Why Koreans Use Metal Chopsticks

Metal is a good conductor of heat and Korean tofu soup is usually boiling hot. So why is Korea the only country in the world that uses metal chopsticks?

Korean chopsticks, or “cheot-garak,” are typically made of metal ad are flatter and more square in shape than other Asian chopsticks. Lengthwise, Korean chopsticks are somewhere in between the shorter chopsticks of Japan and the longer chopsticks of China.

According to Gastro Tour Seoul, metal chopsticks nowadays are often made of steel. In historical times, the wealthy upper class would use gold, silver or brass chopsticks for special events.

The theory on the origin of metal chopsticks is that during the Baekje (18 B.C.- 660 A.D.) Period the royal family used silver chopsticks to detect poison in their food. Their enemies’ plot would be ruined since silver changes color when it comes into contact with a poisonous chemical. It is believed that commoners took after the king and adopted steel chopsticks.

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A typical Korean meal setup includes a pair of metal chopsticks laid on the right-hand side and a large metal spoon on the other side. The flat ends of the chopsticks are usually decorated with ornate Korean designs, such as ones featuring the heron bird.

In other Asian countries, wooden and bamboo chopsticks make stickier objects easier to pick up.The second theory follows that since Koreans use a spoon to eat their rice, wooden chopsticks were not required.

Metal chopsticks are also viewed as more hygienic than wooden chopsticks. Traditional Korean restaurants utilize a “break time” during the afternoons to sterilize the chopsticks in a large bowl of boiling water. However, many restaurants today take advantage of electric sterilization units.

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