Korean snack headed to space

April 9, 2008 11:14:38 AM PDT
A Russian Soyuz rocket is headed to the international space station. Tuesday's launch carries with it not only cosmonauts from Russia but also South Korea's first astronaut -- 29-year old Yi So-Yeon who plans to carry out scientific experiments during the 12-day mission. So-Yeon will also be carrying some special cargo -- kimchi. This Korean snack has now been formulated to withstand space travel.

Kimchi has been a staple in the Korean diet for centuries. The fermented, spicy cabbage is consumed nearly every day, but its pungency can put-off non-Koreans.

So a few South Korean government research institutes spent millions of dollars over several years to develop a canned version, that could withstand cosmic rays and radiation, while not putting-off the Russians with its smell.

Since this dish is synonymous with Korean culture, we thought we'd do a little investigating to see how it's made.

It is as ubiquitous in the Korean kitchen as a jar of peanut butter is in an American one. Kimchi comes in many forms - made with either radishes, cabbages or both - and it defines the culture.

"We eating every single day, from the when I was born to until die, we eating almost every day for the kimchi." Charlie Cho, Korean American Chamber of Commerce

Pal Chun Man Kimchi plant in Albany Park, they produce plenty of the namesake snack. Their most popular kimchi begins with napa cabbage. They go through about 4,000 heads of these cabbages each week. First, they get submerged in salt water.

"Cabbage and put some salt on it and you know, stay there for like half a day, sometimes one day," said Cho.

This gets the fermentation process going. Then the cabbage is washed thoroughly of any residual salt, at least three times in clean water. The cabbage is rinsed and transferred to a work surface; the hard bottoms of the stalk are cut off, then it's time for the kimchi transformation: an assertively-spiced mixture of chilies, garlic and onions are rubbed into every possible crevice.

"Green onions, and garlic and red pepper and those kind of, we mix it together, then make natural fermentation for that," said Cho.

Sometimes they'll work with tiny radishes, it just depends on the recipe. The kimchi is packed into giant jars, but not too tightly, because the fermented product is still active with pro-biotic cultures.

Cho says he's proud to see his country's culinary achievement reach into new markets.

"That's good idea because kimchi is not only Korean food anymore, it goes to universal food now," said Cho.

Incidentally, Ms. So-Yeon plans to serve kimchi at a celebratory dinner in space this Saturday, which marks the 47th anniversary of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becoming the first man in space.

Kimchi available at:

Chicago Food Corporation
3333 North Kimball Ave.
(773) 478-5566

Chicago Food Market
5800 North Pulaski
(773) 478-0007

Broadway Supermarket
4879 N. Broadway St
(773) 334-3838

Super H-Mart
7801 N Waukegan Rd
Niles, IL 60714
(847) 581-1212


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