What lessons can we draw out from this experiment in cross-cultural gastronomy? Well, a 2011 study by Lana Chung and colleagues compared the liking for and acceptance of Korean-style beverages between US and Korean consumers, looking at effects of sensory and non-sensory factors.
“As access to various cultures has become much easier through travel, immigration, media and information technologies, consumers are constantly seeking new and exotic flavors,” Chung et al. wrote, noting that Korean cuisine often consists of hot and spicy, garlic, umami (savory taste), fermented and roasted carbohydrate flavors.
SOUTH KOREAN GIRLS SAMPLE US SNACKS
‘It looks like a cookie that elementary teachers would give kids who were good’, ‘When it melts in my mouth it kind of feels like I’m eating belly fat’
Strawberry Pop Tarts
‘It looks like stationary paper’ ‘Ah…the smell of…artificiality’, ‘Tastes like a toy’, ‘Tastes like something really bad for your body’, ‘Really though, it tastes like they just threw this s*** together’
Rice Crispies Treats (Chocolatey)
‘Finally, something that’s edible’, ‘Just tastes like your typical American snack’, ‘Something about this reminds me of teenage guys eating protein guys after a really sweaty workout'
‘I really like the texture of this when I chew it’
Lays Salt & Vinegar
‘The smell is really strong…’ ‘This tastes a lot sourer than expected.’ ‘I thought this was weird at first but I keep eating it.', 'It’s pretty addictive’', ‘Ugh this is such a waste – such a waste of potatoes!’
‘Ahaa…it smells like it tastes bad’, ‘I think they just fried it’, ‘The best out of everything so far’, ‘Seriously though, this would be a bomb with alcohol!’
In the 2011 study, 87 men and women living in South Korea and 185 US citizens living in California and Minnesota sampled the Korean-style beverages: rice punch, cinnamon ginger punch, Schizandra Chinensis punch, citron punch, and a roasted grain beverage with sticky rice and black soy bean.
Chung et al. said appearance was a major liking determinant for an unfamiliar beverage among the US participants – with ‘appearance’, ‘sweetness’, ‘fruity’, ‘uniqueness’ and ‘familiarity’ regarded as positive attributes among the drinks they preferred.
“On the other hand, appearance (including floating particles for rice punch), mouth feel and unfamiliarity were the attributes that drove subjects away from the liking of roasted grain beverage and rice punch,” the researchers write.
Koreans prize 'healthiness' as reason for liking beverages in 2011 study
“Korean subjects constantly selected healthiness as the reason for liking across all five samples,” they add, noting that the Koreans saw floating particles in the rice punch as an indicator of authenticity.
“Cross cultural differences were observed in the selection of the descriptors. ‘Unique’ and ‘ethnic’ were common positive descriptors for US subjects, whereas Koreans constantly chose healthiness as the reason for liking. Koreans’ perceiving traditional foods as healthy was reflected in the results.”
Do these conclusions tally with the videos we’ve embedded? Well, it’s true that the young Korean women (filmed in January 2015) seem to prize naturalness, but there are also numerous references to sharing snacks during social occasions with friends.
Oh, and Lay’s Salt & Vinegar chips are initially regarded with intense distrust, but after the shock wears off the overall consensus is positive.
On the US side, in the video below shot last August, one participant expresses concerns about the naturalness or otherwise of one snack – frowning upon a long ingredients list – but across the American tasting panel novelty is clearly prized, with the squid and peanut balls in particular going down a storm.
As with the Korean group, appearance is a key determinant affecting the approach to tasting, if not outright approval or otherwise of the food, with one male participant remarking, while gazing dubiously at a Korean rice cake: “Is this edible. Or is it just, like, Korean soap?”
US YOUTH TRIAL SOUTH KOREAN TREATS
Ojingeo Ttangkong Roasted Squid and Peanut Balls
‘It’s got eight regular ingredients, and then it starts getting crazy.’, ‘That crunch...that crunch!’, ‘These are really good!’
Misubong Fish Sausage
‘This sausage may contain tiny black pieces – these are fish skin.’ It’s like, ‘I know you’ll panic when you see tiny black pieces in this sausage – calm down, it’s just fish skin!''
‘I don’t know why, but I’m surprised by how this looks.', ‘Somebody was like, ‘I want it to look, and be shaped and have the consistency of string cheese, but could we make it penis colored?’
‘It tastes like the beach smells on like a bad day.’
Tteok Rice Cake with Red Bean
‘Is this edible, or is it just like, Korean soap?’
Samanco Vanilla Ice with Red Bean
‘I love this. My life will not be complete unless I can have this regularly!’, (Ironic tone) ‘I mean, this is great – it’s just an ice cream sandwich shaped like a fish. Why wouldn’t you want that?’