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Publication Date : 08-06-2012
At this time every year, Gochang in North Jeolla Province is filled with the sweet scent of bokbunja, a type of black raspberry unique to the region.
Compared to those grown in other regions globally, Gochang’s bokbunja is known to have a sweeter taste and darker colour, according to the Jebba Food & Beverage Corp., a guild of bokbunja growers there.
More than three decades have passed since people started cultivating the fruit and making liquor with it in the 1980s in the region some 290 kilometres south of Seoul.
Aside from the sweet taste, bokbunja’s health and beauty benefits are gaining new attention more recently due to its supposed antioxidant, anticancer and aesthetic effects.
The fruit contains four times as much anthosyanins as in grapes, said Lim Dong-yoon, professor at Chosun University’s medical school in Gwangju.
Abundantly concentrated as pigments in berries, anthocyanins are believed to have potential health effects against cancer, diabetes, inflammation, aging and neurological diseases, bacterial infections and fibrocystic diseases, studies indicate.
“Bokbunja’s strong antioxidative power protects cells from the attack of active oxygen,” Lim said, adding that the fruit could reinvigorate libido, suppress cancer, reduce blood sugar levels and prevent high blood pressure.
“Bokbunja has shown that it can be an effective natural medicine to treat cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes. Soon, we may establish a new drug development maximizing the effects,” he said.
There are some 15 bokbunja-based foods and beverages produced in Gochang where about 56 companies make liquors, beverages, snacks and jams.
Last year, the bokbunja industry became a 200 billion won (US$170 million) market, attracting 7 million tourists to the county.
Bokbunja liquors in particular, along with the growing popularity of Korean traditional alcohol drinks such as makgeolli (rice wine), are widely enjoyed both in Korea and abroad.
With the domestic market for bobunja liquors fast nearing saturation point, Gochang has put more emphasis on marketing the product overseas.
Last year, Gochang exported liquor products worth 1 billion won to eight countries, including the U.S., Canada, Germany, Australia, Taiwan, Singapore and Japan.
This year, the county also inked a deal to export $12.5 million of liquor products to China in the next 10 years.
In November, Jebba, the guild of growers, won orders from two Japanese retailers ― Ecofood System and Andamul ― to supply $500,000 worth of bokbunja products every year.
Ecofood distributes alcoholic drinks and food materials to some 3,000 restaurants and bars in Japan. Andamul operates an online shopping mall where Japanese customers can buy Korean products.
“The deals will give fresh momentum to the struggling domestic bokbunja industry,” said Lee Kyung-soo, president of Jebba.
“We’ll develop more products that can create a synergy with the Korean Wave to accelerate the expansion of the market.”
Enjoy picking bokbunja
Gochang has held an annual festival specialising in bokbunja and watermelon, another famous fruit in the county, in June when bokbunja becomes ripe.
The festival venue is near the historical temple Seonuansa, which dates back to the Baekje Kingdom, located in Mount Seonun Provincial Park.
According to old sayings, a monk at the temple is believed to have found the health effects of bokbunja first after he fed an ailing child the fruit a very long time ago.
Visitors can taste a variety of bokbunja-based products such as liquors and snacks at the venue and purchase the fruit at 10 to 20 percent discounted prices.
More good news for this year’s visitors is that they can pick and taste bokbunja within greenhouses. Last year, fruit picking was impossible because the festival was held earlier than usual.
People who want to pick the fruit can move to the greenhouses from the venue onboard a small boat offered by the organizing committee.
“Aside from the bus fares and lodging, all the programmes are almost free of charge. Expats in particular will enjoy additional benefits,” said an official from the county.
The committee expected that about 100,000 people will visit the country during the festival period, similar to the level in 2011.
Last year 106,000 people attended the festival, with the economic impact estimated to be worth 9.44 billion won.