SEOUL -- Exports of kimchi, traditional Korean pickled vegetables, soared 10.5 percent year-on-year to $155.6 million in 2023, state data showed. The increased popularity of kimchi is accelerated thanks to the high global recognition of the salad-like spicy mixed vegetable pickles as healthy food.
Kimchi is a spicy and sour, picked vegetable side dish, usually made by fermenting cabbage or radish with red chili powder, garlic, ginger, and other spices. During the last decade, kimchi was exposed to the global audience through many South Korean films and drama series. Unlike the pre-pandemic days when kimchi could only be found at Korean supermarkets or Asian markets in the United States, kimchi can now be purchased at mega-stores like Walmart and Costco.
The health advantages of kimchi come from the cultivation of lactic acid bacteria during the fermentation process, producing many antimicrobial substances. A study conducted by the National Institute of Biological Resources (NIBR) showed that the antiviral effect of lactobacillus plantarum NIBR97, a lactic acid bacterium isolated from kimchi, is effective in suppressing murine hepatitis virus and low pathogenicity avian influenza.
According to data released by South Korea's customs office, $155,617,000 worth of kimchi was exported in 2023, up 10.5 percent from a year ago. The vegetable side dish was exported to a total of 92 countries. The largest importer was Japan accounting for about $61.5 million. The U.S. was the second-largest with $39.9 million, followed by the Netherlands with $7.3 million and Britain with $6.1 million. The total amount of kimchi exported reached a record high of 44,041 tons, up 7.1 percent year-on-year.
Kimchi marked its record high of $159,915,000 in 2021 when consumers' awareness of healthy food peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kimchi exports experienced a slight slowdown in 2022 when countries began reopening their borders and transitioning to post-pandemic days.
Major kimchi exporters in South Korea include food manufacturing group Daesang, CJ CheilJedang, a key subsidiary of food and entertainment conglomerate CJ Group, and food company Pulmuone. Daesang currently sells kimchi in some 60 countries through its kimchi brand "Jongga." In 2022, the kimchi maker started kimchi production at its California plant with an annual capacity of 2,000 tons.
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