South Korea's spicy Kimchi Index to rival Big Mac

SEOUL (Reuters) - If the Economist magazine's Big Mac Index is too fattening, South Korea may have the answer with a Kimchi Index tracking the cost of ingredients in the pungent cabbage dish that is gaining fans worldwide as a healthy "superfood".

Kimchi-making season has just started in the Asian country and a shortage of locally produced cabbage has been enough to trigger hand-wringing editorials and the import of what Koreans regard as inferior Chinese cabbage to make their national dish.

South Korea's agriculture ministry launched the index on Friday, saying it would be published weekly to alert consumers if prices proved to be "seriously volatile".

"By having a Kimchi Index, consumers can then easily figure out when is the best time to make kimchi," said Choi Jung-rok, director of the ministry's horticulture industry division.

The Big Mac Index, designed by Daniel Ng Yat-chiu, is used as a measure of purchasing power parity across the globe by comparing the cost of a simple and uniform product - a burger from McDonald's Corp - in various countries.

The South Korean ministry said its index could also be used overseas, where kimchi is gaining traction.

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama recently tweeted her own kimchi recipe on her @FLOTUS Twitter account, prompting an avalanche of headlines in South Korea, which uses cultural products ranging from pop music to television dramas to promote the country's image and powerful exporting companies.

South Koreans consume some 2 million tons of kimchi a year.

The index, which measures the cost of 13 ingredients to make kimchi, is based on the average price over three years.

Friday's index level was 91.3, the lowest since 2009.

(Reporting by Meeyoung Cho; Editing by John O'Callaghan and Clarence Fernandez)

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