DENVER – A leading South Korean magazine recently conducted an independent blind taste test of pork from around the world, which yielded surprising results for the Korean participants and the competition sponsors, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (U.S.M.E.F.).

Since mandatory country-of-origin-labeling for meat products was recently introduced in Korea, the editors of Cookand magazine – a monthly magazine focused on food, cooking, restaurants, chefs and wine that is read by housewives as well as food and restaurant critics, gourmets, cooking instructors and young chefs because of its specialized contents – thought consumers might be using labels to drive their purchasing decisions. Cookand conducted its test while disguising both the price and source of the pork samples to measure taste preferences without bias.

By the end of the test, two five-person panels consisting of food bloggers and meat-industry professionals gave U.S. pork very high marks. Several respondents were surprised when they learned the pork samples they favored came from the U.S. rather than domestic sources.

“Beyond our expectations, U.S. pork was rated highly in both the frozen and chilled categories,” wrote the editors of Cookand magazine after the meat industry professionals revealed their choices.

Regarding the competition, Cookand editors selected collar butt and single-ribbed belly, which are the most popular pork cuts among Korean consumers, both at home and when dining out. Frozen meat samples came from Austria, Belgium, Chile and the United States. Chilled meat samples consisted of two domestic brands and U.S. product.

The judges were meat industry professionals (two chefs, a cooking specialist, menu consultant and a meat expert) as well as the panel of power bloggers (Internet bloggers whose Web sites draw 5,000 or more visitors per day).

To ensure a fair comparison, Cookand took steps to minimize differences in freshness among the samples due to time in distribution, using only samples that were less than 20 days after importation.

The panel of meat industry professionals gave high marks to both frozen and fresh U.S. pork, but the editors of Cookand noted a struggle between the professionals’ taste buds and their national pride.

“What is interesting was the evaluation on personal liking, which was different before and after disclosing the countries of origin,” the editors wrote. “In the case of chilled pork, U.S. pork scored high before disclosing the countries of origin. However, once the countries of origin and prices were revealed, domestic branded pork also scored high. These findings show that the professionals have some degree of emotional preference for domestic brands.”

The professionals gave high marks to both U.S. and Belgian frozen collar butt and belly, while preferring U.S. and a domestic brand when it came to chilled.

While there was some variation in the favorites, U.S. pork was still a surprisingly popular choice with blogger judges. Among frozen cuts, the bloggers chose U.S. and Austrian pork as the best in the frozen collar butt category while U.S. and Belgian offerings led in frozen bellies. Two domestic brands were preferred in chilled collar butt while U.S. chilled bellies tied with one domestic brand as the favorites.

“Above all, in preference relative to price, chilled U.S. pork was the overwhelming favorite,” the editors reported. “It was highly evaluated as it was not very different from domestic pork considering its quality relative to price.”