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New rice cakes break away from traditions

Tteok treats target younger palates with novel tastes, exotic looks

Tiramisu cream tteok (Young Mill)
Tiramisu cream tteok (Young Mill)

One of the traditional foods associated with Chuseok is tteok, or rice cakes. When people think of tteok, many think of traditional forms like baekseolgi and garaetteok that have a rich rice flavor, but in recent years more and more tteok treats have strayed from traditional flavors, and cooking methods targeting younger customers have been coming into the spotlight, with social media marketing leading the trend.

The rise of fusion tteok like cream-filled tteok and ice cream tteok came with the increased number of online tteok stores after delivery of tteok became legal in 2014. While primary customers for tteok are people in their 30s to 50s during the holiday season according to tteok shops, the new fusion tteok are steadily gaining popularity among the younger generation, expanding the tteok market.

“The new tteok have been popular with kids who come to the store with their parents, young couples, students who saw the products on Instagram,” said a marketing representative of Good Rice Cake to The Korea Herald.

One of the missions for tteok companies was to make tteok a delicacy not just for the traditional holiday seasons, such as Chuseok and Seollal, or Lunar New Year‘s Day, but for every day -- something that could rival Western desserts.

“Our generation has become more familiar with chocolates and ice cream than tteok, but tteok isn’t less stylish than foreign treats,” said a marketing official from Our Injeolmi, a company that specializes in different kinds of injeolmi, another type of tteok made from glutinous rice flour. “It’s time for tteok to change.”

As a result, a wave of change has been stirring the tteok market, starting with the introduction of fusion tteok in the mid-2010s.

With catchy names and unique tastes, new types of tteok such as Young Mill’s “drug tteok” and “life tteok” have gained popularity on social media. 
Drug tteok (Young Mill)
Drug tteok (Young Mill)

Drug tteok, which has also appeared on many television shows, is a corn cream-filled tteok made of glutinous rice, deriving its name from the addictive taste. Videos of drug tteok and other cream-filled tteok of Young Mill, such as New York cheesecake cream tteok, strawberry cream tteok, chocolate cream tteok and tiramisu cream tteok, being split in half and oozing rich cream captured people’s attention early on.
Greek yogurt injeolmi (Our Injeolmi)
Greek yogurt injeolmi (Our Injeolmi)

Tteok flavors based on popular Korean ice creams like “Pig Bar” and “Babambar” have appeared as well as mint chocolate-flavored tteok and Greek yogurt-flavored tteok.

Then there are new fusion tteok, such as baguette tteok by Good Rice Cake that has bread on the outside and tteok on the inside.
Baguette tteok (Good Rice Cake)
Baguette tteok (Good Rice Cake)

As fusion tteok have become more common in recent years, tteok companies are seeking to come up with more flavors that can capture people in the long term rather than just for a one-time out-of-curiosity purchase.

“In the beginning, we gained a lot of popularity on social media with tteok that looked exotic,” said a representative of Young Mill. “Now, we use big data to diagnose which flavors are trendy and try to create products that aren’t just eaten once because of their appetizing looks.”

With the development and diversification of the tteok market, cafes that specialize in tteok dessert have sprouted up as well, offering tteok-based cakes and tteok-based desserts.

Tteok companies hope the continued success of these trendy tteok will make them appealing to foreign markets as well, like how tteokbokki, or spicy stir-fried rice cakes, have been gaining global popularity with their appearances in Korean TV dramas.

By Lim Jang-won (ljw@heraldcorp.com)
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