Soy Bean Sprout Soup for the Soul (콩나물국 Kongnamul Guk)

Soybean Sprout Soup (콩나물국 Kongnamul Guk)
Soybean Sprout Soup (콩나물국 Kongnamul Guk)
Soybean Sprout Soup (콩나물국 Kongnamul Guk)

Wonderfully warm and light – this amazingly soothing soup is Koreans’ Chicken Soup for the soul. If you get a terrible cold, this soybean sprout soup is what mom will make for you – with extra red pepper flakes to chase the cold away. The non-spicy version of this Kongnamul Guk is also a perfect soup for children. Kids love the flavor and it also aids with their brain development. If you are suffering from a hangover, Kongnamul Guk is another fabulous soup (next to Bugeo Guk or Dried pollock soup) that will help your body get rid of the alcohol in your body.

For those interested, here’s the science behind it:

Amino acid asparagine – contained in the root end of soybean sprouts, research has shown that it helps healthy brain development in children. This amino acid also helps the liver get rid of acetaldehyde – a compound produced from partial oxidation of ethanol – which is known to contribute to hangovers.

Vitamin C – soybean sprouts contain large amount of vitamin C which is helps with immunity

In addition, Soybean sprouts are a good source of protein, B vitamin folate and fiber.

Making this soup is surprisingly simple and interestingly, kids love this soup! So, try making some for your little one!

Servings: 2-3            Time: 30 minutes                  Difficulty: Easy


  • 6 oz (170g) Soybean Sprouts (콩나물 Kongnamul) – add more or less, it’s OK
  • 15 dried large anchovies for stock (국멸치 Kookmyeolchi)
  • 1 piece of dried Kelp (다시마 Dashima) – approx 3 x 3 in
  • 4 C water
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 3 tsp red chili pepper powder (고추가루 Gochukaroo)
  • 1 T chopped garlic
  • 2~3 T chopped green onions
  • 1 tsp or more fermented salted shrimp, chopped (새우젓 Saewoojeot) – OPTIONAL


  1. Make the fish stock. Add 4 C water to pot and add dried anchovies and kelp. Simmer for 15-20 min.
    Dried Anchovies and Kelp for stock
    Dried Anchovies and Kelp for stock
    Fish stock for soybean sprout soup
    Fish stock for soybean sprout soup

    If you have time, let it sit with heat turned off for 20 min. Extra time will make the broth even more richer and flavorful. Like so-

    Finished anchovy kelp fish stock
    Finished anchovy kelp fish stock
  2. Rinse soybean sprouts (kongnamul) and discard any black and spoiled pieces.
  3. Remove the kelp and anchovies from the fish stock. Add salt and soybean sprouts to pot. Cover and bring to boil.

    Sprouts in pot for Kongnamul Guk
    Sprouts in pot for Kongnamul Guk
  4. Boil COVERED on medium heat for 8 minutes. DO NOT open the cover until sprouts are fully cooked. Opening before it’s fully cooked will leave a fishy smell/taste to the soup so don’t do it!!! Be patient..
  5. Add garlic, green onions and red chili pepper powder. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Taste the soup and adjust saltiness by adding more salt or optionally saewoojeot.
  6. And that’s all! Serve with some rice and other side dishes for a warm and soothing meal.

    Non-spicy Kongnamul Guk
    Non-spicy Kongnamul Guk – great for kids!


  • Anchovy stock – see My Tips page to make the anchovy stock ahead of time. There’s also a new type of dried fish that I recently discovered in Korea. These guys add even better flavor to the stock. It’s called Bendaengyi (밴댕이) or Dipori (디포리) and is referred to as Herengula Zunasi/Sardinella Zunasi or Japanese Sardinella. The fermented, salted form is called Bendaengyi jeot and is used in Kimjang Kimchi.
  • Soybean Sprouts – When buying sprouts, don’t go for the big, thick ones as they probably have fertilizers or chemicals in them. Buy thin, slender sprouts and go for organic or ones with no chemicals (무농약) if you can. Also, turn the bag over and see if there are any sprouts that have become mushy at the bottom of the bag. This means the sprouts are not as fresh as they should be.
    Fresh, best quality soybean sprouts (콩나물 Kongnamul)
    Fresh, best quality soybean sprouts (콩나물 Kongnamul)

    See how beautiful these sprouts are? Not a brown, yellow or blackish spot anywhere..

  • Root or no root? – People have different opinions about taking the root ends off of soybean sprouts. I personally stopped removing the root ends long time ago because I learned that the roots have a lot of nutrients in them. To be honest, it’s probably more because it was too time consuming. :)
  • Saewoojeot (새우젓) – add fermented, salted shrimp for extra flavor. Reduce amount of salt if you are going to finish the soup with this.
  • Use papertea bags for anchovies – fishing for anchovies from the stock can be a bit of a hassle so you can buy and use a paper bag (sold at Korean or Japanese stores) to keep the fishes while they are in the pot.

    anchovies in paper bag for stockanchovies in paper bag for stock
    anchovies in paper bag for stock


Rice with Korean Soybean Sprouts (콩나물밥 Kongnamul Bap)

Rice with Soybean Sprouts (콩나물밥 Kongnamul Bap)
Kongnamul Bap (Soybean Sprouts with Rice)
Kongnamul Bap (콩나물밥 Soybean Sprouts with Rice)

If you have ever been to a Korean restaurant, you probably had a side dish made from these soybean sprouts (콩나물 Kongnamul). They are also great in soups and stews and Koreans swear that Kongnamul Gook(soup) will cure the common cold. Nutritionally, soybean sprouts contain tons of vitamin C and are also a good source of vitamin Bs, thiamine and folate. The head (the bean part) contains a lot of protein and the root part provides fiber.

