Korean Rice Wine Sees Renaissance

      November 03, 2009 07:41

      Korea is seeing a renaissance of traditional rice wine or makgeolli. Once popular, it saw annual sales of 1.42 million kl in the 1980s, but the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games brought drastic changes to the domestic liquor industry. Foreign alcoholic drinks like beer and whiskey have since then dominated the liquor market, with rice wine seen as a cheap drink for the poor. Sales of makgeolli dropped to 700,000 kl in 1990 and 129,000 kl in 2002.

      But the traditional white, thick rice wine regained life in the late 2000s, riding the fad for a healthier lifestyle and retro style.

      Last year, some 175,000 kl of makgeolli was sold, and sales are expected to top 200,000 kl this year. Modern makgeolli products -- from fruit-flavored ones to a recreation of the rice wine enjoyed by the upper class people in the ancient Koryo period -- have hit the market, posing a challenge to foreign drinks like wine, whiskey and sake.

      The fruit-flavored variations are leading the boom. With fruit juice added, makgeolli has been rediscovered as an elegant, stylish drink. They especially appeal to women. According to industry insiders, men are the main consumers of the ordinary white variety, but while women account for only some 10 percent of overall consumers, they make up over 30 percent of drinkers of fruit-flavored makgeolli.

      Supposed health benefits are another reason behind the new popularity of makgeolli. Dr. Lee Dong-ho at Bundang Seoul National University Hospital says drinking makgeolli is as good as taking a nutritious supplement, except that it is an alcoholic drink. According to Lee, 80 percent of makgeolli is water, with alcohol making up 6-7 percent, protein 2 percent, carbohydrates 0.8 percent and fat 0.1 percent. And the remaining 10 percent is a reservoir of nutrients like dietary fiber, vitamins, lactic bacteria and yeast. That means makgeolli has more nutrients than grape wine, in which healthy ingredients account for only 1-5 percent.

      The dietary fiber in makgeolli makes drinkers feel sated but is not absorbed into the body, stimulating the digestive tract. This is why makgeolli is considered good for dieting and skin care.

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