Korea’s Boffins Establish a Kimchi Scale
|Reese Deveaux||May 22, 2007|
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
website adds, Koreans bringing out the cameras don’t say
“cheese” when attempting to coax a smile from their
subjects. They say “kiiiimchi.”