It’s important to drink enough fluids these days, and temperatures are soaring in South Korea. While water and other beverages are handy, purchasing seasonal fruits fresh from the farm is another great way to stay hydrated. In North Korea, oriental melons, peaches, watermelons, and tomatoes are selling well, as residents do their best to beat the heat.
These days, blueberries and raspberries are popular in the South for their reported health benefits. In fact, sales are so strong that they’re starting to offset sales of the fresh fruits that are in season. Last year’s rice harvest was somewhat lackluster, and there are concerns that North Koreans may be struggling to meet their minimum nutritional requirements.
Unlike South Korea and other developed nations, people in the North don’t really have access to different fruits throughout the year.
Although North Korea’s economy is gradually improving on a macroeconomic scale, the gap between rich and poor continues to widen and many are struggling to make ends meet. For those on the lower end of the spectrum, eating imported fruit is simply too expensive to consider. So when new fruits arrive in season in the marketplaces, everyone feels a little bit of consolation.
The first summer fruits to hit the markets are baeksalgu, followed by plums and apples. Baeksalgu is a special North Korean apricot that is sweeter than regular varieties. It’s produced in North Hamgyeong Province’s Hwei-ryang area. Because of its popularity, the fruit has been designated the country’s natural treasure number 439. Baeksalgu is soft, so it easily rots, but overripe fruits can either be canned or used to make alcohol.
Baeksalgu are also native to the South. How much do they sell for in the North?
Baeksalgu trees grow all over the Korean peninsula. In the North, Hwei-ryang is especially famous for producing the fruit, which is then transported for sale all over the North.
The first harvest hits the market and the fruit sells for about 15,000 KPW per kilo. Three to four days later, the full impact of the harvest hits and the fruits really begin to arrive in the markets at full scale, causing the prices to drop.
Savvy North Korean consumers know to wait for the price drop, with dramatic changes occurring in some places. In Yanggang Province’s Hyesan Market, one kilo of baeksalgu dropped from 12,000 KRW to 7,000 KRW. One kilogram generally contains 10-11 large baeksalgu, or 15 smaller ones. You can get about 20 lower quality baeksalgu in a kilo. Baeksalgu seeds have a nutty and delicious flavor, and they can also be bought in the market.
What other fruits are popular right now?
I was speaking to a source in North Korea this morning who told me that churi are selling well. Churi is the North Korean word for plums. Plums cost a bit less than baeksalgu, with a kilo selling for about 4,600-5,000 KRW right now. The source said that the cost of plums is also set to drop in the next few days, so the more thrifty consumers are waiting for that. The cheapest fruits available to residents are “national glory apples.”
National glory apples are grown in South Pyongan, North Pyongan, and Hwanghae Provinces. Compared to other apples, they are cheaper and lower in quality. Production quantities have been decreasing for this variety over the years.
Last question for you: Is it difficult for ordinary North Korean residents to eat fruit out of season?
Not exactly. The economy is gradually improving. All manner of fruits are available all year round. But the rich-poor gap is very pronounced in the North. This means that residents on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder don’t have much choice.
That’s why they wait for in-season fruits. It’s difficult to store and preserve baeksalgu and churi, so the vendors are willing to let the prices drop.