Saturday, March 24, 2018

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Korean Snacks

     While back in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina recently, I encountered something a little unexpected--several Korean snacks at the local grocery.  As usual, I eagerly snatched them up.  Three of these were Nongshim products--potato snacks, shrimp crackers, and honey twists--while one was from Jayone, a crunchy rice cake snack.
    Not surprisingly, since three of their wares were found across the world from their home, Nongshim is a giant company in South Korea.  Headquartered in Seoul, they've been around since 1965.  Originally known as the Lotte Food Industrial Company, they switched to their current name in 1978.  They're best known for their versions of ramyun, which is a Korean instant noodle dish.  Nongshim products are sold in over 100 countries around the globe, and besides South Korea they have factories in China and the U.S.  Along with ramyun, they produce snacks, and recently, a type of bottled water.  As luck would have it, I tried the first commercialized snack of South Korea, the shrimp cracker, developed in 1971.  (The other two I tried, the potato one and the honey twist, were created in 1972.)  The company's bottled water, Baeksun Mountain Water, has an interesting feature--it's filtered through the rock of Mt. Baekdu, an active volcano.  This kind of reminds me of Dan Aykroyd's Crystal Head Vodka, which is filtered through Herkimer "diamonds" (they're actually quartz crystals).  The Nongshim website points out that the volcanic rock adds silica to the water, which they allege has beneficial health effects to consumers.  And yet again, I'll add the caveat that this claim isn't conclusively proven scientifically.  There may be some health benefits to drinking silica, but the jury's still out, so to speak.  In fact, one study indicated the opposite, that doing so might increase the chances of developing dementia.  Also, it's undeniable that breathing in crystalized silica is hazardous, since it causes nasty diseases like bronchitis, lung cancer, and lupus.
     I don't have nearly as much info about the rice cakes' manufacturer.  There is a website for the distributing company, which is Jayone.  Jayone is a recent business, created in 2000, which operates out of California in the U.S.  Their stated mission is to provide tofu and other Korean foods to new consumers.  Their product line is very extensive--fish, snacks, veggies and fruits, side dishes, beverages--to save time, they manufacture pretty much every kind of food and drink.  And although the label stated that the rice cakes were products of Korea, I wasn't able to discover what that actual manufacturer was.
1) Nongshim potato snacks.  These were pale yellow, ribbed rods, about 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm.) long, with the same approximate thickness as a pencil.  The taste was alright, suitably potato-y, but bland.  I put some ketchup on them, as if they were French fries (or "chips" in the U.K.) and this was an improvement.

2) Nongshim shrimp crackers.  These looked very similar to the potato ones, being ribbed yellow rods, about 5 cm. (about 2 inches) long, and the same thickness.  Once again, I could detect the advertised flavor, but it was rather bland.

3) Nongshim honey twists.  These were about 6 cm. long (about 2.25 inches), slightly thicker than the potato and shrimp kinds, in a twisted shape, with a noticeable glaze on them.  They had a sweetish taste.  These kind of grew on me--I started to like them more and more as I ate them.  Significantly better than the other two Nongshim varities.

4) Jayone crunchy rice cakes, honey cinnamon flavor.  These were large white rods, about 4.75 inches (about 12 cm.) long, and about 3 cm. (1.25 inches) in diameter.  These rods were made up of compressed rice kernels.  Initially they tasted just like a sweet rice cake, with all that entails--okay, but not spectacular or anything.  However, as with the honey twists, these kind of grew on me.  After eating one or two I rather liked them.

     In conclusion, then, my opinion of these Korean snacks ranged from "meh" to alright.  The shrimp and potato ones weren't bad, just a bit dull.  I would consider buying the honey twists and the crunchy rice cakes again.
     I was amused to read that Nongshim reportedly had a sluggish start when they first began exporting to China.  In response the company apparently began an ad campaign suggesting that the pepper in their spicy shin ramyun would boost virility in male consumers.  (Left unsaid was if this spice also made female consumers all hot and bothered.)  I guess a portion of instant noodles is significantly cheaper, and almost certainly tastier than a Viagra pill.    

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