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Store-bought samgyetang put to the test : The summer dish is easy to make at home, but how does it taste?

July 01,2017
A ready-made samgyetang by Single’s Pride, a private brand of Homeplus, scored the highest on a blind taste test conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo. [LEE JA-EUN]
The weight of each chicken without the soup from left: 424 grams for Peacock, 510 grams for Yorihada and 479 grams for Single’s Pride. [LEE JA-EUN]
A pot filled with hot soup and a whole young chicken, stuffed with sticky rice, daechu (jujube), and susam (fresh ginseng), is known as samgyetang and is considered a staple summertime dish in Korea. While it may seem counter intuitive, Koreans have long pushed through the summer heat by eating hot food, typically soup.

As people start to line up outside of famous samgyetang joints, others are heading to supermarkets to gather up ingredients to make their own samgyetang at home. To make it easier for these people, supermarkets have developed their own products to simplify the cooking process.

According to E-Mart, a major discount retail chain in Korea, this year’s sales volume of ready-made samgyetang has increased significantly compared to the previous year due to the early heat wave and the expanding ready-made food market. From May 1 to June 22, Peacock, E-Mart’s store brand, saw its nokdu (mung bean) samgyetang sales increase 48.3 percent compared to the same period last year. Out of all 1,000 Peacock products, samgyetang ranked in second place in sales, after their popular yukgaejang (spicy beef soup).

While Lotte Mart will continue with its private brand Yorihada samgyetang launched in 2015, Homeplus will add a new version of samgyetang to its three samgyetang offerings launched last year - traditional, perilla seed and thick sauce - with renewed packaging scheduled to be released in early July for Chobok.

Chobok is the first of what is called the three dog days, which have traditionally been deemed the days to eat hot healthy food, such as samgyetang, to fight off the heat.

These days, samgyetang is a tasty dish that can be enjoyed at any time of the season.

To compare the samgyetang offerings from each supermarket, the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, bought the pre-packaged meals and put them to test.

Yorihada’s big chicken

While it’s common for products of the same category to be similarly priced, the price tags of samgyetang varied from 6,980 won ($6.10) for Peacock to 8,490 won for Single’s Pride, with Yorihada’s samgyetang in the middle, costing 7,980 won. The prices weren’t proportionate with the weight, either.

Peacock and Yorihada weighed 900 grams in total including the weight of the chicken and the soup, but the most expensive Single’s Pride weighed 800 grams, 100 grams less than its rivals. So per 100 grams, Peacock cost 775 won, Yorihada 886 won and Single’s Pride 1,061 won.

Yorihada’s chicken weighed the heaviest at 510 grams, followed by Single’s Pride at 479 grams and Peacock at 424 grams. Bearing in mind that the chicken is stuffed with the rest of the ingredients, Peacock’s volume came from the soup, not the chicken.

Peacock’s rich stuffing

All three products had susam, sticky rice and jujube in common, but Peacock’s chicken filling had additional nokdu, ginger, garlic and onion that enriched the soup’s flavor. The nokdu worked especially well to eliminate the smell from the chicken grease. Yorihada also had chestnut, jujube and garlic inside, with additional non-glutinous rice unlike the other two brands. Single’s Pride went without any additional ingredients.

Samgyetang, commonly known as a healthy dish, is actually a fatty food, with over 600 calories in an ordinary pot for a single person.

The ready-made samgyetang were no exceptions. While Single’s Pride’s and Peacock’s samgyetang were 530 calories and 540 calories per pack, Yorihada’s samgyetang was a whopping 700 calories.

Even the sodium intake varied significantly. Yorihada contained 980 milligrams of salt, while Single’s Pride had 1,420 milligrams of salt. Peacock’s samgyetang blew the others away with 3,240 milligrams of sodium. The World Health Organization’s daily sodium recommendation is 2,000 milligrams, proving that samgyetang might not actually be as healthy as many think.

The winner, Single’s Pride

Despite the calories, the sodium, and the price, what’s most important is if the food is delicious. Three journalists at the JoongAng Ilbo participated in a blind test, to see which dish was best.

When asked to pick one brand that they would buy again, all three picked Single’s Pride because “it tastes the most similar to the samgyetang sold at samgyetang restaurants.”

The soup was thick, and the smells of the chicken and the other ingredients harmonized in the taste, while the chicken was chewy and fresh. One thing they all pointed out, though, was that the rice stuffing was under cooked and hard.

Peacock’s samgyetang scored high on the sweet flavor of the soup, but got low marks for the chicken, which felt crumbly instead of chewy. Yorihada’s chicken fell apart when they tried to scoop it up with the ladle, but some found it soft and tasty.

BY SONG JEONG [yoon.soyeon@joongang.co.kr]