An independent blind taste test in South Korea, involving pork from around the world, delivered some surprising results — at least for the Korean participants and the competition sponsors.
The event was sponsored by Cookand magazine — a monthly magazine read by Korean housewives as well as food and restaurant critics, gourmets, cooking instructors and young chefs. It conducted a taste test, disguising the pork samples’ price and source.
Two, five-person panels consisting of food bloggers and meat-industry professionals gave U.S. pork very high marks. Several of the respondents expressed surprise when they learned their preferred samples came from the United States rather than domestic sources. “Beyond our expectations, U.S. pork was rated highly in both the frozen and chilled categories,” wrote the editors of Cookand magazine after participants revealed their choices.
For the competition, Cookand editors selected collar butt and single-ribbed belly, which are Koreans’ most popular pork cuts at home and when dining out. Frozen meat samples came from Austria, Belgium, Chile and the United States. Chilled meat samples consisted of two domestic brands and U.S. product.
To ensure a fair comparison, Cookand took steps to minimize differences in freshness among the samples due to time in distribution, using only samples that were less than 20 days after importation.
U.S. pork received high marks for both frozen and fresh versions. “I was impressed that U.S. pork had much better color than domestic pork. It was difficult to distinguish domestic pork from imported pork when the countries of origin were not disclosed. I was amazed that my perception and notions were quite different from the facts,” said Choi Jin-heun, master chef and professor at Yuhan University.
But the editors noted a struggle between the participants’ taste buds and their national pride. “What’s interesting was the evaluation on personal liking, which was different before and after disclosing the source,” the editors wrote. “For chilled pork, U.S. pork scored high before disclosing its origin. However, once the origin and prices were revealed, domestic branded pork also scored high. These findings show that there is some degree of emotional preference for domestic brands.”
South Korea is a major trade destination for U.S. pork, and its future relies on the U.S. Congress finalizing a pending free-trade agreement.