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Dried Persimmons, A Gift Made by the Wind and TimePopularity Won with Jelly-Like Softness and High Sweetness

Korea has a unique traditional snack that few other cultures can offer: dried persimmons (gotgam in Korean). They are made by peeling astringent persimmons and drying them in well-ventilated places. When the fruit dry properly, they obtain a chewy texture but remain tender like jelly. Their softness and sweet taste appeal to many people. Dried persimmons have been considered precious from old times because they can be produced only a limited time during the year and in few areas. It is no surprise, then, that Koreans present dried persimmons as a gift to special people on the biggest holidays such as the Lunar New Year.

Sangju in North Gyeongsang Province is Korea’s most renowned area for dried persimmon production. It generates approximately 11,000 tons of dried persimmons each year, which is about 60% of the total domestic production. Although technological developments have made it possible to produce dried persimmons in just five days using a freeze-dryer, Sangju producers stick to the traditional method of slowly drying peeled persimmons for 40 to 60 days in natural conditions. During that relatively long period of time, astringent persimmons, which cannot be eaten raw, transform into a sweet jelly-like snack.

Thus, it is no exaggeration to say that Sangju dried persimmons are the result of three natural conditions: humidity, wind, and time. In other words, Sangju owes its fame to the optimal climate that determines the quality and taste of dried persimmons. A seasonal wind, for example, makes Sangju be more propitious for dehydrating persimmons.

However, Sangju producers are not complacent with simply benefitting from the natural environment. They have invested much effort to develop technology for the mass-production and introduce state-of-the-art facilities and equipment.

Such efforts have enabled them to enter various foreign markets including the US, Taiwan, Singapore, and Vietnam. Leading the exporting endeavor is Sangju Dried Persimmon Trade Center (hereinafter, Sangju Trade Center).

GIS Contributes to Enduring Fame of Sangju Dried Persimmons
Sangju Trade Center is a producers' group established through investments from 382 farmers engaged in dried persimmon production. Around 2005, the sense of crisis swept the area due to large amounts of dried persimmon imports in the country, so the center was established to strengthen the international competitiveness of Korean dried persimmons. Its first step was to register the area in the geographical indication system (GIS) to improve reliability of its products. GIS is a system introduced by the Korean government to indicate the place of origin of a certain local product and protect the name of the place as a trademark. Thanks to the application of GIS to Sangju, its dried persimmons regained their fame and the sales volume has been increasing every year. The move has also contributed to the growth of the center’s membership to the current total of 496 farmers.

Hwang Seong-yeon, the head of Sangju Trade Center, says, “The center was established as a multifunctional distribution hub to continue a thousand-year-long and honorable history of Sangju dried persimmons.” According to Hwang, the amount of exports soared in 2016 as a result of recruiting specialists with expertise in international trade.

Dried persimmons contain a greater amount of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, and sugar than raw ones. Calcium is helpful in strengthening bones, and potassium is effective in discharging sodium and wastes from the body and preventing high blood pressure. Dried persimmons are also rich in vitamins A and C and thus good for skincare and to fight colds. Their function of reducing cough and phlegm make them excellent against chronic bronchitis. Furthermore, tannin contained in dried persimmons is believed to help bind the bowels and strengthen capillary vessels.

Sangju Dried Persimmon Trade Center Anticipates Exports of US$ 1 Million
Recent structural reorganizations and efforts to pioneer overseas markets allowed Sangju Trade Center to double its export volume. Previously, the center prepared for each shipment individually, so the production process was not standardized, making it hard to rely on export business.

Now, Sangju Trade Center offers all its products—distributed both at home and abroad—packaged by piece, for food safety and the convenience of consumers. The size of packages for export has been standardized to 40–50g, which is the most popular size. In addition, the products are tied into bundles of 10, 12, or 18 according to the importer’s request. Most of the dried persimmons are distributed under the brand name Cheonnyeon Gosu, which literally means a “master of a thousand years.” The center can also change the packaging based on the preferences of importers.

Hwang says, “We have been able to advance to the world market with a systemic export strategy and expect to exceed US$ 1 million in exports in 2017. We see a great potential for dried persimmons overseas and plan to further strengthen our marketing.”

AgraFood  leehw@agrinet.co.kr

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