The 7Up website probably isn’t the first place you’d go to find an authentic South Korean recipe, but the soda brand is apparently trying to tap into a taste for Asian food.
The bottler last month posted to Facebook a kimchi recipe dubbed “Easy White Kimchi,” which of course calls for a more-than-generous pour of the lemon-lime soda. It’s part of a promotional campaign spotlighting ways to use the sugary drink in cooking. Other featured dishes included bundt cake, a cocktail and biscuits.
7Up’s kimchi recipe, which also appeared on Bad Appetite Magazine, a satire Facebook page that calls out cultural appropriation in food, sparked a debate about whether the soda bottler was guilty of culturally appropriating kimchi, a major South Korean food staple that has many different varieties.
Some people slammed 7Up for using South Korean culture to sell soda, calling the promotional recipe inappropriate, untraditional and downright gross. Others, however, said they didn’t see it as a problem, since some South Korean families use 7Up, or similar lemon-lime sodas, in recipes for kimchi, as well as other homemade Korean dishes and sauces.
Grace Park, co-founder of Crazy Korean Cooking, told HuffPost that while adding 7Up to kimchi is not a traditional custom, some modern South Korean people do add the American soda (or saida, a Korean cider that resembles 7Up) to kimchi recipes in order to imitate the carbonated effect of traditional, fermented kimchi. Others use soda to sweeten the kimchi, much like braising barbecue with Coke.
So is 7Up’s “Easy White Kimchi” a case of cultural appropriation?
Let’s start by defining the term, which is typically used when Western groups exploit non-Western or non-white traditions, according to Oxford Reference. Cultural appropriation can be avoided when one understands the history and context of the culture from which they are borrowing, according to HuffPost culture writer Zeba Blay.
Using that definition, it would be easy to assume that 7Up, a well-known soda brand owned by Dr Pepper Snapple Group in the U.S., is culturally appropriating kimchi, since the recipe is used to promote its product for profit, without any explanation of traditional kimchee or its cultural context.
That’s why people like Rachel Nishimura, who is Korean Japanese American, complained about the recipe on 7Up’s Facebook page.
“I think the [backlash] is well-deserved,” Nishimura told HuffPost. “There’s a temptation for some people to blame the outrage on PC [politically correct] culture. But, from my point of view, Asian Americans are discovering their voice and speaking out against disrespect to our cultural identity.”
Nishimura, who grew up eating and cooking her mom’s homemade Korean food, said 7Up’s recipe more closely resembled a dish known as geotjeori, a lightly pickled salad similar in taste to kimchi that uses soda or sugar, rather than traditional white kimchi, which lacks the red chili paste in traditional kimchi and uses no sugar or soda in its brine.
7Up “over-modified kimchi to the point that it barely resembles any type of kimchi at all,” Nishimura said. “Their recipe is one cup 7Up and one tablespoon vinegar. It’s literally soda-soaked cabbage.”
Nishimura said she thinks 7Up changed the recipe to appeal to a white, non-Korean audience.
“When you gut the essence of a dish in order to pander to a white audience for marketing points, I consider it cultural appropriation,” Nishimura said. “It’s heavy borrowing with complete disregard for cultural identity.”
Park, a South Korean chef who sells her own traditionally made kimchi online, didn’t recognize what type of kimchi dish that 7Up was trying to mimic. ”Traditionally, we don’t use vinegar or soda in kimchi,” she said. But she said she didn’t want to knock the recipe for not being 100-percent authentic.
“Every family has a different recipe for kimchi, so I can’t say that theirs is technically wrong,” Park said, after HuffPost showed her 7Up’s “Easy White Kimchi.” She also said some restaurants in Korea use a soda or vinegar shortcut in their recipes.
But in the debate over appropriation versus appreciation, Park sees this as appreciation, and doesn’t mind when big brands help give South Korean culture more exposure in the U.S.
“7Up is giving [kimchi] their own twist,” she said. “Spreading Korean food and recipes are good for the culture.”
However, Park said she understands why some people who are devoted to the traditional kimchi recipe may find it upsetting.
“When I look at the recipe, it seems pickled,” she said. “But I guess there’s a fine line between pickled and kimchi.”
A spokesman for the Dr Pepper Snapple Group did not answer HuffPost’s questions about the debate surround their “Easy White Kimchi” recipe, but did offer this statement:
7UP is a versatile beverage and for decades has been a popular ingredient in a variety of food and drink recipes. This year we launched a campaign celebrating that versatility.
“Easy White Kimchi” is one of numerous recipes being highlighted in our digital campaign. We’ve found that 7UP has been a popular ingredient in Kimchi over the years (there are numerous versions available online), and that inspired us to feature a variation of it.