[FOUNTAIN]Return of the red

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[FOUNTAIN]Return of the red

"Ginseng, ginseng, please talk / Wealth was made out of you / Eternal youth was also made out of you"

These are lines from a song that is said to have circulated among merchants in Uiju, South Pyeongan province, now part of North Korea. "Sangdo," a television drama that recently gained popularity, introduced Im Sang-ok, who was born in Uiju. Mr. Im became the wealthiest merchant in the 19th century of the Joseon Dynasty. The drama depicts the red ginseng trade during the Joseon and China's Ching dynasties.

Based on a best-seller written by Choe In-ho, "Sangdo," which means the "right way to do business," has contributed to the revived popularity of red ginseng products, which brought Im Sang-ok great fame.

For four months since the drama began in November, sales of red ginseng have soared by 50 percent compared with the same period last year. During the Lunar New Year holidays, some red ginseng products went out of stock and merchants could not meet the surging demand.

Even before "Sangdo" appeared, Korean ginseng enjoyed a worldwide reputation. The three most reputable Chinese herbal medicine doctors in the Song and Yuan dynasties felt that the origin of all illnesses were rooted in a lack of energy and in blood problems. The doctors concluded that only ginseng made an effective medicine. Since then, Korean ginseng has been considered among the best merchandise in trade involving China.

Korean ginseng is generally categorized into the following three types according to processing methods: fresh ginseng, sun-dried white ginseng and red ginseng, which is produced by steaming and drying ginseng roots four to six years old. Until the middle of the Joseon Dynasty, white ginseng dominated trade, but white had shortcomings: Its preservation period was relatively short and if taken over long periods it could hurt the stomach.

Red ginseng, which can be preserved up to 10 years, provides far superior medical benefits. Park Yoo-cheol, whom Im Sang-ok recruited in "Sangdo," is credited with mass-producing red ginseng.

Red ginseng had been the flagship export product until the 1970s, but has been on a decline since the 1990s. Korea failed to develop various red ginseng products to cater to the tastes of modern consumers, and has been losing its market share to less expensive ginseng from China and the United States. I hope the rekindled popularity of red ginseng products in Korea leads to the revival of the glories that red ginseng enjoyed around the globe.

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

by Sohn Byoung-soo

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