Another way to eat these healthy and tasty sprouts is in a complete meal with rice (Kongnamul Bap). This is one of those dishes that was part of almost every Korean home when I was growing up. And I have to say.. as a kid, for me, it wasn’t as exciting to me as kalbi or pork belly.  Maybe I just took it for granted since we had it quite often..But, after I started living in the US, it became one of those dishes that I really started to miss. I guess you can say it is my Korean comfort food.

There were some concerns a few years ago in Korea about soybean sprouts that were grown using pesticides and other chemicals. The ones you buy in the US are probably fine but just in case, be suspicious if the white part below the bean is very chunky and looks especially long – like as if it was on steroids compared to other brands. If you can, buy ones that are organic or grown naturally which usually look thinner and smaller.


Prep time: 15 min.             Cooking time: 40 min.                       Servings: 4


  • 3 cups* short grain rice *The cup here is a measuring cup that comes with rice cookers which is meant only to work with the water level measurements given inside the rice cooker.  Note that 1 rice measuring cup is actually equivalent to 3/4 C in standard volume measurements.
  • 3 cups* of water
  • 14 oz soybean sprouts
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/3 lb seasoned, cooked ground beef (or thinly sliced beef strips)
  • seasoning for beef –
    • 2 tsp soy sauce (Kikkoman)
    • 1 tsp sugar
    • 2 tsp rice cooking wine
    • 1 tsp sesame oil
    • 1 tsp minced garlic
    • 1/8 tsp garlic powder (optional)
    • 1/8 tsp ground black pepper
  •  sauce for rice (양념장 yangnyum jang)
    • 3 T soy sauce
    • 2 T chopped green onions
    • 2 tsp ~ 1 T red chili powder (to taste)
    • 1 tsp chopped garlic
    • 2 tsp sugar
    • dash of black pepper
    • 1 T sesame oil
    • 1 T sesame seeds
    • 1 tsp chopped fresh green chili (optional)


1. Prepare the ground beef by mixing in all the seasonings and then stir frying the beef on medium heat until fully cooked.

soybean sprouts that i like to use
soybean sprouts that i like to use


2. Wash and clean the soybean sprouts. It is customary to clean the sprouts by trimming the root ends of each sprout individually but I usually skip this step because it takes time and since it really doesn’t affect the taste at all. Just pick out any sprouts that are mushy or brownish looking and where the heads have turned black or have black spots on them. A bag of good quality  fresh bean sprouts should have very little sprouts that need to be picked out.

3. Wash the rice. Mix the water and salt and pour over the rice.

4. Spread the cleaned sprouts and the cooked ground beef on top of the rice.

kongnamul on top of uncooked rice
kongnamul on top of uncooked rice

If you don’t have a rice cooker, you can also cook as you normally would cooking rice in a pot.  When cooking in a regular pot, it is probably best to put the sprouts and the beef first into the pot and add the rice on top (Read my variations below).  Don’t open the lid until the bean sprouts are fully cooked (or rice is fully cooked) otherwise the sprouts can come out smelly and tasting fishy. How do you know if they are fully cooked? When you cook rice in a pot, you bring it to a boil and then lower the heat to low and let it simmer for 15 minutes until all the liquid is gone (the sound will change from a bubbling sound to a low hissing sound) while keeping the lid on. Turn off the heat and let it sit for another 2 minutes or so before you open the lid.

5. While the rice is cooking you can make the yangnyum jang. Remember that this sauce is quite strong and salty, so little goes a long way. An option is to dilute it by adding water (1 T water).

yangnyumjang for kongnamul bap
yangnyumjang for kongnamul bap

5. When it is all cooked, mix the rice gently to evenly distribute the beef and sprouts throughout the rice. Now serve the rice with the sauce on the side so that people can adjust the amount to their taste. My husband always ends up adding too much sauce and makes his rice too salty!  Please start by adding about 1- 2 tsp to a bowl of rice and add more if you need it. Enjoy it with some kimchi on the side!

mixing the cooked rice
mixing the cooked rice


  • Traditionally, kongnamul bap was made in a huge iron pot over a wood burning stove. And the sprouts were spread at the bottom of the pot first before the rice was added. There were two reasons for this: one is that there is no chance of the sprouts getting a fishy smell this way since it was buried under the rice; two is that the sprouts will lose less moisture. However,  in recent times with the use of the electric rice cooker, the moisture and the taste gets pretty much sealed as it cooks. And the sprouts tend to get a little burnt at the bottom which some people don’t like. But for me, I like having the sprouts on top because it leaves them more crunchy.
  • There are recipes that add shitake or oyster mushrooms and julienned carrots. I don’t think it can hurt but it’s definitely not a traditional recipe. I personally don’t like adding random ingredients to recipes just for color or texture so please try this authentic recipe first before you go and add other stuff.
  • Sometimes, the sprouts and the beef are cooked separately and served on top of the rice instead of cooking together. This produces a bibimbap kind of texture where the vegetables are still quite crunchy and the rice is also less mushy. Texture wise, I like this recipe but it does not have the full kongnamul flavor infused into the rice so it’s not as authentic tasting.
  • You can use ground pork instead of beef or mix half and half.