Innovating with Korean ginseng: Taste and ease of use key for widening consumer base, say brands

By Audrey Yow

- Last updated on GMT

Korean ginseng brands get creative at repackaging for consumers who prioritise taste and convenience. © Getty Images
Korean ginseng brands get creative at repackaging for consumers who prioritise taste and convenience. © Getty Images

Related tags Ginseng Korea ginsenosides

Korean ginseng brands are innovating with new formats and ingredient combinations as they seek to widen the appeal of the traditional botanical to consumers who prioritise taste and convenience.

The Korean Agro-Fisheries and Food Trade Corporation (aT) showcased ginseng in various formats at FHA Food & Beverage 2024, held at the Singapore Expo from 23 to 26 April.

The featured formats are aimed at improving taste experience and convenience for busy consumers.

“We started out focusing on the traditional dried root format. We have since evolved and are developing a variety of products with ginseng as a base. Dried ginseng root in its original form used to take up 90% of our sales, and other ginseng formats took up around 10%. Today, it is the other way around,”​ said Hwang Yoon-Keon, manager at Wooshin, a company that has been specialising in Korean ginseng since its founding in 1995.

“With today’s demanding and fast-paced lifestyle, many are not willing to go through these processes of preparing ginseng. We are always on the lookout for what consumer trends. Coming up with practical and creative ways of incorporating ginseng into daily life is really an ongoing challenge for us."

Innovation strategies include the addition of other beneficial ingredients like vitamin C and herbs to increase product appeal.

For example, one of Wooshin’s new launches is the Rg3 Black Ginseng Plus, a black ginseng essence combined with eight different Chinese herbs. These are packed into individual 10-ml sticks with the recommended dosage of one stick per day.

Another of Wooshin’s products is black ginseng tea packed in individual sachets. It can be steeped in hot water from two to three minutes, or for 10 minutes in cold water. The tea can be drunk up to four times a day.

For those who are not used to the bitter notes of ginseng, Korean brand Geumheuk has rolled out the Samsidae red ginseng honeyed slices, which are available in a box of 10 convenient packs. Zero sugar is added as Korean honey is used as a sweetener. These can be enjoyed on its own as a snack. Other serving suggestions include adding them to teas or yoghurt.

Geumheuk has other products in its black ginseng range.

The black ginseng packs for kids contains honey, pear, elderberries and blueberries to suit children’s tastebuds. Packaged in 30 50-ml bags, it comes with an easy grip packaging that can be cut open for drinking straight from the pack.

There’s also its black ginseng powder, which can be mixed into hot or cold beverages such as tea or milk. It can even be added to homecooked dishes.

In line with the demand for clean label products, the above do not contain artificial additives and preservatives. There are also dosage recommendations stated clearly on the packaging.

“Ginseng is potent, so overconsumption may lead to unwanted side effects,”​ explained Hwang, who is also a member of the Korean Ginseng Association.

The Association is keen to educate consumers on the benefits of Korean ginseng, which they see as an effective way of expanding the consumer base for Korean ginseng brands.

Different types of ginseng

Korean ginseng is known to contain the most ginsenocides compared to the American and Chinese varieties. Ginsenocides are a class of saponins, active ingredients that are present in various plants. These active ingredients are associated with a multitude of health benefits that include cancer prevention and improved immunity. Ginseng is also reportedly beneficial for women undergoing menopause.

In its raw form, freshly dug ginseng does not contain a good amount of ginsenocide. It must be washed, dried and steamed to enable effective absorption by the body.

Korean law has regulations on how its ginseng should be classified.

Fresh ginseng that has been washed and dried is white ginseng. Red ginseng is one that has been washed, dried, steamed and then dried again. Black ginseng undergoes the same treatment as red ginseng, but the process has to be repeated at least three times.

Most Korean brands, however, repeat the process nine times for black ginseng to increase the value of their products. With each repeated processing, there is an increase in the amounts and types of ginsenocides present. Furthermore, the phenol content of ginseng increases with each steaming process. Phenols are present in fruits and vegetables and are known for inhibiting enzymes associated with various diseases.

“White ginseng typically contains three types of ginsenocides, Rg1, Rh1(S) and Rb1. Red ginseng contains these and Rk3, Rh4 and so on. Black ginseng can contain five to 10 times more ginsenocides than red ginseng,”​ explained Hwang.

These rigorous processing methods originated from the Dongeuibogam​, a classic book of Korean traditional medicine that was compiled during the Joseon Dynasty.

The traditional method of preparing ginseng tea is time-consuming for many. In Korea, home brewing equipment specifically designed for making ginseng tea is available. Water and ginseng are brewed together in the machine, and herbs or sweeteners may be added. The brewing can take between six to 24 hours, depending on one’s preference.

Sale and distribution

Korean ginseng is readily available in most countries via various retail channels, such as major supermarket chains and pharmacies. Online platforms like Amazon and Lazada carry Korean ginseng as well.

The cost of ginseng can vary widely between brands, and Hwang said it is difficult to give a price range for each type of product.

“Ginseng is classified into four grades: Heaven, Earth, Good and Pass. While black ginseng undergoes a more rigorous process and has more active ingredients, a Heaven-grade red ginseng could be more expensive than a black ginseng that has a Good or a Pass grade. Besides, each brand may feature different types of ginsenocides in their products,”​ said Hwang.

Currently on Shopee, Geumheuk’s black ginseng powder is retailing for $125 (US $92) for 220 grams, and the honeyed red ginseng slices cost $49 (US $36) for 10 packs.

Jung Kwan Jang (previously Cheong Kwan Jang), is available in Singapore’s Guardian pharmacy. Online, Jung Kwan Jang’s red ginseng extract is selling 240 grams for $245 (US $180).

Under the influence of the Korean Ginseng Association, various local brands have expanded to the US, parts of Southeast Asia, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan. The Association is encouraged by a recent increase in exports to Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand. They will continue to gather feedback from Korean companies and provide guidance so that various firms can increase their footprint globally.

Healthier Product Innovation will be taking centre stage at our Growth Asia Summit 2024 this coming July, which will feature insights from a wide range of industry leaders and experts. Don't miss out – register here today!

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