South Koreans go potty for probiotics
TO RELIEVE indigestion and hangovers - brought about by his job - Lee Jun Sung, 33, recently started taking a probiotic supplement every morning.
The office worker, who eats out frequently and drinks several times a week with clients, believes that doing so would improve his intestinal health.
"I feel like it has become much easier to go to the bathroom in the morning," he said.
"I know several people who have chosen probiotics for similar reasons."
Mr Lee is one among a growing number of health-conscious South Koreans, mostly aged 30 and up, who are turning to probiotics to improve their digestive system and wellness.
While probiotics are not new, they have taken on a local twist in the country.
Some feature ingredients extracted from or found in familiar foodstuffs - notably, kimchi, as well as other fermented foods like Japanese natto.
Others even take ingredients from unusual sources, such as babies' poo and breast milk.
According to the World Health Organization, probiotics are defined as live microorganisms which confer health benefits when administered in adequate amounts.
Encouraged by a growing demand for concentrated forms of "good bacteria", several Korean companies, including Cell Biotech, Ildong Pharmaceutical, CJ CheilJedang and Korea Yakult, have introduced their own probiotic brands in recent years, fuelling the expansion of the local probiotics market.
According to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, domestic production of probiotics has risen quickly - from 80.4 billion won (S$93 million) in 2013 to 138.8 billion won in 2014, with a projected 200 billion won for last year.
One of the forerunners is Cell Biotech, whose Duolac brand is sold in South Korea and about 40 other countries.
It contains lactic acid bacteria extracted from the faeces of newborns and Korean fermented foods like kimchi.
"Our lactobacilli are strong, because they have survived strong, pungent foods such as garlic, green onions and peppers used in spicy Korean dishes," said Cell Biotech spokesperson Kang Mu Sung.
And they are proving to be popular - Cell Biotech's sales rose by 57 per cent from 31.6 billion won in 2013 to 49.5 billion won last year.
"Though probiotics are behind ginseng and vitamins in the dietary supplements segment, we expect probiotics to steadily narrow down this gap in the future," Mr Kang said.
Meanwhile, Ildong Pharmaceutical's probiotics brand gQlab, launched in October last year, is made with bacteria extracted from human intestines and breast milk.
Korea's biggest food-maker CJ CheilJedang has also thrown its hat into the ring. It debuted its BYO Probiotic CJLP133 in December 2013.
This probiotic was developed based on a lactobacillus found in kimchi that has positive effects on skin health.
Last year, CJ also launched CJLP243, another probiotic that aids intestinal health. The two products recorded sales of roughly 30 billion won last year, the firm said.
Korea Yakult, the country's biggest maker of yogurt and fermented milk products, introduced Bioliv in May last year.
"We have a number of patented probiotics set for commercialisation in the near future - for skin health, improved wrinkles and for reduction of neutral fats," said its spokesperson Park Won Kyoung.
THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK