SEOUL -- Data released by the agriculture ministry reveals that South Korean processed rice exports reached a record-high of $217.2 million in 2023. The surge in exports can be attributed to the global popularity of South Korean rice products, including instant cooked rice packs, rice cakes, frozen "Gimbab," Korean-style rice rolls filled with various ingredients such as vegetables and meat, wrapped in seaweed.
This rise in popularity can be linked to the increased recognition of Korean food culture, as showcased in K-dramas, K-films, and K-pop, over the past few years. Hallyu (Korean cultural wave) enthusiasts, connecting through social media and online community platforms, have actively shared their knowledge of experiencing the best Korean food in their respective regions. Encouraging one another to explore new menus, these enthusiasts have played a crucial role in spreading the appeal of Korean cuisine worldwide.
The first wave of the K-food phenomenon took root in 2017, spurred by South Korean instant noodles known as "Ramyeon." Indonesian and Malaysian influencers on YouTube and social media engaged in a competitive trend of uploading videos documenting their experiences with the notorious "Hot Chicken Flavored Ramen" by Samyang. These extremely spicy and hot instant noodles captured the attention of viewers, leading to a viral sensation across the Southeast Asian region.
In 2023, the United States witnessed a new Korean food-related craze -- the Gimbab phenomenon. The release of frozen Gimbab products by the grocery store chain Trader Joe's became a sensation, riding the wave of Hallyu and vegetarian culture. Young consumers enthusiastically shared their "Gimbab experiences" on social media platforms, including YouTube, X (formerly known as Twitter), Instagram, and TikTok. The popularity surge cemented Gimbab's position as one of America's sought-after foody sensations.
The agriculture ministry's data, released on January 29, showed that exports of processed rice products reached $217,239,000 in 2023, up 19.5 percent compared to $181,821,000 in 2022. According to the ministry, exports of processed riced products have been steadily increasing since 2015 ($54,342,000) and the amount of annual exports has increased by almost fourfold in eight years.
The North American market was the biggest importer of South Korean processed rice products with a total annual import volume of $114.8 million in 2023, followed by Viet Nam ($14.9 million), the European Union ($14.8 million) and Japan ($12.5 million).
Meanwhile, the domestic consumption of rice in South Korea is declining rapidly due to Westernized menus and diets centered in on consuming less carbohydrates and more fibrous vegetables for healthy living.
The agriculture ministry's data showed that a South Korean person consumed an average of 56.4 kilograms (124 pounds) of rice in 2023. The average consumption of rice per capita in 1993 was 110.2 kilograms. The average annual grain consumption has also been on a steady decline since 1981 to stand at 64.6 kilograms per person.
However, the annual total of rice used in the making of food products and ingredients for beverages increased. 558,064 tons of rice was used for processed foods while 259,057 tons were used for making beverages including spirits.
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