Korean ginseng

PHOTO: Korean ginseng

Ginseng is called "renshen" in Chinese because it is shaped like a man.

While ginseng is produced in many parts of the world, those from South Korea are known as Korean ginseng.

The perennial herb produces flowers and fruit in its third year of growth, yet its roots are ideally harvested only in the sixth year.

Mr Kirk Tan, marketing director of ginseng manufacturer Korea Ginseng Corporation's Indonesia office, said South Korea has the most suitable soil and climate for growing ginseng, which flourishes in cool climates.

In South Korea, the fields intended for growing ginseng are allowed to lie fallow for more than a year before the ginseng is actually grown, so that soil nutrients can be replenished.

Each root is then cared for and monitored throughout the six-year cultivation period before they are harvested around the months of September or October.

Upon harvest, the roots are carefully inspected and sorted into four grades - heaven, earth, good and cut - with heaven being the finest quality.

For example, 600g of Korean red ginseng that falls under the "cut" grading costs about $600, but the same quantity of "heaven" grade ginseng can go for more than $16,000 under the same brand.

During checks, a certified factory worker passes the root under a type of intense white light to look for the presence of tiny hollows - which determines the grade in which it is sold.

There are several types of Korean ginseng, depending on how the herb is processed. In Singapore, the most common type is the red ginseng, or hongshen, which is derived from steaming and drying fresh ginseng.

White ginseng or baishen is derived from fresh ginseng that is between four and six years old, with its skin removed and then dried under the sun.

Taekuk ginseng is produced by soaking four- to six-year-old fresh ginseng in hot water (80 to 90 deg C) for up to 20 minutes, then dried.

Ms Karen Wee, a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) physician at The Renhai Clinic, said the differences in preparation give rise to slight differences in their properties.

In TCM, white ginseng is considered warm, while red ginseng is regarded as hot, she said. Taekuk ginseng lies somewhere in between the two.

Choosing the right ginseng to use depends on the person's lack of qi (vital energy) or yang (the element linked to heat) - two areas that Korean ginseng help to replenish, she said.

To purchase good quality Korean red ginseng, ask how long it had been grown for. Mr Tan said the herb reaches its optimal stage in its sixth year of growth, and the good ones have a uniform reddish-brown flesh.

Brought to you by Korea Ginseng Corporation

RECIPE

Chicken stew

(Serves four)

INGREDIENTS 2 chickens, washed inside and out 2 small octopuses, organs removed 2 abalones 4 jujubes, wiped with dry cloth 8 gingko nuts, deshelled and peeled 4 garlic bulbs 1/4 spring onion, chopped 2 Korean red ginseng roots 1/2 cup glutinous rice, soaked in water 1.75 litres of water 3 tbs wheat flour Boiling water, for rinsing

METHOD

Rub the octopuses with wheat flour to get rid of the fishy smell. Rinse with water.

Stuff the chickens with jujubes, gingko nuts, garlic and soaked glutinous rice. Seal the chickens by sewing up with needle and thread.

Pour boiling water over the chickens to remove impurities on the skin.

In a pot filled with 1.75 litres of water, add the chickens and Korean red ginseng roots. Bring the water to the boil.

When the chickens are almost cooked, add in the abalones and small octopuses.

Sprinkle spring onions before serving.

This article was published on April 24 in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times.Get a copy of Mind Your Body, The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.