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'Kimchi ambassadors' recognize Korean staple food's global ascent

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Kimchi made out of salted and fermented cabbage / gettyimagesbank
Kimchi made out of salted and fermented cabbage / gettyimagesbank

Korea seeks to promote kimchi further

By Dong Sun-hwa

Kimchi, a traditional Korean food of salted and fermented vegetables, is a staple in Korea, eaten at almost every meal. For Koreans, it is more than just a side dish loaded with diverse nutrients; it is also an emblem of the country's unique culture and identity. In 2013, kimchi-making or "kimjang," was inscribed in UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Koreans are eager to promote kimchi worldwide. For a long time, they have attempted to delight the taste buds of people from overseas with this staple food, which dates back to sometime around 37 B.C.E. to 7 C.E. in the early days of the Three Kingdoms period. For this goal, the World Institute of Kimchi appointed six "global kimchi ambassadors," who have been actively introducing the dish around the world since earlier this year.

The ambassadors are: Kalidas Shetty, a professor and director of the Global Institute of Food Science at North Dakota State University; Alpago Sinasi, a Turkish journalist and Seoul correspondent; Xanthe Clay, a columnist and food writer of the British media outlet The Telegraph; Jyoti Prakash Tamang, a professor of microbiology at Sikkim University; Emanuel Pastreich, president of The Asia Institute; and Martin J.T. Reaney, a professor at the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan.

In celebration of Kimchi Day on Nov. 22, Shetty, who integrates kimchi into all of his meals when eating at home, talked about his experiences with kimchi, revealing how it is becoming more sought-after in the U.S.

Kalidas Shetty, a professor and director of the Global Institute of Food Science at North Dakota State University / Courtesy of World Institute of Kimchi
Kalidas Shetty, a professor and director of the Global Institute of Food Science at North Dakota State University / Courtesy of World Institute of Kimchi
"Kimchi is getting popular across the U.S. aligned to the message as being healthy," Shetty said in a written interview. "It is one of the most popular ethnic fermented foods aligned to health benefits. It is available in all major grocery stores in the U.S., including bulk supplies from major stores like Costco and Walmart. There are many local producers as well. Recently, I was very surprised to find a local fermented radish kimchi made by a local farmer in North Dakota and it was sold at $10 per bottle/jar. It was sold out within a few hours."

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Korea's kimchi exports in 2021 hit a record high of $159.9 million with a surplus of $19.2 million.

One of kimchi's competitive edges is that it can be a potential source of good bacteria, which is beneficial for gut health, Shetty explained.

"It is also a good potential source of vitamin B due to lactic acid fermentation," he explained. "Kimchi's fermentation process also provides short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that are known to be beneficial for health along with prebiotics mobilized from the fiber of vegetables."

The professor of Indian origin, who is currently learning how to make kimchi, added that he was "amazed" when he first tried kimchi in Korea.

"I was amazed to see how kimchi had a familiar taste that reminded me of fermented vegetable pickles with rice in South India, so I immediately had a liking for it," he recalled. "My Korean colleagues were surprised to see how much I enjoyed kimchi even more than my Korean hosts."

Journalist Alpago Sinasi / Korea Times file
Journalist Alpago Sinasi / Korea Times file

Alpago Sinasi, who runs a YouTube channel with 60,000 subscribers, had a similar experience.

"Kimchi was something familiar to me from the very beginning, because I grew up eating tursu, a kimchi-like dish in Turkey," Sinasi told The Korea Times. "It seems my childhood memory is driving me to try different kinds of kimchi."

Sinasi believes kimchi can gain more popularity in Turkey.

"Since Turkey already has tursu, I think it will not be so challenging for kimchi to 'settle' in Turkey," he said. "If Korea wants to further promote kimchi, I believe it should first target the countries that are accustomed to fermented products … It also needs to organize more events where people can get a taste of various types of kimchi."


Dong Sun-hwa sunhwadong@koreatimes.co.kr


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