Gasiparae, sometimes locally called gamtae, is perennial green seaweed. Its scientific name is Enteromorpha prolifera. The name gamtae comes from its form when it is collected. It is collected by winding like a roll of thread. In fact, the meaning of “gam” in Korean is “rolling” or “winding” something. Gasiparae is thicker than fulvescens (Masangi) seaweed but thinner than green laver (Parae), and has a clear green color. Its high fiber content is good for digestion and relieving constipation. The amino acids and aspartic acid in gasiparae are good for liver health, and it is often used as a cure for hangover. Additionally, it is a good source of various minerals.
Gamtaeji is a type of kimchi made from gasiparae. It is a traditional winter kimchi on Wando Island. January and February are considered the best months to harvest gasiparae, which can also be collected in March. It is collected by hand. Its stiff leaves may be eaten after drying. Gamtaeji made with only salt and pickled pepper has a bitter taste. To make gamtaeji, the gasiparae collected from mud flats is rinsed twice with sea and fresh water, then salt and sliced pickled peppers are added.
This type of seaweed, and therefore, the gamtaejii kimchi, are found in the southern and western coasts of South Korea, in the Wando and Jeolla provinces. The seaweed is usually collected for private consumption in the Wando area. Recently small quantities are starting to be sold at local and online markets as the popularity of gasiparae is rising. However, adequate sunlight and healthy mud flats are needed to cultivate gasiparae. These areas are disappearing due to climate change, ocean pollution and mud flat destruction caused by reckless land reclamation.
Collecting gasiparae is very labor-intensive work, because people collect it by hand in the cold of winter using personal equipment like waterproof clothes, boots and gloves. The process of collection is very simple but sensitive work in that it the body of the plant must be collected without disturbing the root. Additionally, due to an aging population in fishing villages, it is becoming more difficult to find people who know how to collect gasiparae and process it into gamtaejii. Therefore, without efforts to preserve this food, gamtaeji is on the verge of disappearing from the Korean table.