10 years ago, almost 80% of strawberries grown in Korea were Japanese varieties. Today, over 80% of our strawberries are homegrown strains, representing tireless scientific work and no small degree of national pride—the Hankyoreh newspaper likened the Korean “Seolhyang” variety’s 2005 success to that of national football hero Park Ji-Sung.
It’s an apt comparison—let’s start with a little soccer (football) background: “Be the reds!” was the slogan on everyone’s lips in 2002 when South Korea blasted through to the World Cup semi-finals, stunning the world and uniting the country in an overpowering wave of national pride. Likewise, there’s no small pride in their ability to create a better strawberry.
And it’s warranted—these strawberries are amazingly sweet, juicy and tender. Between 2006 and 2015, Seolhyang strawberries went from taking up 7.9% of the market to 81.3%, while Japanese varieties dropped from 78% to 7.4% during that same time. But as a recent KBS report suggested, the overwhelming presence of Seolhyang could be an issue: With little diversity in strawberry varieties, the industry overall is more vulnerable to disease and bug epidemics.
While Nonsan, where the Seolhyang strawberry was developed, is widely known as the center of strawberry farming in Korea, we headed over to Yangpyeong, which is much closer to Seoul and known for its organic farms. For 12,000 won (10USD) a person at Cho Ara Organic Strawberry Farm, which grows the Seolhyang variety, you get entrance to the greenhouses, a plastic container and permission to eat as many strawberries as you can. For the record, Sonja ate 41 and Seoyoung ate 50—we left with sticky fingers and happy bellies. Seolhyang berries are incredibly sweet, tender and juicy. There’s just something about picking them warm off the vine that can’t be replicated—even after just 2 hours in the car, the berries we brought back to Seoul just didn’t taste the same.
If you want to go: The Yangpyeong strawberry season runs from February through May. Find out more here.
After all my travels, I’d say that Korean strawberries are amongst the sweetest strawberries in the world. When I first moved to the U.S., I saw people eating strawberries coated with chocolate, and I wondered why. The way I saw it, strawberries were supposed to be sweet enough on their own. But I soon found out why. Strawberries in the U.S. had been bred for shipping and tasted more or less like cucumbers. Later, when I was working for restaurants, I saw that some of New York’s fine dining restaurants were importing the sweet, succulent strawberries I knew from Asia. So, if you are living in Korea, go get yourself some fresh strawberries and enjoy a Michelin-starred dessert!