Monday, October 10, 2011

N. Korea's fake Red Ginseng

In East Asian nations (Koreas, China, Japan), Ginseng(인삼) is not only a popular and historical medicine, but also part of the diet. So, a good and well-grown ginseng can cost quite a lot of money.

According to RFA(Radio Free Asia), a lot of Chinese ginseng has been bought by North Korea in order to re-process it as authentic Korean Red Ginseng and sold it back to China and Hong Kong.

First, some background explanations. Let me explain the different kinds of ginseng products sold in Korea first.

Different ginseng products are differentiated depending on how the ginseng was processed.

1. 수삼(soo-sam) is basically an unprocessed ginseng.
2. 건삼(gun-sam) is a dried ginseng.
3. 백삼(baek-sam) is made by peeling a raw ginseng and drying it.
4. 홍삼(hong-sam) is made by steaming the ginseng first, then drying it.
Perhaps one of the most popular presents people buy at duty-free stores in Incheon airport.
Ginseng Elixir
Out of these, Hong-sam is the most popular choice. Some people eat it as it is, some make tea, jelly, elixir, drinks, and so on. Generally 5~6 year old ginseng is considered the best and most expensive. Generally, at least to Koreans, Chinese ginseng is considered far inferior to Korean ginseng. I don't know if it's scientifically proved, but I believe that the bad reputation Chinese products have for falsified product specifications (this case, how old the ginseng is, how it was grown, etc etc) may have contributed to this.

See that little bottle of concentrated ginseng bottle? That's about 50ml, and it costs 150 dollars at duty-free stores. well above 200 in regular markets. It's hella expensive.

Now according to RFA, a great part of North Korea's effort to earn foreign currency consists of making fake Korean Red Ginseng by reprocessing Chinese ginseng and selling it as authentic Korean ginseng. Chinese ginseng vendors near the border between China and North Korea are almost losing their business because North Korean government is buying massive amount of ginseng with a great effort.

According to a Chinese vendor in the area, "the reason why North Korea is trying to buy a huge amount of ginseng is so that they can reprocess it as red ginseng and export it." This red ginseng is usually sold to Chinese tourist attractions near the border, and especially Hong Kong.

A Chinese Korean who used to live in North Korea said, "it is true that North Korea cannot produce as much ginseng as they used to be able to. It is a well-known news that North Korea makes their red ginseng with Chinese ginseng."

Korean-made red ginseng has been very popular in Hong Kong and China as gifts. However, Chinese ginseng is known to have inferior texture and nutrients compared to Korean ginseng.

There it is folks. If you're living in China/Hong Kong and planning to get red ginseng for your parents next time. Just call up a friend in Korea and buy one of those above.


  1. Replies
    1. Good sharing. Ginseng is used in traditional and herbal medicine to improve energy levels and concentration. Panax ginseng C.A. Meyer is one of the most well-studied species of ginseng with more than 70 published papers citing its various health promoting benefits. Read more at:

  2. Is that a quality ginseng you mentioned above?