The Korean language has two terms that can be used to talk about desserts. The first, hangwa, means sweets, while the second, husik, refers to food eaten after a meal. As food eaten after a meal in Korea need not be sweet, not all items that are considered desserts may be familiar to people from other cultures. Traditionally, rice cakes, sweet potatoes, and melons are all popular Korean desserts. More recently, French pastries and other Western treats have become popular dessert items as well.
In Korea, sugar was not a significant ingredient for much of the country's culinary history. For this reason, desserts often consisted of fruits, punch, or lightly sweetened items. Flowers and red beans are also common ingredients in Korean desserts. Presentation is considered important in Korean desserts, and decoratively shaped fruits are very popular after meals.
One of the most common traditional Korean desserts is the rice cake. These items are often boiled, although they can also be steamed. Rice cakes tend to be small, particularly when they will be served after a meal, and come in many different shapes and colors. These cakes can be filled with honey or other foods and may also be flavored by adding fragrances to the water used to cook the cakes.
Rice cakes can also be fried and coated with other materials. Sometimes they are fried with filling as well. Often these cakes are not served after a meal but as a snack to be eaten with tea, which helps to alleviate the overload of rice that comes from serving rice as a dessert food after a rice-loaded meal.
Shaved ice is very popular in Korea and is often served with fruit or red beans. This Korean dessert can also be made from green tea, which can be considered a healthy alternative. Punches and drinks made from rice or red beans can be popular as well.
Candied sweet potatoes are popular as Korean desserts, as are savory sweet potato fries. Squash soup and other warm dishes may be served after a meal as well. Salty snacks are sometimes served after meals, though excessive saltiness is usually avoided.
Korean desserts that are designed today can be affected both by the increased availability of sugars and by traditional types of desserts. Rice cakes and shaved ice remain popular, but ice cream and other foods that were imported from Western sources have risen in popularity as well. Sometimes these items are combined to create new, interesting desserts, such as green tea ice cream or red bean cheesecake.