drinks infused with deodeok, ranging from tea to alcohol and “healing potions”!

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Notes from the author

*) Konglish (콩글리쉬 / 콩글리시) consists of the words “Korean” and “English” and describes English with a Korean accent (한국어식 영어). Korean language does not feature the same sounds as the English language. 🔠 When English words are written with Korean letters, the pronunciation tends to be different because certain letters do not exist. This is also the case for English loanwords.

For fun, the subtitles of this post are spelled in Korean so you can practice your Konglish! 😉 [or simply reading Korean!]

Note that not all native Koreans pronounce English with the Konglish accent.

**) There are a couple of other species of the genus Codonopsis that are native to Korea and look very similar to deodeok. For example Codonopsis pilosula (mansam 만삼) and Codonopsis ussuriensis (sogyeong bural 소경불알).

***) Deodeok is called yángrǔ (羊乳) in Chinese. Unlike Korea, it is not used as a food crop in China, but as a medicinal ingredient in Traditional Chinese Medicine. 💊

****) Information about growing, harvesting and eating deodeok greens can be found on the YouTube Channel of Sapdari Duduk 삽다리 더덕:
1.) Young deodeok greens 더덕순 [Korean, non-vegan food depicted]
2.) Deodeok sprouts 새싹더덕 [Korean]

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