An increasing number of people prefer vegetables to meat. There are many reasons why they choose a vegetarian diet. Some are concerned about the destruction of the environment, global warming, or are animal lovers. There are also people who cannot eat certain types of meat for religious reasons. Others consider eating vegetables as a better choice for their health.
As the number of vegetarians expands, so does the size of the vegetarian food market. According to a report by aT (Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation), the market grew by 333% in the period from 1998 to 2006, reaching US$ 2.8 billion. In the next four years, until 2020, the vegetarian market is expected to show a steady growth averaging 10.16% a year.
The estimated number of vegetarians in Korea is one million people, and the vegetarian food market is also growing. Many more restaurants and food companies now offer vegetarian choices. Two vegan festivals were held in Korea last year.
In this issue, Korea Agrafood would like to introduce our readers to vegetarian dishes that can be made with Korean agricultural products, some Korean ingredients that can be used to cook vegetarian dishes, and major vegetarian food products exported from Korea to the global market.
□ Korean food ingredients that can be used to cook vegetarian dishes
- Rice: Korean rice received recognition overseas for its high quality and food safety. In the past, it used to be exported mainly to the countries with large Korean communities, but now, it is sold in Australia, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, the US, and many other markets. China opened its market for the Korean rice last year. Awareness of Korean rice is growing fast in the Middle East, and it is anticipated that the sales volume in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other local markets that already import Korean rice will increase further.
- Tomato: Tomatoes are used to cook various dishes—salads, pasta, and many more. Korean tomatoes are a good choice as a food ingredient because they have a firm flesh and high sugar content. Particularly popular these days are cherry tomatoes, which are a tenth in size of a common tomato. To ensure food safety, Korean tomato farms specializing in exports carry out tests of soil components, water, pesticides residue, and so on.
- Seaweed: Korean seaweed is salty and crunchy. Even though its shape and color are not as pretty as those of common snacks, it is no less popular. Low in calories and good for the body, it receives much attention as a healthy snack and is attracting more foreign consumers, especially in the US, every year. The export volume of Korean seaweed increased threefold in seven years from US$ 3.5 million in 2010 to US$ 100 million last year.
- Traditional Korean sauces: Traditional Korean sauces are known for their excellent taste and nutrition which stem from long-term fermentation. The most common ones are soy sauce, soybean paste, and red pepper paste. Among them, red pepper paste is the most popular because many famous Korean spicy foods, such as tteokbokki (stir-fried rice cake) and bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables and beef), are made with it. Korean red pepper paste is spicier and sweeter compared to Tabasco and Sriracha, and its share among hot sauces in the global market is rapidly growing.
- Bell Pepper: The Korean bell pepper comes in bright, multiple colors and has a crunchy texture and high sugar content. For these reasons, it is a perfect ingredient for vegetarian dishes. Moreover, its safety and quality are ensured by aT (Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation), a government agency which manages all steps of bell pepper production and distribution. The popularity of Korean bell pepper overseas is consistently rising, with the export volume going up by 10.1% to US$ 93.8 million last year, as compared to 2015.
- King Oyster Mushroom: The king oyster mushroom is a good meat substitute for vegetarians because of its soft yet chewy texture. It can be cooked in different ways—stir-fried, grilled, made into pancakes, and so on. At first, king oyster mushrooms were only used in higher-end restaurants overseas, as they were not familiar to the general foreign consumer. However, thanks to the active distribution and promotion of recipes using the mushrooms, their usage is growing in Europe, North America, Australia, and other regions.
□ Korean Vegetarian Products Exported Overseas
- Eco-Friendly Rice Cracker: Mereal Corporation succeeded in exporting US$ 18,000 worth of its rice crackers to China last year. Its rice crackers made by cultivating mycelia of shiitake mushrooms were supplied to a Chinese food distributor. With a good reception of the first shipment, the company started exports of a larger variety of the rice crackers including those with kimchi, turmeric rice, and black garlic. Negotiations with buyers from Poland, Indonesia, and Hong Kong are underway.
- A Vegetable Sauce for Rice: The Bab Corporation developed a series of spicy sauces marketed as ideal for rice dishes and made with only natural ingredients. The products are exported to Japan, China, and the US. The ingredients include hot pepper, dried anchovy, dried kelp, and plum extract. The sauces have entered famous online shopping malls in Asia, such as Qoo10 in Singapore and Taobao in China, and are going to be sold online in Vietnam and Indonesia as well.
The Bab Co., Ltd.
- Gimmari: This seaweed fritter is made by rolling up soft, high quality glass noodles in seaweed and frying the rolls until crispy. Its clean taste make it a good ingredient for vegetarian dishes. Exports of deep-fried seaweed rolls with glass noodles are led by Saongwon Corporation. It offers different kinds of seaweed rolls—with seafood, chlorella, and so on—under the brand name Arumi.
