[HOT ITEM]Kimchi fridge: Even space for the magnets

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[HOT ITEM]Kimchi fridge: Even space for the magnets

There are many foods popular on the peninsula that you would be most unlikely to find in the West, such as broiled silkworm pupae and salted cuttlefish. But of course, the most popular and most "Korean" food has to be kimchi.

Considering that the fermented vegetable dish is traditionally made around November in sufficient quantities to last throughout the winter, the storing process and site are as important as how the kimchi is made.

Until recently, most people believed the best way for storing kimchi was to put it first into a vinyl bag, and then into a earthen pot. The pot should then be buried in the ground for at least two months, with the lid covered with a straw matting to help keep the temperature just right, as well as to enhance bacteria for fermenting. Kimchi-making was like a ritual for the women in a family, and most families owned a plot of land just for burying its supply of the tangy greens - its importance was taken for granted.

But things have changed. For most "modern" people living in apartments and engrossed in their busy lives, a special device to preserve kimchi has appeared - kimchi refrigerators.

Nearly every local electronics company is currently producing kimchi refrigerators in all sorts of types and prices. Mando Electronic Co. was the first to come up with the idea in 1995, and its kimchi fridge was one of the hottest items of the year. Soon after, Samsung, Daewoo and LG followed, releasing their own versions.

This year alone, approximately 1.2 million of these companies' kimchi refrigerators have been sold. The ads for all the companies tend to use the tried and true theme of "keeping up with the Joneses." Choi Nak-yong, an assistant manager for public relations at Daewoo, said, "Considering that the cheapest kimchi fridge costs more than 500,000 won ($400), the increase of the market is quite significant."

However, these kimchi refrigerators are not just for storing kimchi, according to Kim Yong-woon, the acting chief of nationwide marketing at LG Electronics. Rather, they are more like "alternatives for ordinary refrigerators."

People never used to keep kimchi in their refrigerators because that would mean that the fermenting vegetables' pungent odor would spread to the other foods. The kimchi refrigerator, however, has separate storage compartments that can have their individual temperatures controlled. According to Mr. Kim, the most proper temperature for storing kimchi is around freezing, but for those who want to speed up or slow the fermentation, they can adjust the temperature accordingly. Furthermore, the temperature can be raised so that regular fruits and vegetables, white wines and other foods can also be chilled.

These handy refrigerators come in a great variety of styles, but most fall into one of two categories - fridges with drawers and others that open from the top. The former kind, which uses an indirect cooling method through a cooling fan, does not frost up, but comes in rather smaller sizes. The top-opening fridges, however, which use a direct cooling method, can be troublesome because they need to be defrosted quite often. But they are larger - convenient if you need to feed a large family or a lot of co-workers.

by Chun Su-jin

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