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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Kimchi globalization is on, and at a store near you

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Pulmuone kimchi sold at a Walmart branch in the United States [PULMUONE]
Pulmuone kimchi sold at a Walmart branch in the United States [PULMUONE]

Kimchi is going global in a big way, the Korean go-to being taken abroad in cans, as kits, and via factories operating in faraway lands.

People overseas no longer have to run to the nearest Korean restaurant or lug home giant vats of kimchi to be able to eat the spicy, fermented, napa cabbage gastronomic wonder.

Sempio, known for soy sauce and gochujang (hot pepper paste), started selling a kimchi-making kit to overseas customers starting Monday.

The kit comes with a pack of kimchi base sauce they can mix with cabbage to achieve an authentic taste. Rather than chili powder being included in the base sauce, it comes in a separate packet so people who struggle with spice can adjust the hotness. The company said Monday a cooking class using the kimchi-making kit was held at its Yondu Culinary Institute, celebrating International Kimchi Day, which falls on Nov. 22 every year.

The company has also been selling canned kimchi in the United States and European countries since March, advertising its taste to not change over time and the smell to be reduced due to it being canned.

Kimchi Powder Seasoning Mix, made by Food Culture Lab under the Seoul Sisters brand, first started selling on Amazon in 2020, allowing foreigners to sprinkle it on any food and enjoy it with various dishes. The product is currently exported to over 13 countries, with 230,000 bottles sold as of June.

Foreigners take a kimchi making class at the Yondu Culinary Studio in New York, using Sempio’s kimchi making kit. [SEMPIO]
Foreigners take a kimchi making class at the Yondu Culinary Studio in New York, using Sempio’s kimchi making kit. [SEMPIO]

Foreigners take a kimchi making class at the Yondu Culinary Studio in New York, using Sempio’s kimchi making kit. [SEMPIO]

Companies like Pulmuone are making kimchi sauces, releasing the Mapchi Kimchi Hot Sauce in October.

The popularity of kimchi in Canada is not just about the popularity of Korean food, the Korean wave or mukbang shows, argues Martin J. T. Reaney, a professor of food and bioproduct sciences at Canada’s University of Saskatoon in an email interview. “The favorable response from the Canadian market is interpreted as a result of emphasizing the perception that equates kimchi to health, with vegan kimchi also becoming popular because of Covid-19.”

“Kimchi contains lactic acid bacteria that can be beneficial for digestion and has antioxidants, substances that strengthen immunity and help to reduce the effects of viral infections including Covid-19.”

With the rising popularity of kimchi, the World Institute of Kimchi selected foreigners as the food’s ambassadors. Six were selected, including Reaney, Kalidas Shetty, director of the Global Institute of Food Science, Jyoti Prakash Tamang, a professor of microbiology at Sikkim University and Alpago Sinasi, journalist and TV personality.

Korean Kimchi exports in 2021 rose 9.6 percent on year to $160 million, according to Korea Agricultural Trade Information. Japan took half of that, with significant imports to the United States, Hong Kong, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.

“We are seeing a lot more foreign visitors lately,” said Na Kyung-in, manager at Museum Kimchikan, a kimchi museum run by Pulmuone. “Kimchi is becoming more well-known to foreigners as not just a healthy food, but as one of the most popular Korean foods that they can easily enjoy.”

Martin J. T. Reaney, professor teaching food and bioproduct sciences at the University of Saskatchewan. [WORLD INSTITUTE OF KIMCHI]
Martin J. T. Reaney, professor teaching food and bioproduct sciences at the University of Saskatchewan. [WORLD INSTITUTE OF KIMCHI]

Companies are expanding production sites in response to the rising demand. Daesang announced in early November that it signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a joint venture with Poland’s Charsznickie Pola Natury, which will build a kimchi-making factory in Krakow, Poland.

Daesang will be investing 15 billion won ($11 million) into the plant, starting construction in 2023 and aiming to finish by the end of 2024. Once finished, the factory will produce over 3,000 tons of kimchi annually.

The company started production at its newly built kimchi factory in California in March.

Although the popularity of kimchi is growing, more effort is needed to attract more customers abroad that have different tastes and eating preferences.

“In order to enter the Canadian organic food market, it is essential to obtain Canadian organic certification,” said Reaney. “In the case of processed products, the organic content must be at least 95 percent and must meet the Canadian organic standard requirements set by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.”

Lee Kyung-ae, managing director at Daesang, sixth from left, poses for a photo with Łukasz Głębiński, president of Charsznickie Pola Natury, to celebrate signing a memorandum of understanding to establish a joint venture and a kimchi-making factory in Poland. [DAESANG]
Lee Kyung-ae, managing director at Daesang, sixth from left, poses for a photo with Łukasz Głębiński, president of Charsznickie Pola Natury, to celebrate signing a memorandum of understanding to establish a joint venture and a kimchi-making factory in Poland. [DAESANG]

There are companies that operate factories abroad, but some like Pulmuone stick to local production. The company insists of using local ingredients and manufacturing in Korea to maintain the same flavor as locally-made kimchi.

Exporting fermented food can be tricky due to more time needed for transportation.

“In most cases of imported kimchi from Korea, after importation, if the fermentation process continues during the distribution process and the broth overflows or a white film form on the surface of the product, an exchange request occurs from the store,” said Reaney. “Korean producers should be active in solving these basic shelf-life issues to promote Korean kimchi more widely in the local market.”

“For example, Sauerkraut products made from cabbage, Germany’s representative fermented food, are not refrigerated, have a long shelf-life and are sold throughout the world. It is an issue that needs to be considered for the successful implementation of the kimchi globalization strategy.”

BY LEE TAE-HEE [lee.taehee2@joongang.co.kr]