Korea’s Boffins Establish a Kimchi Scale

gimchi

Korea’s

national dish kimchi has officially been around at least since the

Shilla Dynasty of the Three Kingdoms, which spanned the period from

the second century AD to the seventh. Some authorities say it might

have been around even longer, going back to when cabbage was first

introduced on the Korean peninsula perhaps 4,000 years ago.

So

finally, after thousands of years of peppery existence, the Korean

government says it has found it necessary to establish a scientific

five-point scale to rate the pickled cabbage dish’s spiciness.

Kimchi,

along with ginseng and shoju, is closer to a national religion than a

food. The average citizen eats somewhere between 10 and 15 kilograms

a year of the substance although nobody is quite sure whether it’s

a pickle or a salad. Whatever it is, it’s usually on every

table, providing accompaniment to a traditional Korean meal of soup,

meat and rice.

Made with

garlic, ginger, scallions and chillies mixed into cabbage and

fermented, kimchi recipes were traditionally handed down from family

to family as newly-tested brides were sent into the kitchen to learn

how to make it from their mothers-in-law, with every family proud of

its own variation.

But

starting in the 1960s, when Korean troops were sent to join American

troops in the Vietnam War, homemade kimchi was not always available.

The Korean government set out to create a kind of industrial kimchi

for homesick soldiers who presumably would fight better on kimchi

than on American C-rations so the first batches were shipped and

served to ROK soldiers in Vietnam in 1966

While

tinned kimchi was created during the Korean War, which lasted from

1950 to 1953, the Vietnam production appears to have been the first

mass production of kimchi on an industrial scale. But as Korea’s

domestic industrialization began to pick up speed, and wives left the

kitchen for electronics and auto factories, the centuries-old

tradition of handmade, homemade kimchi, with its regional and

familial variations, began to disappear. Where previous generations

once joined together for what was called Gimjang, an annual gathering

to make kimchi to ferment and store in the earthenware jars that were

once seen everywhere in Seoul and to perpetuate the family’s

recipe, that tradition has diminished.

Consequently,

much kimchi today is made in factories. Although special containers

and refrigerators have been developed to allow modern women to make

it in smaller batches, the practice of making homemade kimchi is a

victim of changing times. Although there are believed to be something

like 100 different varieties, industrial kimchi has devolved into

three basic types: freshly-packed salad-type, refrigerated pickled

and pasteurized shelf-stable kimchi. As much as a half-million tons

are produced every year in South Korea, and probably about as much in

North Korea, although the north’s kimchi statistics tend to be

a bit incomplete, like most everything else up there.

But if

kimchi is hot, how hot is it? According to Seoul’s Joong Ang

Daily, Korea’s Agriculture Ministry said its kimchi benchmark

would rank the pickled delicacy as mild, slightly hot, moderately

hot, very hot and extremely hot, based on research by the Korea Food

Research Institute. The heat index is based on the amount of

capsaicin and other substances contained in the chili peppers that

make kimchi hot.

The

government also said kimchi will be further categorized into three

levels of ripeness depending on the degree of fermentation, from

non-fermented to over-fermented.

Previously

there was no way to judge the condition of manufactured kimchi. The

government said it would encourage local manufacturers to adopt the

standards and will consider regulations at a later date, the

newspaper said.

So will it

work? Koreans take their kimchi seriously. “The power of kimchi

is the power of peaceful, prosperous people who smile while working,

instead of laughing at work. Because theirs is an ancient wisdom,

Koreans have had an immense opportunity to note what is sound and

what is likely to be of enduring value,” according to the

AsiaInfo website.

And, the

website adds, Koreans bringing out the cameras don’t say

“cheese” when attempting to coax a smile from their

subjects. They say “kiiiimchi.”