Friday, April 6, 2012

KOREAN FOOD: Korean Garlic Chives & Wild Chives (1)


Yesterday, I was invited over to my friend’s backyard vegetable garden.  My friend generously shared her homegrown scallions (Daepa, 대파), Korean wild chives (Dallae, 달래), and garlic chives (Buchu, 부추).  In Korea, there’s an old saying that the garlic chives picked in early spring are better than Ginseng (Insam, 인삼), so I cooked garlic chive pancakes (Buchujeon, 부추전) and dipping sauce with Korean wild chives (Dallae Yangnyeomjang, 달래 양념장) for dinner to get the most benefits from eating all these flavorful, tasty, cancer-fighting vegetables.  My son was happy as a clam eating the food as he’s a big fan of garlic chive pancakes.

Fresh vegetables from my friend's garden (left to right):
scallions (Daepa)-Korean wild chives (Dallae)-Korean garlic chives (Buchu)

BUCHU (부추, “Korean Garlic Chives”)

Korean garlic chives (부추, Buchu), Allium tuberosum, are a perennial herb that has the effect of helping digestion.  Garlic chive leaves can be harvested at least ten times a year but are considered in season March through May in Korea as they are softest, most nutritious, hence best for the body, especially during that time.  Garlic chives are native to China and widely used in Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and other Asian cuisines, but Korean garlic chive leaves are shorter, thinner, and narrower than Chinese ones.  Westerners are not familiar with them as they are not used in Western cuisines.

I lived with housemates back in Michigan, and one day, my close friend gave me some garlic chives from her garden.  When I was cooking garlic chive pancakes (Buchujeon), my non-Asian housemate stepped into the kitchen and gave me this super shocked look and asked me, “Are you cooking with grass?  Yuck!”  So I said, “No, they’re not grass.  They just look like it.  Wanna try some of my pancakes?” When I offered her some, she ran away at lightning speed out of the kitchen.  So I talked to myself, “You don’t know what you’re missing.”  I finished the whole plate of Buchujeon in one sitting.

Among the ancient Koreans, garlic chives were regarded as a vegetable of five colors since they have (i) white stalks, (ii) yellow shoots, (iii) green leaves, (iv) red roots and (v) black seeds,1 and as a vegetable of five virtues since they can be eaten (i) raw, (ii) blanched, and (iii) salted; (iv) can be stored, and (v) their pungent flavor stay the same all the while.  If you don’t like the pungent smell, blanch them before you use them in your cooking.

1.  There five colors are called “Obangsaek” (오방색), where “o” means “five,” “bang,” “direction,” and “saek,” “color,” and combined, the word translates to “five colors indicating directions.” In the theory of Eum-Yang (-, Ying-Yang) of Gi (, Qi) philosophy, “yellow” is considered as “center” or “earth,” “blue” as “east” or “tree,” “white” as “west” or “metal,” “red” as “south” or “fire,” and “black” as “north” or “water.” 

This color philosophy can easily be traced back in the Korean culture and traditions:  Representatively, the Korean flag, and architecture, work of art, costume (e.g. hanbok), food, and so on.

In traditional Korean herbal medicine, garlic chives are known to (i) help strengthen your liver function, (ii) help improve blood circulation, (iii) effectively warm up your body, (iv) help improve chronic back pain, and (v) treat cold, diarrhea, and anemia.  For those who sweat too much, they help restore vigor.  For women, they also eliminate bad blood, reduce menstrual cramps, and improve overall bodily constitution. For men, they strengthen the liver and increase stamina and virility.  Garlic chive seeds are known to have the best remedial effects.  Nutritionally, garlic chives are rich in vitamins (vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin C, and beta carotene or vitamin A), minerals (calcium, potassium, and iron), chlorophyll, and dietary fiber.

Especially, garlic chives contain allyl compounds that eliminate the strong odors from fat (meat) and fish with the pungent taste and flavor and stimulate the appetite.  They also help fight bacterial infections hence are a great summer food.  Those with a weak stomach or with an allergic constitution should not eat too much of the food as it might worsen their symptoms. Plus, since garlic chives have an effect of warming up your body, it’s not for those with a hot constitution. Taking too much of them can cause diarrhea, too.

Garlic chives already have a reputation for showing significant effects on male stamina enhancement.  According to The Medical Details of Herbal Plants (본초강목, Bonchogangmok), Chinese books (52 volumes) on traditional herb medicine, they have an effect of “On-Sin-Go-Jeong (온신고정, 溫腎固精), where “on” translates to “warm,” “sin” to “kidney and urogenital organs,” “go” to “harden, make firm,” and “jeong” to “best, clean.”  Combined, the phrase means “Stamina and virility enhancement.”  The secret of this medicinal effect lies in allyl sulfides, a colorless liquid with a garlicky odor and a boil, which is converted into allithiamine when combined with vitamin B1.  Allithiamine helps relieve fatigue and recover strength; but it’s water soluble and volatile, thus wash and trim them as quickly as possible. Garlic chives also have preventive effects on cardiovascular diseases as adenosine, contained in the leaves, prevents blood clotting. Most importantly, they have been reported to show the antimutagenic effect and provide the anticancer activity in several cancer types such as stomach, breast, liver, or skin cancer.

Korean garlic chives (Buchu)

Most common Korean recipes that use garlic chives are “Buchu Gimchi2 (부추김치, “Garlic Chive Kimchi”), “Buchu Mandu” (부추만두, “Dumplings with Garlic Chives”), Buchujeon (부추전, “Garlic Chive Pancakes”), or “Buchu Doenjangguk” (부추된장국, “Garlic Chive Soybean Paste Soup”).  Garlic chives are a perfect match to “Doenjang” (된장, “Soybean paste”), one of the typical Korean fermented foods.  Ancient Koreans made “Buchu Doenjangguk” (부추된장국) to treat upset stomach or diarrhea.  Garlic chives add vitamin A and C as well as pungent flavor to the soup, and together, garlic chives and soybean paste have a synergistic effect as an anticancer remedy.  “Buchu Japchae” (부추잡채, “Pork with Garlic Chives”) helps relieve fatigue and recover strength as allyl sulfides contained in garlic chives is converted into allithiamine when combined with vitamin B1 in pork. As mentioned above, allithiamine helps relieve fatigue and recover strength.  “Buchujeup” (부추즙, “Garlic Chive Juice”) or “Buchujuk” (부추죽, “Garlic Chive Porridge”) is great for those who sweat too much to restore vigor and stamina. 

2.  According to Park Kun-Young, Professor of Food Science & Nutrition, Pusan National University, “Buchu Gimchi (optimally ripened) samples showed antimutagenic effects, exerted antimutagenicity, and revealed the cytotoxicity.  Garlic chives, the major ingredient in “Buchu Gimchi, have been used as a food or drug for treatment of abdominal pain, diarrhea, hematemesis, snakebite, and asthma in folk remedies from ancient times.   Garlic chives are rich in vitamins A, B1, and C, and belong to the Allium genus that contains large amounts of thiosulfinates and organosulfur compounds, which are responsible for the characteristic odor and flavor of allium.   The allyl sulfur compounds are known to inhibit chemically induced tumors. Garlic chives also contain high levels of flavonoids.  Several studies have indicated that high consumption of garlic chives was associated with a reduced risk for colorectal cancer.”  (Click for more details.)

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