• Thursday, October 18, 2018
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Kim Jong Un applies science to making kim chee


    Paek Mi Hye holds a package of kim chee produced at the Ryugyong Kimchi Factory on the outskirts of Pyongyang, North Korea. The factory is a showcase of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s efforts to boost the country’s domestic economy and produce more, and better, consumer products.


PYONGYANG, North Korea >> Kim Jong Un wants to turn the art of making kim chee into a science, and the North Korean leader is putting his money where his mouth is.

On the outskirts of Pyongyang, surrounded by snow-covered farms and greenhouses, stands one of Kim’s latest pet projects, the Ryugyong Kimchi Factory, which produces 4,200 tons of the iconic Korean pickled vegetable dish a year. The shiny new facility replaces an older factory and opened in June 2016 after getting Kim’s final seal of approval, according to manager Paek Mi Hye.

The factory is intended to showcase Kim’s efforts to boost North Korea’s domestic economy and produce more, and better, consumer products. His strategy, known as “byungjin,” aims to simultaneously develop the national economy and North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

North Korea’s repeated underground nuclear tests and launches of long-range missiles that could conceivably reach the U.S. mainland have brought more sanctions down on the North than ever before. But outside experts believe the country — while still struggling in many areas — is showing signs of modest economic growth and improved agricultural production. It could be just a year or two away from having an operational, nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile.

Applied science, according to the North’s policymakers, is absolutely essential on all fronts.

Kim has transformed the Pyongyang skyline with high-rise apartments to house his prized rocket scientists and nuclear engineers, and Paek repeatedly stressed while giving a tour of the facility how even an ancient delicacy like kim chee can benefit from scientific innovation.

Paek, who accompanied Kim on his “on-the-spot guidance” visits, said the factory has 150 workers but is for the most part automated.

She said the primary objective of the factory is to operate in a “scientific manner at every stage.” In kim chee making, that means inspections all along the production line to ensure quality and hygiene. The factory boasts of a one-of-a-kind “kim chee analyzer” to maintain the proper levels of saltiness and lactic acid — its signature ingredient.

Koreans North and South have been making kim chee for generations, often passing family recipes down from mother to daughter or mother-in-law to daughter-in-law.

In 2015, UNESCO added kim chee to its “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” list, noting that the traditional sharing of know-how and materials to prepare large quantities of kim chee for the winter months “boosts cooperation among families, villages and communities, contributing to social cohesion.”

Paek acknowledged that some people might resist giving up the cherished tradition of communal kim chee making. “But they also recognize the quality and reliability of our factory-made product,” she said.

The factory produces eight kim chee products, from the very spicy staple “tong kimchi,” which has a red tint and is made of whole cabbages, to a milder variety designed for children. Its kim chee products are distributed to restaurants and grocery stores around Pyongyang.

“This is the model,” Paek said. “Other factories like ours are being planned in every province.”

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