Meet the USW Technical Experts: Shin Hak “David” Oh – Expertise Fermented in Korean Food Culture
By Steve Mercer, USW Vice President of Communications
Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a series of posts profiling U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) technical experts in flour milling and wheat foods production. USW Vice President of Global Technical Services Mark Fowler says technical support to overseas customers is an essential part of export market development for U.S. wheat. “Technical support adds differential value to the reliable supply of U.S. wheat,” Fowler says. “Our customers must constantly improve their products in an increasingly competitive environment. We can help them compete by demonstrating the advantages of using the right U.S. wheat class or blend of classes to produce the wide variety of wheat-based foods the world’s consumers demand.”
Name: Shin Hak “David” Oh
Title: Food/Bakery Technologist
Office: USW North Asia Region, Seoul Office
Providing Service to: South Korea
The roots of Shin Hak “David” Oh’s food technology career were literally and figuratively fermented in his childhood home of Seoul, South Korea.
The Korean art of making “kimchi” fascinated Oh as a child. Everyone in the family pitched in to salt the vegetables and mix them with chili powder, garlic, ginger, red pepper, sugar and fish sauce that fermented in earthenware jars, often buried in the ground. It is an ancient process that was first practiced to provide nutritious food through the cold winters and continues to represent the cultural soul of Korea today.
“I developed a natural interest in fermented food and microorganisms as I helped make our kimchi,” Oh said. “That interest stayed with me as a young person, so I chose to study food and biotechnology at Korea University in Seoul and earned a bachelor’s degree in 2003.”
Now armed with the scientific facts behind how kimchi fermentation removes harmful bacteria and enriches gut-healthy lactobacillus bacteria, Oh decided to pursue a graduate degree at the respected Seoul National University. His work focused on improving food safety and included research on a new regulatory system for inhibiting Salmonella and other pathogens in food. Along the way through university, Oh found time for other important life experiences, including marriage to his wife Jiae.
Oh’s route from food microbiology studies to his current position as Food/Bakery Technologist with U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) started in 2005 with his first professional job at SPC Group, the largest bakery company in Korea. As a food safety specialist for two years, Oh helped SPC comply with Korean government food and consumer safety regulations in bakery production, storage and packaging. He also served on a team that implemented Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) food safety management systems.
Based on the advice of SPC’s food safety center director, Oh successfully pursued a research and development position with the company.
“In that job, I developed several improvers to enhance the quality of pan breads, sweet buns and frozen dough products,” Oh noted. “I also developed a special ‘sugar-free pan bread,’ which is still sold in some of SPC’s Paris Baguette retail bakeries in Korea.”
His work at SPC, as well as additional, hands-on training at AIB International “Baking Science and Technology” and “Food Safety and Hygiene” courses caught the attention of USW Country Director C.Y. Kang who was looking for candidates to fill a technical support position to expand U.S. wheat export market development in the Korean market.
“David’s great work over eight years at our country’s biggest and most popular commercial and retail bakery was quite impressive,” Kang said. “It also did not take long to see that he is very friendly and kind to everyone. We agreed he would be a great fit with U.S. Wheat Associates and very helpful to our customers in flour milling, baking and wheat food processing.”
“I went for the position with USW without hesitation, in part because most of the high-quality flour SPC used for bread products was milled from imported U.S. wheat classes,” Oh said. “I had grown passionate about baking at SPC and I thought the position would also help me expand my knowledge about producing biscuits (cookies), noodles and other wheat foods.”
Seeking Broader Knowledge at USW
Oh said his expectations were more then met after he started with USW at the beginning of 2015.
“There are many milling, baking and production experts across our offices and we often help and learn from each other,” he said. “I am a hands-on person and a technical sales position like this gives me the opportunity to share all of our experience and skills with our customers to help them improve their processes, customer satisfaction and income using flour made from U.S. wheat.”
That effort takes many forms. One recent example is a seminar held in Korea for bakers from commercial operations in the Philippines.
“Our market is fairly mature with sophisticated processes and very high standards for ingredient quality,” Kang said. “Our USW colleagues wanted to help introduce these processes and new products to customers in the Philippines, so David and I arranged sessions in Seoul at the Korean Baking School and visits to Korean companies for the bakers.”
In addition, Oh has now conducted several baking, biscuit and noodle production courses at the Korean Baking School in Seoul and in cooperation with the Wheat Marketing Center (WMC) in Portland, Ore., for technical managers from flour mills and processors. Oh discusses and demonstrates blended flour from U.S. wheat classes to the participants who then test the blends to identify optimal formulations for their commercial products. Drawing from his research experience at SPC, bakery applications developed at USW courses and the Korean Baking School, Oh has introduced new products including whole wheat baked goods made with U.S. wheat flour in four seminars to approximately 300 commercial bakers.
USW is unique in having strong technical expertise available to customers in their mills and production facilities. This is a key part of Oh’s work.
“I am excited to be part of the thriving wheat food industry here in Korea. I enjoy visiting our customers and helping them understand the specific milling and functional characteristics of the U.S. wheat classes available to them and how to apply that knowledge to get the most value from their own mills and end-product processes,” Oh explained. “If they have concerns or need troubleshooting, we can be there with them and that builds a stronger partnership for the future.”
Oh’s individual efforts in the baking laboratory also come into play as he works to share the results of testing with Korean bakery customers. In 2017 at the Korean Baking School, Oh tested different blends of hard red spring (HRS) and hard red winter (HRW) flour to make sweet buns as well as blends of HRW and soft white flour to make Korean-style baguettes. He then provided data on the best formulations to customers.
Differentiating the performance of U.S. wheat in Korean noodles, however, has presented a unique challenge for Oh and for the U.S. farmers he represents.
“Compared to Australia, specifically, there is no single U.S. wheat class with optimal qualities for Korean style noodles,” he said. “So, we have approached that challenge by holding ‘Noodle Flour Blending and Quality’ seminars at the Wheat Marketing Center for as many industry participants as possible. Based on their reports about the seminars, the information we provide has given them reasons to consider blending flour from U.S. wheat. Now, flour from U.S. soft white wheat makes up a 20 percent share of the Korean noodle market.”
An Excellent Balance
No doubt the level of trust Oh is developing across the diverse Korean industry is boosted by his professional training and experience.
“David has in-depth knowledge on the key facts of wheat flour that are very critical to end product quality,” said the research and development manager from Korea’s largest instant noodle manufacturer. “I assume that comes from his graduate degree work and his experience at SPC Group. He has provided all the results from short courses, seminars and testing to us, and helps us apply that information and U.S. wheat flour formulations effectively in our operation. We very much appreciate his efforts.”
It is said that the five flavors of kimchi (sour, bitter, salty, sweet and spicy) and their balance permeates every facet of Korean life. Oh finds a similar balance between work and pleasure. His colleagues appreciate that in Oh, as those who have seen an exuberant rendition of the dance moves from K-Pop star PSY’s “Gangnam Style,” or seen the pride he takes in his family, can attest.
C.Y. Kang put it best: “David is a great asset to the entire USW organization.”
Header Photo Caption: David Oh conducting a fresh noodle evaluation using U.S. hard white wheat flour blended with Australian Standard White flour at Daehan Flour Mills in Incheon, South Korea.
Meet the other USW Technical Experts in this blog series:
Tarik Gahi – ‘For a Piece of Bread, Son’
Gerry Mendoza – Born to Teach and Share His Love for Baking
Marcelo Mitre – A Love of Food and Technology that Bakes in Value and Loyalty
Peter Lloyd – International Man of Milling
Ivan Goh – An Energetic Individual Born to the Food Industry