Now it’s time to take a look at a small but competitive business making a difference for the Korean economy.
For this Chuseok holiday, a growing number of people have been purchasing red ginseng products. Good-quality six-year-old ginseng is steamed and dried to become red ginseng, which is believed to help improve the immune system, relieve fatigue, and have an anti-oxidative effect. It comes as no surprise that red ginseng products are one of the most popular gifts for traditional holidays in Korea. A new ginseng market has emerged as of late. “Ginseng berry,” which is dubbed the “herb of eternal youth in the 21st century,” has been developed as a new health supplement. Today, we’ll introduce you to Korea Genetic Pharm, a company that has successfully commercialized ginseng berry products with its unique technologies. Let’s hear from Park Jin-young, vice president of the company.

With various patents, our company has produced health supplements, food products and cosmetics since it was set up in 2002. Red ginseng is one of the best-selling health products in the world. As countless companies deal in red ginseng, we thought we would not be able to dominate the market with the same item. So we focused on the ginseng berry. Ginseng’s saponin component is called ginsenoside, and the amount of this substance contained in the berry is 15 to 30 times larger than that in the root. But when consumed, it cannot be absorbed in the body completely. We have conducted a lot of research on how to solve this problem. We have technology to separate ginsenoside from other substances, and that’s what differentiates us from other manufacturers.

Four year-old ginseng offers the optimum health benefits but it bears berries only for one week in July. The rare berry contains as many as 34 kinds of ginsenoside, which is a particular type of saponin found in ginseng and red ginseng. Among them, “Ginsenoside Re”, in particular, is known to support blood circulation, slow the aging process and fight diabetes. This ingredient is 30 times more concentrated in the ginseng berry, compared with the root. But the ginseng berry has drawbacks as well. The berries wither away within a day after they are picked. Due to the difficulty in preservation, ginseng berries were not developed as products, despite their excellent effects. But Korea Genetic Pharm was able to develop technology to overcome this problem.

We have nine patents related to ginseng berries. They include technologies about steaming and drying the berries, extracting particular saponins from them, producing fermented extracts from them, and making related health products. All 34 kinds of ginsenoside are not absorbed in the human body, since the number and types of intestinal microorganisms vary, depending on individuals. In general, 10 to 12 kinds are absorbed. But after the fermenting process, they can all be absorbed.

The company began to show an interest in ginseng berries in 2009 when it built a factory in Yeoncheon in Gyeonggi-do Province, which is one of the ginseng-producing sites in Korea. After extensive research on the effects of ginseng berries, the company was able to develop ways of storing the berries for a long period. The methods include steaming the berries seven times and drying them another seven times. Its fermentation technology enables all types of ginsenoside to be absorbed in the body, with its effects still kept intact. It has established a one-stop system, where it purchases and processes ginseng berries, conducts research and development and manufactures them as products. It is the only such system in the world.

Our company earned a sanitary license to export products directly to China, and four of our products are registered with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The company received awards at the 2012 and 2015 Korea International Women’s Invention Exposition and was recognized by the Minister of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. It won the first prize for “Proud Koreans” in the fermentation area in 2014 and also received the SMEs and Startups Minister award in 2016. We were overwhelmed with emotion, as we felt that our hard work for all those years was rewarded. I think we received a great deal of recognition for our unique research subjects, especially the fermentation part.

The company boasts its unique, brilliant technologies in extracting, concentrating and fermenting ginseng berries. It also displayed creativity in commercializing them. In 2011, it rolled out a product made with seven natural ingredients, including ginseng berry components, for patients with diabetes. Other innovative products include a healthy tea made from steamed, dried and fermented ginseng berries, and ginseng berry extracts contained in pouches. These products are expected to widely promote ginseng berries, which are unfamiliar to the public at present.

One of our products is the pouch-type Ginseng Khan Extract that contains ginseng berry extracts. We’re exporting this product to China. In another product, red ginseng and ginseng berries are mixed half-and-half. People can take them conveniently as tablets. Each tablet contains more than 20 milliliters of ginsenoside. This amount is more than that of any similar product in Korea. This one is selling well, too. When we talked with buyers in the U.S. and Europe, they said that it was a little bit uncomfortable to take ginseng because of its unique, strong smell. Currently, we are discussing with a buyer in Italy. As people in Italy love coffee, we’re considering mixing ginseng berries with coffee favored by Italians. We’re working on new products that are good for health and can be enjoyed as coffee.

The company produced the nation’s first ginseng berry tea, which is drawing a positive response from the U.S., China and Japan. It has signed a memorandum of understanding with Italy and Canada and is now discussing export plans. That’s not the end. The firm is working on another project that will surprise the world.

In cooperation with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy, we’re carrying out a project to use ginseng berry extracts for a new health product that would help strengthen liver functions. A clinical test of this product is being conducted at Dong-A University Hospital in Busan. With the Ministry of SMEs and Startups, we’re also working to improve the cognitive functions of patients with Alzheimer’s disease through the extracts. Animal testing has proved the effectiveness, and we believe we can use the result to produce a health supplement for humans. Ginseng berry-related patents for protecting the liver and treating Alzheimer’s disease are unprecedented in the world. Through more reliable research, we hope to become a company that helps people maintain their health in a safer and more convenient way.

The company’s exceptional technologies are contributing to commercializing products with the outstanding effects of ginseng berries. Thanks to its constant efforts and innovations, Korean ginseng, which is dubbed a miracle medicine, continues to sharpen its competitiveness in the global market.