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Asia Minute: Kimchi Production Goes Beyond Korea

Charles Haynes

Around the world, certain foods are associated with particular locations. For most people, sushi goes with Japan, bratwurst with Germany, and kimchi is a match for Korea. But on that last one, there’s been a development.

Kimchi has been part of Korean food for hundreds of years.

The production of the spicy fermented cabbage dish is even registered on the UN’s list of items as part of the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.” But that’s humanity — and business is business.

And those strong ties with Korea do not mean that it’s exclusively made in Korea.

South Korean media have been reporting for some time about the “kimchi trade deficit.”

Last week, the Joong Ang Daily reported that the kimchi deficit has reached an all-time high of more than 46 million dollars. More than 100 million dollars of kim-chi imports came from China last year, and the issue is not about cultural pride, it’s about price.

Credit Senior Airman Kristin High / U.S. Air Force
U.S. Air Force
A woman makes kimchi at the 12th annual Korean American Friendship Festival in the Songtan Entertainment District, Republic of Korea, Oct. 17, 2015.

Chinese kimchi can be about one-tenth the price of Korean-made kimchi.

And in Japan, they’re producing their own kimchi for domestic consumption. Local media report they often sweeten the flavor, and add some non-traditional ingredients — ranging from natto, or fermented soybeans, to cheese.

Back in South Korea, the government funds a group under the Ministry of Science that is called the “World Institute of Kimchi.” Its chairman suggests national pride in the dish remains high — calling for among other steps, increased “scientific research on quality assurance.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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