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Along with Korean movies and music, K-food is making its own waves globally. At the vanguard is Korean’s beloved pickle -- kimchi.
South Korea’s exports of kimchi products rose to an all-time high in 2021, recording $159 million in total value, customs data shows. The figure for the first nine months of this year stands at $109 million, lower than the level seen last year but higher than previous years.
Customs data released in September puts the top five markets as Japan, the US, Hong Kong, the Netherlands and the UK.
Japan was by far the biggest importer of kimchi, gobbling up more than 40 percent of the fermented vegetable dish sold overseas. The US continued to see strong growth in kimchi sales, after posting a 10-fold rise over the past decade.
While Hong Kong has constantly ranked among the five biggest markets for Korean kimchi makers, the Netherlands joined the list for the first time, ranking fourth. The UK retained its fifth position from last year. Europe as a whole is rising as a market for kimchi as well as K-food, customs experts say.
Despite growing demand and shipments, however, Korea is importing more kimchi than it sells overseas.
As of September, Korea spent $124 million on importing kimchi -- all of it from China --which is larger than the combined amount it earned from exports.
In terms of weight, the imports are far greater: 188,000 tons of kimchi was shipped in while 31,000 tons were shipped out.
Korean restaurants serve kimchi for free and many rely on cheap Chinese imports to do so. Demand for Chinese products has grown this year, amid soaring food prices inflation.