Koreans go sour on soaring kimchi prices

Exports are robust and unemployment is falling but South Koreans are still grappling with a threat to their wellbeing - a kimchi crisis.

Freak weather this year has sent the price of kimchi's basic ingredient Chinese cabbage soaring, leaving many consumers grumbling about the rising cost of the beloved side dish.

Grandmother Lee Seong-Ryuh had made her family's kimchi for decades until she stopped doing so a few days ago, Friday's JoongAng Daily reported.

"I was waiting for the outrageous price of cabbage to fall but it kept rising instead," she told the paper.

"I had no choice but to buy pre-packaged kimchi (made before the price rise), which is a far better bargain right now."

The paper said Chinese cabbage has risen in price from 2,480 won (2.10 dollars) per 2.5 kilograms on August 25 to 11,500 won on September 29.

Company cafeterias have cut down on the amount they offer workers and some restaurants charge for kimchi refills.

Even the presidential Blue House has been hit. President Lee Myung-Bak has switched from kimchi made from Chinese cabbages to European cabbages, Yonhap news agency reported.

"Chinese cabbage is grown mostly in mountainous regions and needs steady, cool weather to grow well," Yoon Young-Chul of the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation told JoongAng.

"This year's weather, which constantly alternated between rain and heat, has ruined lots of crops."

The food ministry said Friday it would temporarily remove its tariffs on cabbage and radish imports to try to curb soaring prices.

Kimchi, a spicy mixture of pickled cabbage, radish and cucumbers, has its own museum in Seoul and an annual festival. It was even blasted into space with the country's first astronaut in 2008.

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