Vinegar has long been an important element of Korean food, being mentioned in documents and cookbooks dating back hundreds of years. In the areas of Jeongeup-si and Jeollabuk-do, in southwestern South Korea, persimmon vinegar is made using the Meoksi variety of persimmons. A native variety growing in the mountain foothills or fields, Meoski persimmon trees produce small fruits that are very sweet and high in tannins. It is a variety that also features in the holiday celebration of Chukseok, when Koreans set a table for their ancestors to give thanks. Meoksi persimmons are harvested before ripe, cleaned and dried, and placed into a jar. Alcohol is added, which can either be produced in the home or purchased from the market. If purchased, locally produced makgeolli (raw rice wine) is recommended. After the fruit has fermented in the alcohol, the transparent liquid is separated from the fruit, and a second fermentation with acetic acid takes place through the use of a vinegar mother. During this fermentation, the mixture should be stirred once or twice a day. When this step is complete, the jar is sealed and kept in a cool place. Persimmon vinegar gets its excellent taste from a long fermentation time. Persimmon vinegar has long had both culinary and medicinal uses in Korea. Until the 1980s, mothers in nearly all households would make persimmon vinegar for the family’s use. Since this time, though, the availability of cheap, commercially made vinegar means that the tradition of making Meoksi persimmon vinegar in the home is becoming lost. In the past, at least ten companies produced this traditional Korean product for sale, but today that number has dropped to one company following the traditional persimmon vinegar recipe. The introduction of sweeter persimmon varieties also threatens the future of this product that is made with the unimproved, local Meoksi variety, which produces a smaller fruit with many seeds. Other areas where the trees once grew have been converted to fields for rice farming.
Image: © Marco Del Comune & Oliver Migliore