- Sikhye: Sikhye (sweet rice punch) is a traditional Korean drink made by fermenting rice with malt. Rice punch products of Sejun Food are exported to the US, Canada, Taiwan, and Hong Kong under the brand Haneulcheong. They are made with carefully selected, high-quality, and pesticide-free rice and malt, which ensure the excellent taste and food safety of the drink. Along with the original flavor, the producer offers rice punch with banana, sweet pumpkin, and other flavors.
- Vegetable Ramen: A ramyeon product targeting vegetarians is offered by Nongshim. Only vegetables and no meat are used to flavor the instant noodles. Since the noodles are not fried, the vegetable ramyeon is popular not only among vegetarians but also other consumers who want to enjoy simple, spicy, and light instant noodles. The product is exported mainly to Indonesia and the UAE, countries with a large number of Muslims who do not eat meat.
- Vegetarian Chocolate Pie: In 2009, two years after entering the Indian market, Orion Corporation released a chocolate pie that suits the vegetarian culture of Indians, 82% of whom are Hindu and 11% are Muslim. Generally, marshmallow in chocolate pie is made with pigskin gelatin, but the vegetarian chocolate pie uses carrageenan and milk protein extracted from agar-agar.
Delicious Vegetarian Dishes Recommended by Cookme
Korean vegetarians often introduce vegetarian dishes made with Korean agricultural products via social media. Cookme (www.cookme.co.kr), a blogger on leading Korean portal site Naver, is a naturalist who enjoys making Korean dishes with fresh vegetables.
- Sandwiches with Soybean Soup-Puree, Cream Cheese, and Spring Flowers
This sandwich can be made with vegetables and tofu residue left after cooking other dishes. If young greens are added, the sandwich will let you feel the scent of the spring. It can make a great dish for brunch and is very easy to cook. ① Mix together soybean soup-puree (kong-biji in Korean, 100g), salt (1/4 tsp.), white wine vinegar (1/2 tsp.), agave syrup (1/2 tsp.), soy sauce (1/4 tsp.), and soybean milk (1 tbsp.). ② Add olive oil (1/3 tbsp.), mix, and spread on bread. ③ Blanch shepherd’s purse and mustard greens in boiling water for 3 seconds. ④ Put them on the bread and add few drops of balsamic vinegar.
- Bell Pepper and Garlic Fried Rice
Cookme makes fried rice using the Korean bell pepper, which has a crispy texture and high sugar content. She believes the dish tastes best if you mix white rice with brown rice. She also emphasizes that high-quality bell peppers add crispiness to fried rice. To cook this dish: ① Thinly slice one clove of garlic and mince two more cloves. ② Heat olive oil in a frying pan and stir-fry the minced garlic. ③ After stir-frying the garlic for 30 seconds, put in rice and soy sauce (1/3 tbsp.) and continue stir-frying. ④ Add thinly-cut bell pepper(1ea), sprinkle with salt(1/4tsp.), and stir-fry all the ingredients together.
- Lotus Root Hamburg Steak
This is a great dish for vegans. Its most outstanding feature is that the steak is made with lotus roots and burdock weed which have a similar texture to meat. ① Grate the lotus root(150g). ② Squeeze the grinded lotus root using a net to separate the juice. ③ Thinly slice a carrot(15g) and onion(15g). ④ Mix 1/8 cup of the lotus root juice with starch(1/4 tsp.), wheat flour(1tbsp.), and salt(1/4tsp.) to thicken it. ⑤Mix the lotus root, carrot, and dough together. ⑥ Make it in a round and flat shape. ⑦ Heat olive oil in a frying pan and broil the steak until well-done. Do not use high heat. ⑧ Put the steak on a dish and decorate with vegetables of your choice. ⑨ With a chopstick, make several holes in the steak and pour a little bit of herb soy sauce in them.
# Additional Information: Delicious Vegetarian Restaurants in Seoul
Barugongyang is a restaurant specializing in temple foods. It is operated by Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. The restaurant received one Michelin Guide Seoul star in 2017. Temple foods usually do not contain meat, seafood, green onion, garlic, chives, wild chives, and onion. They use red pepper paste, soybean paste, soy sauce, and fresh and organic ingredients prepared by monks in a temple. The menu varies because the dishes are made with ingredients of the season. In April, you can have foods made with spring greens. Barugongyang is a three-minute walk from Anguk station Exit 6 of subway line 3. Tel +82-2-733-2081.
Salad Seller is a highly popular salad restaurant in Hannam-dong, close to Itaewon. It offers various types of salads such as Seller’s Salad with kale, arugula, sweet pumpkin, tomato, and walnut, and Rainbow Salad with apple, Asian pear, green grape, orange, mango, arugula, and cucumber. The restaurant is a ten-minute walk from Itaewon station Exit 3 of subway line 6. Tel +82-7-794-0282.
Chaegundaam is a Korean vegetarian table d’hote restaurant whose menu includes a daily special. A vegetable lunch set consists of fried glass noodles, seasonal salad, assorted organic kimchi, veggies with pine nut seasoning, grilled spicy burdock, fried mushrooms with sauce, hot pot rice, and bean paste stew. It takes seven minutes on foot to get to the restaurant from Samseong station Exit 3 of subway line 2. Tel +82-2-555-9173.
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