Edlin Choi was tired of seeing animal bones, fat and other byproducts of the meat industry go to waste.
His solution? Korean bone broth.
Choi started Heart & Seoul Food Co. in November 2022 with the goal of building a network of meat producers in New York and across the Northeast and providing them an outlet to generate value from the whole animal.
Choi said he talked with close to 50 farmers, who universally expressed a need for more value-added processing in the meat industry. Choi said the majority of the farmers he spoke with said they had backlogs of bones and animal fat. Some farmers stopped taking those parts back from the processing facility or opted to pay a rendering company to recycle the products.
“That’s totally a missed opportunity,” Choi said.
Instead of being hauled to a rendering plant, the beef and pork bones now make their way to a commercial kitchen in New York City where Choi turns them into bone broth. Unlike most stocks and broths, which tend to range from blonde to golden brown in color, Korean bone broth has a milky white appearance rich in collagen and marrow.
Food Spark's impact
Choi was selected for the Spring 2023 Food Spark cohort, offered through the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech (CoE) and the Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park (Tech Farm), and completed the eCornell Food Product Development certificate program.
Choi said the Food Spark program informed the conversations he’s had with potential co-packing partners and gave him a deeper understanding of the process it takes to develop a new food product for market. It’s also led to networking connections and potential business-to-business relationships with other food entrepreneurs in the cohort.
“It was a really good springboard into the full ecosystem of resources that Cornell has to offer,” Choi said.
In April, while completing the Food Spark program, Choi was also hosting his first pop-up event in Brooklyn where he served bowls of gukbap, a traditional Korean dish that translates to “soup rice” that features rice, hot broth and typically meat, vegetables and other accompaniments. Choi’s bone broth can simply be sipped or, since it is unseasoned, can even be used in beverages, such as matcha, golden turmeric or chai lattes.
Choi also produces rendered pork lard, which has proven to an even bigger seller than the bone broth.
“I see a wave going back to cooking with more traditional fats,” Choi said. “We want to be part of accelerating that wave.”
Growing the business
Heart & Seoul has found success in e-commerce as well, which has Choi thinking about the potential of national reach made up of regional production and distribution hubs that would ensure that customers would get a product sourced from a rancher in their region.
Choi has many other ideas too – a line of potato chips and other snacks cooked in animal fats, Korean-style blood sausage, pork rillettes, and a fast-casual restaurant built around those comforting bowls of Korean gukbap.
They’re very different ventures, but they all share a common philosophy: honoring the animal by utilizing every part, creating a market for these lesser desirable cuts of meat and promoting food sovereignty by providing a network and dependable revenue for small meat producers.
In 2019, Choi spent several months as an intern at a farm in south Georgia that focused on regenerative agriculture and humanely raised meat.
In the future, Choi wants to have his own farm and work to vertically integrate the Heart & Seoul business. The goal, he said, is to encourage other young, would-be first-generation farmers to take similar steps as he did and help build the food systems of the future.
Jacob Pucci is the marketing & communications coordinator at the New York State Center of Excellence for Food & Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech.
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