Perilla leaves are not all that familiar to foreigners, but they appear frequently on Korean dining tables. The leaves can be eaten seasoned in a traditional way or used as wraps when eating grilled pork. Perilla seeds reduced to a powder or pressed into an oil are commonly used in cooking. Hardly any other food culture makes such a wide use of perilla as the Korean one does. Although perilla first appears in historical documents dating to around 1400, it is estimated that the ancestors of modern Koreans ate it at least a thousand years ago. Perilla started to gain a lot of attention overseas after it became known that it contains a lot of omega-3. In fact, about 60 percent of pressed perilla oil is omega-3.
Omega-3 is the name of three types of fatty acids involved in human physiology―EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and linolenic acid. These are essential unsaturated fatty acids that must be obtained through diet because they are not synthesized in the human body. Fish oils are rich in EPA and DHA, and plant oils such as flaxseed oil abound in linolenic acid. That is why the discovery of plentiful α-linolenic acid in perilla seed oil has led to an increase in the consumption of this unique for Korea type of oil at home and abroad.
Securing the Japanese Market for Unroasted Perilla Oil
The endeavors of Chung Hoon-baek, CEO of Komega, have played an important role in the expansion of the consumption of perilla oil. Charmed by the merits of perilla oil, Mr. Chung became a perilla oil preacher who has devoted his life to spreading knowledge about the oil in Korea and overseas.
Having set his first goal to export perilla oil to Japan, Mr. Chung established Komega Co., Ltd. in 2004. To survive in the competition against major companies that offered plant oils, he pressed perilla seeds using only unroasted seeds. He even obtained a patent for the technique of pressing oil from unroasted seeds. Last year, Mr. Chung changed the name of the company to Komega to emphasize two facts: that only Koreans eat perilla oil and that perilla oil contains plenty of omega-3.
Mr. Chung explains, “The traditional Korean method is to extract oil from roasted seeds, which results in a stronger aroma and a larger quantity of oil than if pressed from unroasted seeds. Yet the higher the temperature that the seeds are exposed to, the higher the possibility is that hazardous materials like benzopyrene will form or rancidity will occur.”
Japan is the biggest market for the unroasted perilla oil produced by Komega. In 2008, the company advanced to Japan for the first time through DHC, a company that deals with food supplements and cosmetics. In order to enter the Japanese market, Komega had obtained the necessary certifications and passed tests for pesticide residue. The company also acquired FDA certification to raise consumer confidence. These efforts enabled the retail price of the product to be set much higher than, for example, the olive oil from Spain. Now, Komega products are sold at Tsuruya discount stores and Takashiyama department stores. They have gained tremendous popularity and recorded a more than five fold hike in sales. The number of markets also increased to seven―the US, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and others―with the total amount of exports reaching USD$1 million a year.
α-linolenic Acid Lowers the Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases
What are the benefits of unroasted perilla oil―α-linolenic acid, one type of the omega-3 fatty acids contained in perilla oil, is an essential fatty acid that constitutes lipids and makes cell membranes in the human body. That is why it’s so important to get it in food. Moreover, as a polyunsaturated fatty acid, it has more than two carbon bonds and is converted into EPA and DHA within the body. Inside the body, EPA and DHA facilitate blood circulation. Thus, they can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, such as artery hardening or myocardial infarction, and let the blood in the brain circulate better. This invigorates the functions of the brain cells and brain nerves. α-linolenic acid is good for preventing allergies as well, and an insufficient amount of the acid in the human body can cause cell aging and wrinkles.
Mr. Chung says, “The essential fatty acids were called ‘essential’ by scientists because they found out the importance of those acids for anyone, but especially for children, to grow normally.” He added, Rather than heating the oils that contain the fatty acids, it is better to use them for dressings or eat them unprocessed.
Perilla Oil Helps the Development of Korean Agriculture and Contributes to Spreading Korean Dietary Culture
Mr. Chung is so enthusiastic about the abundance of omega-3 fatty acids in perilla oil that he intends to introduce them all to the entire world. He hopes that his ambition contributes not only to the export of unroasted perilla oil but also to raising awareness about Korean dietary culture. In 2013, Mr. Chung moved his home and plant to Eumseong in North Chungcheong Province where he has built a perilla experience center and grows his own perilla. Last year he invited tourists from Singapore to experience the sowing and planting of perilla. The tourists also tried foods cooked with perilla and participated in a cultural program. This year, Mr. Chung is planning to create more diverse programs and invite more tourists.
Mr. Chung said, “The perilla oil extracted from unroasted seeds is of the same grade as the world famous olive oil. Its excellence has been proven in Japan. I will do my best to make it more than just an ordinary product and develop it into a way to contribute to Korean agriculture and to spread the Korean eating customs.”
Inquiries Komega Co., Ltd.