Thursday, February 8, 2001
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Posted on: Thursday, February 8, 2001

Don't mess with the smell of kimchi

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

Scientists in South Korea this week announced a startling breakthrough: kimchi that doesn’t stink.

The story, as told by The Associated Press, reports that after six months of research, scientists at the privately run Doosan Kimchi Institute finally have hit upon a process that allows them to ferment cabbage and spices into the national food without nasty side effects such as a pungent odor or lingering after-breath.

"We believe the best way to globalize our kimchi is removing the aroma, which is cited as the No. 1 reason why Westerners have a hard time getting used to the dish," said Kim Sun-young, the project’s chief researcher.

The scientists believe the discovery will allow the Doosan Corp., one of South Korea’s largest kimchi producers, to start selling huge amounts of kimchi in the West as early as next month. They expect huge profits when the world finds out it can eat kimchi without holding its nose.

Here, in a mouthful, is everything that’s wrong with the so-called "New World Economy." When people say globalization with a sneer, this is what they mean. In fact, the next time you wonder why all those protesters are hurling insults or rocks outside an Asian Development Bank meeting in Geneva or Seattle, remember these two little words: scentless kimchi.

What next? Beer without alcohol? Coffee without caffeine? A song without a tune?

No, this is serious.

A lot of intelligent people are worried that as the new global economy continues to develop, businesses and governments everywhere will be willing and eager to sell out their own culture in pursuit of the almighty dollar or, in Korea’s case, the won.

There’s a persistent suspicion that for a fistful of Western currency the Swiss might stop putting holes in their cheese or Japan might start cooking the fish before they make their sushi. Will Thailand turn its nose up at curry in favor of McNuggets? Will Kentucky Fried Chicken become a national craze in China? (Actually, it already has.)

As most of us in Hawaii know, kimchi is a ubiquitous part of Korean culture. But when the South Korean Ministry of Agriculture conducted an informal survey of several hundred people in New York, Los Angeles and other cities in 1999, many respondents said the strong aroma of kimchi was the main reason they would not try it.

Is that any reason to design a kimchi that doesn’t stink? I’d say if the rest of Americans aren’t interested in the genuine kimchi experience, let them be. They’re probably not worth the effort.

Some things are more important than money. I’d say the smell of kimchi is one of them.

Mike Leidemann’s columns appear Thursdays and Saturdays in The Advertiser. He can be reached by phone (525-5460) or e-mail (

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