Rice consumption falls, but use in products rises
The gap has been filled by processed food products such as packaged lunch boxes and noodles, which have seen higher demand as a result of more people living alone.
According to Statistics Korea on Thursday, the average Korean ate 61.8 kilograms (136 pounds) of rice last year, an all-time low and a drop from 61.9 kilograms the previous year.
The rice consumption last year represents half of what it was in 1970, when it reached an all-time high of 136.4 kilograms per Korean. The government has been compiling such data since 1964.
The daily average per person was to 169.3 grams last year, down from 169.5 grams the previous year. Based on the standard that a bowl of rice is roughly 100 to 120 grams (3.5 to 4.2 ounces), the average Korean ate about one and a half bowls of rice a day.
As a result of the rice decline, overall grain consumption also fell. Last year, average grain consumption per capita was 70.9 kilograms, down from 71.2 kilograms in 2016.
But the fact that rice consumption accounts for 87.2 percent of grain consumption shows that rice is still a major staple in Korean society.
Rice was less consumed in urban and suburban areas, where the average Korean ate 59.8 kilograms, while the average rural Korean consumed 96.6 kilograms of rice last year.
Still, rice consumption in farming areas also saw a sharper drop last year, 3.9 percent compared to 0.3 percent in other areas.
While individual rice consumption is on the decline, the use of rice in processed food has significantly increased.
Last year, more than 707,000 tons of rice was used to make various products, including alcoholic beverages. The figure represents a 7.4 percent increase from the previous year.
Of that amount, processed foods accounted for 60.6 percent, or over 428,800 tons of rice - a 13.3 percent increase.
Rice use in noodle production saw the sharpest increase, 39.8 percent, though it only accounted for 2 percent of all processed products.
Lunch boxes and other cooked meals with rice accounted for 16.2 percent, and rice use in these products grew 14.1 percent year on year.
On the other hand, use for the traditional rice cake tteok, which accounts for nearly 24 percent of processed rice products, dipped 0.4 percent.
“The use of rice for ready-made products like lunch boxes has been increasing as eating alone has become a major trend,” said Kim Jin, a research at the agriculture and fisheries statistics division of Statistics Korea.
The results were based on a survey of 1,060 households - half from farming areas and half from other regions - as well as 2,743 food and beverage companies conducted between Nov. 1, 2016, and Oct. 31, 2017.
BY LEE HO-JEONG [firstname.lastname@example.org]