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Continued: As foodmakers push flavor boundaries, kimchi moves into spotlight

  • Article by: EVAN RAMSTAD , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 4, 2014 - 11:50 AM

For a year, Darling experimented with kimchi ingredients while also working on guacamole and falafel flavors. When he was ready to test a batch, he called all members of the Food Should Taste Good team, including marketers and executives, for a taste.

“The challenge was to make sure all the ingredients shine in the right way in the finished product so there is the right amount of heat to the right amount of vinegar to the right amount of garlic,” he said. “If you have it slightly off balance, then you can tell.”

Like the perfect pie crust

Kimchi’s move beyond its traditional place as a Korean condiment has more typically happened at the micro-level.

When Ann Kim opened Pizzeria Lola in Minneapolis three years ago, she needed a few extra pizzas to round out her menu. So she put kimchi on one and planned to sell it for just a few weeks as an attention-getter.

“People loved it,” she said. “A lot of them said it was the first time they had ever had kimchi.”

Before deciding to leave it on the menu, Kim had to figure out how to incorporate kimchi-making into the kitchen routine. Initially, her mother made a batch every few days. To come up a recipe the staff could use, Kim videotaped her mother and measured the ingredients. “If you talk to most Koreans, it’s not about exact measurements,” Kim said. “It’s like trying to get a perfect pie crust.”

Kim and her staff now prepare about 100 pounds of kimchi weekly. Still, she and other Korean-Americans are happily surprised to see so many people eating it now.

“I was embarrassed as a child eating Korean food. My friends were having Chef Boyardee,” she said. Her mother made kimchi in the back yard. “We used our kiddie pools to brine the cabbage,” she said.

Kwonsik Park, a Minneapolis accountant who moved from South Korea 13 years ago, remembers his college roommates’ complaints about the strong odor of the kimchi he kept in a refrigerator they shared.

“I used a lot of plastic wrap around the containers,” he said.

Target: food talkers

Back at General Mills, when the Food Should Taste Good team ultimately approved Darling’s recipe for a kimchi-flavored chip, they rolled it out with no effort to explain the flavor. “Unique foods start off being a little bit intimidating,” Darling said. “But as they get out there, people say, ‘Hey have you tried this?’ ”

General Mills initially sent the kimchi chip to stores and co-ops that specialize in natural and organic foods, which marketer Dalziel said tend to attract “people who want to talk about their food.”

With prices around $3.50 for a 5.5-ounce bag, early sales have been encouraging, Dalziel said. “We fully expect it will become a mainstream product.”


Evan Ramstad • 612-673-4241


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