The global rise of the vegan diet is pushing cultures to innovate even more. Entrepreneurs, food scientists, and culinary mavericks all around the world are developing innovative plant-based solutions to tackle climate change and put an end to animal suffering. However, the concept of eating plant-based is still in its early stages of popularity. Food cultures have become even more polarized, whether in North America or Asia, especially when looking from the outside looking. Both North and South Korea have earned a bad reputation for the now soon-to-be-defunct dog meat trade. True, nearly one million dogs are slain for their meat in South Korea each year, but there is another extreme.
South Korea is poised to become a market leader in vegan meat alternatives. Several plant-based brands have recently launched, a booming supply of new vegan products, and a cutting-edge cultured meat sector, is establishing the country as one to watch in the worldwide plant-based niche.
South Koreans eat a lot of meat.
Meat consumption has increased throughout the years, and this is seen in both North American and Korean societies. Pork, in particular, reigns supreme in South Korea. Between 1980 and 2018, South Korean pork consumption increased by 6.3 kilos per year to 27 kilograms per year, a 3.9 percent year-on-year growth. Chicken and beef have also grown in popularity, albeit South Koreans only consume 12.7 kilos of beef and 14.2 kilograms of chicken each year as of 2018.
Pork is central in countless Korean dishes—from pork bulgogi (dweiji bulgogi) to pork belly and pork cutlets (donkkaseu). Spam is also extremely popular in South Korean cuisine. The nation is the second-largest consumer of Spam behind the US. To keep up with the demand, an average of 18 million pigs are killed each year in South Korea. Given this dependence on meat, an evolution to purely plant-based vegan diets is unlikely. Many people need a high-quality alternative—an animal-free food that provides the familiar tastes and textures of animal-based meat. And Korean innovators are stepping up to fill this gap.
South Korean veganism is on the constant increase.
The plant-based diet is trending among South Korean consumers, thanks to the advent of promising vegan alternatives and a huge reality check from the coronavirus outbreak. According to a report by analysts GlobalData Q1 Consumer Survey conducted in 2021, 55 percent of participants would mention health as the primary motivation for purchasing plant-based products, and 37 percent said the commencement of the pandemic had made them extremely or quite concerned about their health. According to the Korean Vegetarian Union, half a million South Koreans identify as pure vegans, while another 1.5 million identify as vegetarians or primarily plant-based.
Given these figures, the vegan population in the United States has more than tripled in the last decade, but it is the substantial increase in flexitarians that has produced such a boom in the plant-based sector. According to the Korean Vegetarian Union, 20% of South Koreans identify as flexitarian. While this is a broad phrase, it refers to an omnivore who is more receptive to plant-based solutions. They’re the person who buys almond milk instead of cow’s milk yet occasionally indulges in cheese. They aren’t hesitant to try a new plant-based menu item instead of their usual meat-based option when dining out. Meatless Mondays are an option for them. In South Korea, and possibly on a worldwide scale, flexitarians’ openness and curiosity may be the most influential.
Korean vegan businesses to keep an eye on
South Korea’s most well-known vegan beef brand has seen significant growth in recent months. In the fall of 2021, the firm raised $23 million and announced the construction of a new manufacturing facility that will be one of Asia’s largest plant-based operations. Their recently enhanced facility will significantly enhance the production of Unlimeat’s vegan grounds, strips, patties, and other products. Unlimeat products are unlike most meat substitutes in that they are manufactured from upcycled grains, oats, and nuts that would otherwise be discarded owing to cosmetic flaws. The brand is part of Zikooin, a larger South Korean food company that was launched in 2017. The parent company is also aiming to bring Unlimeat into foreign supermarkets. Unlimeat slices are currently available in South Korean Subways and Domino’s Pizza. Wooltari Mall USA, a Korean internet store, sells select products in the United States.
This Korean food-tech business is creating waves in the dairy industry well beyond its home country’s boundaries. Yangyoo will present its dairy-free cheeses at CES in Las Vegas this month after collaborating with a US subsidiary, Armored Fresh, to develop a line of shreds, slices, cubes, and spreads. The corporation has not stated when these products would be offered to the public.
The vegan market in South Korea is not limited to vegan-only brands. CJ Cheiljedang, a South Korean food giant with many brands under its name, including the licensing and distribution of Hormel (or Spam) goods, has launched PlanTable, a new plant-based offshoot. This year, the company plans to release more than 20 new products, ranging from soy-based pork dumplings to vegan kimchi. The dumplings have already arrived in Australia and Singapore, and there are plans to sell them to Europe and the United States.
This 40-year-old South Korean tofu maker is branching out into plant-based meat. Most people in the United States are familiar with its Nasoya and Wildwood brands, but the soy behemoth can name several other offshoots in its own nation. The first eight products, soy-based crumbles, and tenders will be available in November 2021, but the firm also intends to expand in the United States. The Plantspired line will debut in the United States with a variety of meatless burgers, skillet dinners, ready-made bolognese, and stir-fry “tossable.” The debut date in the United States has yet to be announced.
5 Better Meat
Shinsegae Food, a Korean food retailer and distributor, founded this vegan cold cut company solely for food service. It is also Starbucks’ largest shareholder in South Korea. As a result, it used its position to promote plant-based cold cut sandwiches in Starbucks shops across the country. There are currently three types of plant-based ham available: bologna, mortadella, and a German-style ham. Bulgogi and sausage are the next products in the pipeline.
6 Veggie Garden
Veggie Garden, a subsidiary of Nongshim, one of the country’s largest food companies, will introduce a line of 18 vegan items this month. Vegan meat substitutes such as Grilled Steak and Royal Cuisine Nubiani (beef) are available, as well as non-dairy cheeses, dumplings, ready-made topokki (seasoned rice cakes), and sauces. In February, nine more goods will be introduced.
(Lab-Grown) Cultivated Meat
In addition to plant-based protein options, South Korea has entered the cell-based meat competition, with the goal of not only making these products available to the public but also improving the procedures. CellMEAT unveiled photographs of its Dokdo shrimp, the first of its kind, in December 2021. The shrimp were grown without the use of fetal bovine serum, which made the process not only more efficient but also more ethical. While harvesting tissue from fetal cows was thought to be the norm when grown meat initially gained traction, companies are now seeking more cost-effective and ethical ways to reproduce animal muscle tissue. CellMEAT’s patented serum-free culture has the potential to revolutionize the game. After declaring the shrimp a success, the company is aiming to reduce production costs and investigate additional seafood.
Last April, experts from Sejong University announced the country’s first farmed pork. The product’s ultimate goal is commercialization, albeit more funding is required to make this leap. Meanwhile, the university team is developing a beef prototype.
South Korea, like most other countries, has yet to create legislation governing grown meat. Singapore is currently the only country that has approved the marketing of grown meat, however, Qatar is expected to follow suit soon. GOOD Meat, the cultured meat branch of the American Eat JUST brand, well known for its plant-based liquid egg, is the world’s only cultivated meat, in the form of cell-based chicken.
With the plant-based sector, South Korea is creating its own way. On a worldwide scale, the vegan market has become less reliant on importation and more reliant on in-house innovation. Instead of importing products from one of America’s premier meat companies, such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, nations are developing their own and sharing them with the rest of the world. The sector has evolved into a two-way street, with continual exchanges of ideas, meals, and tastes that both inspire and thrill customers and entrepreneurs separated by oceans. It’s not a race, and the world still has a long way to go before it has a vegan majority population, but the more we work together to make these items more available, the closer we are to a more humane and sustainable future.