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Seaweed, a Korean Side Dish, Rises as a Global Food

To Koreans, seaweed is an endearing side dish to rice. One can finish a whole bowl of freshly cooked rice in a heartbeat by wrapping each spoonful of rice in a slice of roasted seaweed. Warm rice and salty seaweed make a terrific couple.

These days, seaweed is undergoing many transformations, turning into snacks, chips, and other products and pairing with food ingredients other than rice.

In overseas markets, seaweed is drawing attention as a low-calorie, healthy snack that even vegetarians can enjoy. In the US and Europe, Korean seaweed is mostly sold in form of snacks whereas the Chinese like seasoned Korean seaweed and the Japanese use it for sushi. Chinese tourists in Korea never fail to buy seasoned seaweed as gifts for their friends and family back home. In the first half of this year, Korean seaweed export has exceeded US$200 million for the first time, registering a whopping US$268.9 million, which is 49.4% higher than the same period last year.

In the Spotlight as a Healthy Food Low in Calories and Rich in Nutrition
Seaweed’s appeal is in its excellent nutritional value and low calories. Five sheets of dried seaweed carry the amount of protein in an egg, while the amount of vitamin A in one sheet of seaweed is equal to that in 2 eggs. Also, seaweed has 16 times the amount of dietary fiber of cabbage and 30 times of that of tangerines. It abounds in iodine, which helps prevent thyroid diseases, and is rich in minerals, vitamins (B1, B2, B6, B12, C, and D), calcium, potassium, iron, and phosphorus. In contrast, it contains few calories and is therefore a perfect food for dieters.

Many adjustments have been made for the palates of consumers abroad. In addition to seasoned and dried seaweed, Korea now offers seaweed snacks, chips, and other types of seaweed products. The consumption of Korean seaweed snacks with additional ingredients, such as almond and cheese, is increasing in the US, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Russia. Bugak, a traditional snack where seaweed is deep-fried in oil, is also getting favorable reactions overseas. Its average saturated fat content is only 2–5% and the caloric value is 50-90㎉ per 30g.

The head of Fishery Products Export Department at aT (Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corp), Goo Ja-sung said, ”Seaweed can be used as a sub-ingredient in many dishes; it can be eaten as a side dish or snack. It has many other advantages as a food ingredient, too. For example, it seldom goes bad during storage or during shipment and has a long distribution period.”

The Target of US$ 1 Billion in Exports by 2024
aT aspires to achieve US$ 1 billion in overseas sales by 2024 by offering an even wider variety of Korean seaweed products to consumers worldwide.

The organization has set up the “New Jang Bogo Project” which focuses on promoting Korean seaweed to emerging markets. It dispatches representatives of seaweed exporters to India, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Brazil, Mexico, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Italy, Poland, and South Africa, with the tasks of conducting surveys of local food markets and carrying out promotional fairs and other events. Several promotional events and participation in trade fairs are planned as part of the project in Vietnam, Indonesia, and Singapore.

Another direction of the project is to boost promotional efforts by holding K-Food Fairs with the purpose of bringing more publicity in the existing markets of Japan, the US, and China. aT plans to carry out online promotional events on the US-based Amazon.com and Japan’s Rakuten.

In the mid- to long-term, the project envisions the development of seeds and expansion of production facilities for sushi seaweed, followed by promotions targeting overseas hotels and restaurants, with a view to supply dry seaweed for dining services. aT will also continue to send market pioneers to emerging export markets of Europe and South America and carry out promotions to encourage the consumption of seaweed in different countires.

○ Additional Information: How Koreans Eat Seaweed
Korean consumers enjoy seaweed in various ways. The traditional way is to wrap a spoonful of cooked rice in seaweed. You can use this easy method for both dry and seasoned seaweed.

Gimbap (seaweed roll), a representative Korean snack, requires seaweed as its main ingredient. A layer of rice is spread on a sheet of seaweed and vegetables and cooked egg are placed on top before making it into a roll. Gimbap has an advantage of accommodating various additional ingredients such as tuna, beef, kimchi, etc., according to diners’ preferences.

Seaweed is also used as a garnish in bibimbap (rice mixed with vegetables), udon (noodle soup), tteokguk (rice cake soup), and other dishes. Not only does it enhance the flavor of a dish, but it also makes it look beautiful.
 

Park Sung Eun  parkse@agrinet.co.kr

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