K-Lifestyle Wiki

Fermented Korean Food

Since ancient times, the Korean people have maintained a belief that food and medicine have the same origin and hence perform the same function, following the adage that ‘food is the best medicine’. They believe that health and illness alike come from the food they consume and how they eat it, and this idea has played a crucial role in the development of traditional Korean medicine whose basic principle is that we should use medicine only after food has failed.

Fermentation of Food

One of the key words to understanding traditional Korean food is fermentation, a metabolic process that helps food to ‘mature’ so that it has improved taste and nutritional properties and can be stored for a longer period. The Korean foods that best represent the tradition of fermentation developed in Korea include doenjang (soybean paste), ganjang (soy sauce), gochujang (chili paste) and jeotgal (fermented fish sauce), whose fermentation can take anywhere from several months to several years. The degree of fermentation is a key factor in the taste and flavor of food cooked at home and in restaurants.

Doenjang (Soybean Paste) and Ganjang (Soy Sauce)

Two of the most important items of traditional fermented food in Korea are doenjang and ganjang. To make them, it is necessary to soak soybeans in water and boil them until fully cooked. Then, they must be pounded and ormed into brick-shaped lumps, and left to dry and ferment. Then, they are placed in salted water in a large pot along with dried red chili and heated charcoal, which help remove impurities and odor during the fermentation process. The beans thus prepared are then left for about two to three months until they become fully fermented. This product should then be divided into two, solids and liquid, of which the former needs to be brewed for over five more months and the latter for over three months to develop a full flavor and taste. Just like wine, soy sauce tends to have a richer flavor and taste when brewed for a longer period.

Gochujang (Chili Paste)

Gochujang (chili paste) is a traditional Korean condiment made by fermenting a mixture of soybean malt, salt, and chili pepper powder with a blend of powdered rice, barley, flour, and malted barley. Gochujang has long been one of the most important traditional condiments among Korean people, whose palates have evolved towards a preference for hot and spicy foods since they were introduced to chili several hundred years ago. Chili and gochujang are now often regarded as a symbol of the vibrant, energetic disposition of Korean people.

Jeotgal (Salted Seafood)

An almost indispensable ingredient for kimchi and a very popular condiment used to enhance the taste of food, jeotgal (salted seafood) is made by mixing one of a variety of seafood (such as anchovy, shrimp, oyster, or clam) with salt, or with other condiments in addition to salt, and fermenting it in a cool place. They say that a longer period of fermentation makes it tastier. The tradition of making fermented fish sauce yielded several special delicacies including sikhae, which is made by fermenting fish mixed with rice and condiments.

Kimchi

Now beginning to gain a worldwide reputation as a representative food of Korea, kimchi has been praised for its anti-carcinogenic properties and nutritional value, as well as numerous variations that create excitingly diverse flavors and tastes. The most common type of kimchi is made by mixing salted white cabbage with kimchi paste made of chili powder, garlic, spring onion, Korean radish ginger, fish sauce and other ingredients like fresh seafood. Kimchi can be eaten fresh but is normally consumed after fermenting it for several days. Kimchi is normally eaten after fermenting it for several days although some prefer called mugeunji, (ripe kimchi) which is fully fermented for over one year.
The ingredients of kimchi vary according to each region and its special local produce and traditions. Seoul, for instance, is famous for gungjung kimchi (royal kimchi), bossam kimchi (wrapped kimchi), chonggak kimchi (whole radish kimchi), and kkakdugi (cubed radish kimchi), while Jeolla-do Province is well known for its godeulppaegi kimchi (Korean lettuce kimchi) and gat kimchi (leaf mustard kimchi).
In 2001, the Codex Alimentarius Commission listed Korean kimchi in the internationally recognized standards, and in 2012 officially recognized the term “kimchi cabbage,” which had previously been referred to as “Chinese cabbage” until then. In 2006, a US health magazine, Health Magazine, selected kimchi as one of the five healthiest foods on earth.

Source: Korean Culture and Information Service 'Facts about Korea'

ReplyPlease leave a comment about any information you wanted to add!
Harley Betty
3 months ago

The word jeotgal is comprised of two components—jeot meaning “soaked and fermented” and gal meaning “a pile of things.” Jeotgal is made by alternating layers of fish and salt in a jar. When salt is sprinkled over the muscles, intestines, and reproductive organs of fish, an enzyme is produced that breaks down proteins into amino acids. This process is described as sakida in Korean, or “fermentation.”

Harley Betty
3 months ago

It’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t always have a tub of gochujang in the fridge. What started as an occasional tryst (spicy steak or the occasional ribs) has turned into a full-blown love affair!! Gochujang has such a potent flavor that it only need to use a bit to make a big impact. I suguesst to start with a teaspoon at a time to make your favorite soups and marinades a little more complex (and fiery), or stir it into sauces and salad dressings.

Carl Ivan Setias
3 months ago

SALT MAY BE SINPLE, BUT ALL OF THESE DISHES ARE MADE WITH SALT! SALT BECAME ONE OF IT’S KEY INGREDIENTS!

Carl Ivan Setias
3 months ago

Salterns mark the borders between tidal flats and human habitats. They straddle the line between nature and culture. They have a big impact on animals, plants and humans, as well as on industrial and cultural sectors. Salt farms are eco-friendly ― they make tidal flats valuable as a natural resource with comparative advantages.

Carl Ivan Setias
3 months ago

Salt farms are valuable as a natural resource with comparative advantages. Salt farms in Korea are constructed on tidal flats. The Korean government designated the area for preservation under the wetland conservation law which soon followed the area’s designation by Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Carl Ivan Setias
3 months ago

Korean salt farms consist of five parts ― a reservoir, evaporating pond, crystallizing pond, haeju and a salt warehouse. When the tide rises in the sea, the sluice gates of the reservoir are opened. Once the water flows into the reservoir, the salt farmer lets the sea water flow into different checkered fields for natural evaporation. Only performed in fair weather, the process increases the salinity of the water; from 2-3 parts per thousand to 17-25 ppt. When the weather is bad, the salt farmer lets the water sit in a brine warehouse called haeju. Salt usually crystallizes after two to three days. It takes 25 days to turn sea water into salt.

Carl Ivan Setias
3 months ago

The history of salt farming is thought to have started in the oldest salt community in Korea located at Juan in Incheon. It soon spread to coastal communities in Gyeonggi Bay, Seosan, Buan, Yeonggwang and Sinan. These places also have the best mudflats in the country.

Carl Ivan Setias
3 months ago

Before Koreans began “farming” salt, they extracted their salt by boiling sea water. The practice known as “ja-yeom” continued during the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945). But soon after that, such techniques became forgotten and a new method known today as “salt farming” started to develop around 1907.

Willy Liman
3 months ago

#Fact34 Many reports on functionalities of jeotgal such as supplying essential amino acids, and having antioxidant and antitumorgenic have been published recently. Because of the diverse flavor, types, and their function, jeotgal is expected to continue to develop as an important seasoning in the world sauce market.

Willy Liman
3 months ago

#Fact33 Major microorganisms in jeotgal are Bacillus, Brevibacterium, Micrococcus, Pediococcus, Pseudomonas, Lactobacillus, Leuconostoc, and Halobacterium. Recently, much research on various health function of jeotgal has been conducted, reflecting increasing interest in the safety and the functionality of jeotgal.