Bean sprouts off the table due to price hike

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Bean sprouts off the table due to price hike

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A pot of bean sprouts

Bean sprouts, which form one of the most popular and affordable side dishes along with kimchi on Korean dinner tables, are no longer being served in many restaurants after the price of the vegetable shot up recently.

Last week, the wholesale price of a four-kilogram (8.8-pound) box of bean sprouts at Garak Market in southeastern Seoul was 3,500 won ($3), up from 2,750 won this time last year.

Until now, bean sprouts have escaped much of the spiraling levels of inflation that have driven up prices of many agricultural products in the country. Compared to other produce, the price has been growing at a relatively mild rate.

In the early 2000s, a four-kilogram box cost an average of 2,250 won. It spiked above 3,000 won once in 2006 but had dropped back down to 2,500 won in 2008.

However, in the second half of last year, the price had rebounded to around 2,900 won. It went on to hit a record-high just after the turn of the year.

Market observers cite shrinking farm harvests as the reason for the sudden escalation in price.

“A lot of farms that were raising bean sprouts in Jeju have switched to buckwheat or potatoes,” said Kim Jin-beom, a spokesperson for discount store E-Mart.

According to Kim, bean sprouts yield relatively low profits as they can only be harvested once a year. In contrast, it is easier for farmers to double their money with buckwheat and potatoes as these can be sown and reaped twice a year.

Heavy rainfall and a typhoon last summer followed by a drought caused production to drop sharply.

By Kim Ho-joung [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]

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