There is way less kimchi in South Korea this year.
The country, which steadily increased exports in recent years, suffered an abnormally long monsoon between June and August — its longest rainy season to date.
The extreme weather, topped by three typhoons in August and September, effectively destroyed cabbage fields needed to make kimchi in time for the gimjang season.
Gimjang (also spelled “kimjang”), or kimchi-making, is typically practiced between November and early December when temperatures start to fall below zero.
The dish of cabbage, garlic and chili peppers — among other variations — is then kept in stock to enjoy throughout the winter.
Napa cabbages, harvested between late October and November, are said to be the best because they do not go soggy even when fermented for long periods of time.
Homeowners buy cabbages in bulk for the gimjang season. Sadly, the current lack of crops has led to price hikes of up to 60%.
“Cabbage prices are going nuts,” a mother-of-two told Bloomberg. “I had to rub my eyes to see the price tag again because it didn’t make any sense.”
This is not the first time South Korea faced a similar crisis. In 2010, officials in Seoul set up a “kimchi bailout program,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Under the program, the government covered 30% of the costs of about 300,000 heads of cabbage. It aimed to help both rural farmers and city shoppers.
Still, the shortage was palpable in many parts of the country.
Restaurants coped by charging for refills, while schools and workplaces served the dish made from less-preferred radishes. The shortage also birthed a black market, in which residents hoarded cabbages for resale.
As the country battles another shortage, its largest kimchi maker, Daesang, decided to suspend online sales. CJ CheilJedang, another major food company, is looking for alternative supplies, possibly from China.
Despite the crisis, families are determined to make the most for gimjang. In 2013, the U.N. said the tradition “reaffirms Korean identity and is an excellent opportunity for strengthening family cooperation,” according to The Guardian.
“Gimjang must go on,” a 64-year-old housewife told Bloomberg. “At this price though, that means less kimchi stew from now on.”
Japan was the biggest buyer of South Korea’s kimchi, importing nearly 65% — or 10,349 tons — of total products in 2019. The U.S. imported 3,024 tons; Australia, 1,112 tons; Hong Kong, 1,022 tons; and Taiwan, 887 tons; according to the Yonhap News.
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