Gondre Is the Buddhist Temple Herb You Can Buy at Costco | Healthyish


As a kid spending summers in Korea, my mom would drag me away from the video arcade to go mountain hiking. In May, the hills of Gangwon Province are a lush green, blanketed in soybeans, lotus, mugwort, burdock root, and other herbs that form the basis of Buddhist temple cuisine. My mother’s real motive for ascending so many miles of steep mountains was to teach me to how to pick those curative herbs and collect the fresh spring water that nourishes them.

Thirty years after my first foraging trip in Gangwon Province, I was shocked to roll down the aisles of Costco and encounter one of these Korean mountain herbs. Gondre is a leafy green renowned for flavor and health benefits—it forms the basis of one of the most well-known Korean Buddhist temple dishes, a simple bowl of steamed rice and herbs known as gondre rice.

Costco was the last place I expected to find authentic Korean food, much less this beloved temple cuisine dish, but South Korea is steadily exporting the food to the club retailer. A crafty sample lady knew she had my number when she called out, “Healthy Korean rice!” Slowing my hunger-induced rapid cart roll, I gratefully took her small paper cup of tender white rice, which had a spinach-like leaf nestled amongst its grains. Tucking the little spoonful into my mouth, I marveled at the pure, pleasant taste of the gondre bap. (Bap literally translates to “rice,” but also colloquially stands in for “food” in Korean.)

healthyish gondre 1

Photo by Chelsea Kyle

Dried gondre rice, ready to be cooked.

Known scientifically as cirsium setidens, gondre (also written as “gondeure”) has been called the Korean thistle. The wild mountain herb is now grown in large quantities in greenhouses across Korea. Costo’s producer, a Korean company called Hanwoomul that works exclusively with local farmers in Northern Jeolla Province, packages the herbaceous green in a frozen sesame oil-seasoned rice bowl. Amazon offers a standard Korean format: dried gondre that is ready to be reconstituted in soup, steamed with rice, or blanched in water, and most large Korean grocery stores sell a frozen or dried version of the herb.

Hanwoomul reports that gondre’s health benefits include improved digestion and blood cholesterol regulation, and recent studies have confirmed that the herb is rich in fiber, calcium, and vitamin A. Its most promising benefits, however, may come from its flavonoids—in particular, one flavonoid with a proven anti-diabetic effect in mice. The antioxidant’s effects fight cancer, and an herbal drink called taemyeongcheong, which contains gondre, has been shown to prevent acetaminophen-induced liver damage in mice.

In its raw state, gondre is earthy and a little bitter. But usually by the time the average Korean consumer has gondre in her hands, it has already been soaked, blanched, or dried, then packaged in a frozen or preserved format. Gondre gives off a deeply herbal and earthy aroma when cooked, similar to hearty cup of oolong tea. Salt and sesame oil are all you need to complete this minimalist rice bowl, but for an extra umami boost, mix in some soy sauce or soybean paste, or any bibimbap-style toppings you desire.

As Hanwoomul makes an effort to provide information about gondre in English and if club stores like Costco continue to stock it, gondre could be poised to be next big superfood. Perhaps a Gondre Greens smoothie mix isn’t far away. My mother probably wouldn’t drink it, but she’d be tickled that Americans have found a way to drink this healthful vegetable.

Find a gondre recipe here.


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