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 focused on food, cooking, restaurants, chefs and wine. It is read by Korean housewives as well as food and restaurant critics, gourmets, cooking instructors and young chefs because of its specialized contents. With the introduction of Korea’s mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat products, the magazine’s editors speculated that consumers might be using labels to drive purchasing decisions.  To measure taste preferences without bias, Cookand conducted its test, disguising the pork samples’ price and source.

In the end, 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 that the pork samples they favored 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.

Representing meat-industry professionals, the judges included two chefs, a cooking specialist, menu consultant and a meat expert. For the food bloggers, they represented websites that draw 5,000 or more visitors daily.

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.

Professionals want domestic pork, love U.S. pork

The meat-industry professionals gave high marks to both frozen and fresh U.S. pork, but the editors noted a struggle between the professionals’ taste buds and their national pride.

“What’s interesting was the evaluation on personal liking, which was different before and after disclosing the,” the editors wrote.  “In the case of 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 the professionals have some degree of emotional preference for domestic brands.”

The professionals gave high marks to both U.S. and Belgian frozen collar butt and belly, while preferring U.S. and a domestic brand when it came to chilled product.

Comments from the professionals were revealing:

  • “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.” – Choi Jin-heun, master chef and professor at Yuhan University
  • “When the countries of origin were disclosed and I checked the sample’s origin that I thought tasted best, I was surprised that it was U.S. pork.   In particular, when its low price and high quality are considered, it was very satisfactory.   I think it is worthwhile considering when I make a personal purchase as a consumer.” – Seong Myung-hoon, head chef of the buffet restaurant at Incheon Sheraton Walker Hill

Bloggers reinforce the findings

To balance the meat-industry professionals’ opinion, Cookand assembled a five-person panel of consumers – not typical consumers but power bloggers active in cooking.  While there was some variation in the favorites, U.S. pork was still a surprisingly popular choice.

Among frozen cuts, the bloggers chose U.S. and Austrian pork as the best in the frozen collar butt category while U.S. and Belgian offerings led in frozen bellies.  Two domestic brands were preferred in chilled collar butt, while U.S. chilled bellies tied with one domestic brand as the favorites.

“Above all, in preference relative to price, chilled U.S. pork was the overwhelming favorite,” the editors reported.  “It was highly evaluated as it was not very different from domestic pork considering its quality relative to price.”

Comments from the bloggers were effusive for U.S. pork:

  • “In the past, I insisted on domestic beef and pork mainly because of perception.    A predominant view was that it’s better to eat a safer meat even if we have to eat slightly less of it.   Of course, I never doubted that domestic meat would taste better…The outcome was really unexpected.  I was amazed at how chewy and juicy U.S. belly was.” – Yun Ji-yeon
  • “The U.S. chilled belly was quite tasty…I assumed it was domestic pork.    Prejudice causes fear.   Going forward, I should boldly try new things.  The U.S. pork was fresher than I had expected, and it tasted quite good.” – Lee Jin-Kyung
  • “Tasting without indications of the country of origin or price was most impressive.  When the prices and countries of origin were disclosed, my perception of U.S. chilled and frozen meat changed.  I was surprised at the superb taste and high quality relative to price.” – Lee Na-yeol

Source: U.S. Meat Export Federation