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 The Characteristics
of Korean Foods
 Overview on Food
History
 Table-setting in
Korean foods
 Understanding Traditional Foods
 
The Characteristics of Korean Foods
                jeonbuk ethnic foods
Natural environment and food culture
One of factors influencing human life style is the natural environment such as the climate under which they are living. The natural environment plays an important role, along with social environment such as customs and religion, in the formulation of culture in a specific region or country. It also influences directly the development of culinary customs including food production, cooking methods, and foodstuff utilization.
Geographic characteristics

Geography Photos Geographically, the Korean peninsula has served as a bridge transferring China's advanced culture to Japan. It also has adopted other ocean cultures from all three sides of the peninsula. This situation has greatly influenced the formation of our unique food culture which has incorporated northern inland agronomy, northern foods and table ware, and southern culinary culture.

Climate characteristics
Maple Pictures The Four seasons are distinct in Korea with annual average temperature ranging from 10-14℃, except in some extremely cold regions. Hot and humid weather appears in summer with daily highs above 30℃ due to high atmospheric pressure from the North Pacific. Substantial precipitation amounting to 40-60% of annual rainfall occurs mostly in summer, making rice cultivation possible. In winter, the weather becomes cold and dry under the influence of Siberian air pressure. We have various climate types due to the long stretch from the southernmost Jeju Island to the northernmost Hamkyoung Province including distinct climates in the Kaema Plateau, north, center, south, and south oceanic regions. These various climates enable the cultivation not only of rice, the staple foodstuff, but also subsidiary foodstuffs, like barley, millet, beans, wheat, and similar products. Such climatic characteristics also brought about the development of local foods, festive foods and seasonal foods. Kimchi is a prototype of preserved food for the winter which used to span 3-4 months.
Topographical characteristics
Terrain characteristics PhotosThe Korean peninsula is composed of 70 % mountainous terrain, with high mountain ranges in the northeastern part and the lower flats in the southwestern of the country. Thus, most of the large rivers, except the Dooman River, flow to the west or south where wetlands are formed in neighboring areas. The western and southern areas are highly suitable for rice cultivation whereas the northern and eastern parts are for dry agriculture. Korea is surrounded by the ocean on three sides. The eastern coastline is somewhat straight and faces a deep sea. In contrast, the western and southern coasts form flat plains and faces large shallow mudflats. The ocean temperatures near the land vary according to the seasons. The East Sea, the West Sea, and the South Sea have distinct currents. Warm current fishes are different from cold current ones. Thus a diverse and abundant amount of seafood is caught year round owing to the ocean currents of varying temperatures.
In spite of its small area variation in the Korean food culture has arisen due to such geographical characteristics as stated earlier. It was also facilitated by the cultural exchange with adjacent countries. It is clear that the natural environment greatly has influenced food culture from the hunting and gathering age, to the environment-adapting agriculture age, and finally to the environment-controlling present age.
Characteristics of Korean foods
Dedication is considered important because intensive effort and time are essential elements in preparing good Korean food. As Korean food uses rice as a main dish together with side dishes, it seeks for the harmony of nutrition, color, saltiness and temperature of foods. While main dishes include rice, barley or other staples, preserved or dried foods which are made of vegetables, meats, and fish are served as side dishes. Examples of these are pickled vegetables, soy sauces, seasoned seafoods, and dried vegetables.
Utilization of diverse grain foodstuffs

Rice grains Photos Koreans started to use rice, barley and other grains for boiled main dishes around 2,000 B.C. in the New Stone Age. These main staples have also been used to prepare gruels, noodles and cakes directly, or to make taffies, alcohol and soy sauces through processing. One feature in Korean dishes would be that there is a distinction between main and side dishes: the main ones prepared mostly with staple grains and the subsidiary fishes, meats and vegetables. The distinction seems to have begun to appear in the Three Kingdom Era when steamed rice became common.

Development of fermented foods
Jangdokdae Photos There are a number of fermented foods such as soy sauces, pickled vegetables, and salted seafoods developed throughout Korea's long history. These, being the foundation of Korean food culture, present peculiar tastes and functionality as side dishes. Paste soy sauces have served not only as important protein-rich foods, but also as condiments for saltiness. Kimchi is a unique preserved vegetable pickle developed for the winter. It has worked as an excellent addition to the main dish of rice. The health benefits of Kimchi have well been proven and Kimchi's excellence is now recognized worldwide. Fermented and salted seafoods made of the flesh or intestines of fish, or of shellfish contain high quantities of proteins and essential amino acids. These foods are frequently used as ingredients for fermenting various types of Kimchi. All these fermented foods are typical ethnic diets which we are truly proud of.
Utilization of diverse vegetables
Various vegetables photoThe list of our foods used include vegetables, mushrooms, fruits and seaweeds. The vegetables used in everyday cooking comprise garden cultivated, mountain-collected and wild greens. These vegetables have been used for cooking nearly all foods like boiled rice, rice gruel, rice cake, soup, stew, seasoned vegetables, veg-wrapped rice, smothered meat, salad, and fried food. Wild vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and anti-oxidants.
Development of broth food culture
broth food photos There are a variety of broth dishes like pot stews and casseroles in Korean food culture. This has necessitated the use of spoons and bowls for water-based foods. Serving different foods in separate dishes is common in Korean food presentation in contrast to putting several foods in a dish as in most other countries.
Food-medicine philosophy
Food-medicine Photos The concept that food is medicine is deeply ingrained in Korean food culture. We believe that the consumption of inappropriate foods causes diseases while having appropriate ones prevents them. We have frequently utilized material that is also used as oriental medicine such as honey, cinnamon, pine nuts, ginseng, ginger, jujube fruits, omija (Maximowiczia typica fruits), and gugija (Chinese matrimony vine fruits). These ingredients are believed to have useful pharmacological properties.
The word "medicinal" is not infrequently used to describe the words like rice cake, rice or wine to suggest their beneficial roles. All these indicate that Koreans realized the importance of food for health, and practiced in daily life a philosophy of "food-medicine" from early times.
The importance of breakfast
Rice Photo In contrast to a light breakfast in western countries, Koreans tend to consider breakfast as the most important of the three daily meals. This is probably related to the intense physical work needed in an agricultural society. Having a hearty breakfast is nutritionally sound for the heavy manual activities required during the day. The importance of breakfast should be stressed when considering the long time interval between the dinner and the breakfast the next day.
Combination of tastes
Kimchi PhotoKorean foods provide a complexity of tastes derived from flavoring ingredients and spices, on top of the taste of main food materials. A mild taste may be sensed by nerves all over in the oral cavity, differently from strongly felt sweet, oily or spicy tastes primarily from the tip of the tongue. The complex taste is rendered by adding 5-6 different flavoring matters such as soy sauce, onions, garlic, salted sesame seeds, sesame oil, hot pepper or black pepper.
Nutritional balance has traditionally been achieved by supplementing vegetables, meats and seafoods to the predominantly grain-based meals. Our traditional foods consisting of abundant vegetables rather than strong-tasting sugar or high caloric fats, may help to prevent obesity, which is increasingly becoming a health problem. There has been a significant change in our food culture primarily due to better income, food technology advances, and western food culture influxes. This is characterized as a decrease in grain food consumption, increase in meat consumption, and consumption of multifarious western style foods. This then implies that the solution for the high prevalence of geriatric diseases might be found from our traditional pattern of food consumption. We now need recourse to the excellence of our traditional foods which are being lost by alterations and overwhelmed by incoming foreign foods.
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