Sesame leaves for pollen allergy: South Korea expands functional K-food exports in Japan

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

Sesame leaves exported from South Korea has been approved as a functional food in Japan to help relieve pollen allergy. ©Getty Images
Sesame leaves exported from South Korea has been approved as a functional food in Japan to help relieve pollen allergy. ©Getty Images

Related tags South korea Japan Allergy

Sesame leaves exported from South Korea has been approved as a functional food in Japan to help relieve pollen allergy and related symptoms such as eye discomfort.

The approval recognises sesame leaves exported from South Korea as a ‘Food with Function Claims (FFC)’, with officials hoping it will help boost ‘K-food exports’.

With the approval, the functionalities can be displayed on the package labels of fresh sesame leaves sold in Japan.

South Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (MAFRA) and Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation (aT) said the approval​ was made by Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA) on July 13.

The ministry said the application to register sesame leaves as a functional food started last year.

Under the FFC scheme, they are allowed to independently evaluate scientific evidence on the agricultural and marine products​ when submitting application documents.  

In this case, MAFRA said the supporting evidence provided was that the rosmarinic acid in sesame leaves could alleviate eye discomfort caused by pollen allergy.

Research has shown that supplementation of rosmarinic acid-enriched perilla frutescens​ (sesame leaves) extract could alleviate watery and itchy eyes. 

At present, most of the FFC products sold in Japan are dietary supplements, followed by non-supplements processed foods and fresh foods. 

First milestone

The sesame leaves FFC application was made by South Korea’s ‘Functional Food Export Support Group’ in an attempt to boost the country’s food exports.

The support group was formed in April to assist local food enterprises in going global.

MAFRA said this was the first achievement from the support group since its launch.

The next step is to introduce the sesame leaves into bigger markets such as the US.

“We will spread awareness about the functionality of sesame leaves and try to create new demand when exporting it to other countries such as the US,”​ said Shin Hyun-gon, director of food export at aT.

The country also identified ginseng as another key food export, especially in countries such as China, Japan, and Vietnam where consumers are already familiar with the item.

Opportunities and challenges

Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, MAFRA said it expected the demand for functional foods to grow.

In a recent survey, it said out of the 1,400 food enterprises interviewed, 80% were willing to export its products as functional foods.  

However, due to the lack of scientific evidence, the ministry said it had faced difficulties in introducing South Korea’s products as functional food in other countries.

A key role of the ‘Functional Food Export Support Group’ is thus to promote scientific research on homegrown agriculture products.

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