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[Weekender] Korean food industry falls in love with cheese

Only a few years ago, few could have imagined that gorgonzola cheese pizza would become one of Korea’s favorite dishes. 

Koreans’ recent enthrallment with cheese can be seen in the country’s annual cheese consumption. According to data from the Korea Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corporation, the country’s per capita consumption of cheese reached 2.5 kilograms last year, double that of a decade ago. Korea’s cheese production in the same period stood at 35,000 metric tons, up by 60 percent from just six years earlier. 

Unlike the early days of cheese production here in the 1960s, when Koreans typically enjoyed sliced processed cheese, food retailers are now exploring more creative products to meet consumers’ evolving tastes.

“Food companies in Korea are upgrading their products by adding cheese to them. From spicy chicken to instant noodles, hobbang (steamed bun) and even porridge, cheese has become a popular ingredient in many food products because it goes well with Korean dishes. No wonder Koreans’ cheese consumption is on the rise,” said an official from a local foodmaker. 

While Koreans have long enjoyed putting cheese toppings on their food -- especially on spicy dishes -- retailers are keen to launch new products with cheese to offer a creamy texture and smooth taste.

South Korean instant noodle manufacturer Samyang Food, which raked in 55 billion won ($48.9 million) last year with its megahit instant noodle series of spicy chicken ramen, launched a Carbo version of the product with added carbonara flavoring, and a Quatro variety, which mixed its signature spicy sauce with creamy cheese powder.

Samyang Food’s Carbo spicy chicken noodles (Samyang)
Samyang Food’s Carbo spicy chicken noodles (Samyang)

The company said the new spicy chicken noodle series is gaining popularity among young consumers for its “unprecedented taste,” by tweaking the originally spicy taste of the noodles. 

Other food brands are also rolling out limited editions of food products by adding cheese. 

Local porridge chain Bonjuk launched bulgogi and mushroom porridge topped with mozzarella cheese, doubling the smooth and creamy texture of the Korean porridge, according to the company. 

American fast food chicken chain KFC has also upgraded its signature fried chicken bucket by launching “Fall in Cheese Chicken,” a limited-time offering of spicy crispy chicken with Gouda and Emmental cheese sauce dips. 

KFC’s “Fall in Cheese Chicken” (KFC)
KFC’s “Fall in Cheese Chicken” (KFC)

According to French-born cheese artisan Francois Robin, it is scientifically proven that spicy Korean food goes well with cheese, as the spiciness from the capsaicin can be diluted when it meets milk fat and protein from the cheese. 

“When creamy, cottage cheese like mozzarella and Camembert cheese is mixed with Korean food, it gives a buttery taste which makes food taste even better,” Robin said in a recent interview with local media. 

Buoyed by the popularity of cheese food products in Korea, the country has also seen an increase in cheese imports in recent years. As of 2017, cheese imports totaled $540 million, a 12 percent increase from the previous year. 

Currently, EU countries account for 53 percent of the world’s cheese production, followed by the US at 30 percent. 

By Kim Da-sol (
Korea Herald Youtube