Korean ginseng, which is considered to be the best quality ginseng, is widely available throughout Seoul at markets, supermarkets, department stores and other outlets. The quality varies however, and one way to ensure you are buying authentic quality Korean Panax ginseng, which was cultivated in Korea and not a cheaper version imported from China, is to look for the Korea Insam seal which shows that the product has been approved by the government.
Ginseng is categorized by its processing methods, and there are two main types to be aware of when shopping for the root. Susam is raw, unprocessed ginseng in its natural form. This kind of ginseng can be bought at markets and might make for some fun experimenting by cooking or making ginseng tea in your hotel room. Remember, however, that it is illegal to leave the country with this plant in its raw, untreated form. Hongsam (or "Red Ginseng," as it is more commonly known) is unpeeled ginseng that has been steamed before drying. This variety has a shelf life of more than ten years and is therefore a good option for tourists. There are many products available that ensure ginseng is easy to consume --including candy, tea, jelly, and health supplements in the form of capsules and tablets. Because of its bitter taste, you can also purchase ginseng that has been coated with honey.
Ginseng is expensive because it is difficult to grow and has a very long growing period (up to 6 years). However, it is cheaper to purchase it in Korea than in any other country where it has been exported. Because it is synonymous with Korea, it is an ideal souvenir, and Red Ginseng comes in attractive packaging.
Anyone who has spent some time in Seoul will know that ginseng products are very common and easy to find, especially in areas popular with tourists such as Itaewon (Line 6) and Insadong (Line 3). For a wider selection, the enormous Gyeondong Herbal Medicine Market is a good place to start. With more than 300 stalls and stores specializing in ginseng, you are guaranteed to find what you are looking for. Because it is brought directly from the site of production, it can be purchased cheaper than in department stores. Fresh ginseng, ginseng extract and ginseng tea are some of the market's bestselling goods.
Namdaemun Market is also an ideal place for ginseng shopping. There are many stores which cater to foreigners looking to buy ginseng. Because this market is popular with tourists, the shop-keepers can communicate in English, and can therefore help you to choose which ginseng product is best suited to your needs. When buying ginseng, it is also important to consider the 'health type' of the person you are buying it for as ginseng is not recommended for people who have excessive body heat. The market can be accessed from Hoehyon Station (Line 4).
Also in this area is the Ginseng Distribution Center which is on the second floor of the Namdaemun Movie Theater in Namdaemun Market. There are 16 stores where customers can buy quality ginseng products at reasonable prices. Although prices vary depending on the product, you can expect to purchase ginseng cheaper than most other places due to purchasing directly from the producers. It is guaranteed that you can purchase any ginseng product ever made, no matter how obscure. Get off at Hoehyon Station on Line 4, walk along the central passage of the Namdaemun Market toward Namdaemun-no Street. The center is located on the right side of the street.
Because ginseng is an everyday item for Koreans, it is sold at many department stores and supermarkets. In particular, the food section at the Hyundai Department store in the COEX Mall in southern Seoul has a good selection. However, expect to pay more at upscale places like this. COEX is easily accessible from Samsung Station (Line 2).