Black bean ‘milk’ a hit among taste budsAlong with kimchi and rice, Korean menus include some items that foreigners might consider exotic, but which locals consider to be natural health supplements. Bears’ gallbladders and snakes are among the foods some Koreans consume in order to stay ahead of the crowd in the health department.
Most people don’t eat such delicacies, however ― at least, not regularly.
The most recent addition to the list of health foods is black beans. But instead of using solid beans, companies are instead producing a black bean beverage, following the path broken by soybeans, whose “milk” form has been drunk in Korea for decades. Dr. Chung’s Food Co. Ltd. first introduced soy milk to Korean palates in 1968.
That reliable standby now has some competition on grocery store shelves. In March, Lotte Ham & Milk Co. introduced a beverage made of bean extract. As the drink’s popularity with consumers became evident, 10 other companies including Namyang Dairy Products brought their own versions of black bean milk to the market. Lotte officials say their company is working nonstop to meet buyer demand.
“On average, we are selling 500,000 units of black bean milk per month,” says the Lotte marketing manager, Cho Seon-gyeong.
Lotte’s beverage comes in four sizes, from 180-milliliter (6-ounce) lunchbox units that cost 450 won (39 cents) to 1.8-liter family-sized cartons for 2,950 won.
The success of the black bean drink has given the dairy market a lift, Mr. Cho adds. “For the past three years there was nothing big. This is the blockbuster in the market and it’s not just benefiting us.”
The black bean beverage is sold nowadays in many varieties. The companies go full bore in touting the drink’s health benefits.
Among the many claims, they say that black beans contain more calories and vitamins than soybeans, which in turn helps prevent high blood pressure and diabetes.
A 100-milliliter portion of Lotte’s drink has 72 milligrams of calcium, 64 units of Vitamin A and a smattering of vitamins B1 and B2 and iron.
The taste of the grayish, milky drink has people talking. The addition of ground sesame seeds to the black beans has been a new twist.
Also, because of the drink’s high calorie content, some people drink it as a substitute for a full breakfast on a busy morning.
“I have diabetes. While I can’t eat cereal in the morning because of its excessive amount of sugar, the black sesame drink really helped me cope with this problem,” says one fan, Ser Ki-won.
The word black, and the color itself, were taboo in the food industry until now; the color was thought to lessen consumers’ appetites. That perception seems to have changed for good.
by Kim San