What is Mukbang? Another Massive Korean Phenomena Explained

What in the world is Mukbang?

In the last decade, food lovers have discovered and obsessed over a new video genre called “Mukbang” (먹방), which has taken over YouTube, and made millionaires out of a handful of people willing to artfully consume huge amounts of food in front of a captive audience.  The popularity of Mukbang has launched scores of aspiring YouTube stars all over the world with millions of followers who can’t seem to get enough of watching and listening to other people eat.

The word Mukbang is a combination of the Korean words for “eating” (meok da 먹다) and “broadcast” (bangsong 방송). Mukbang originated in South Korea in the late 2000s. Mukbang videos were generally live-streamed on a Korean platform called AfreecaTV. 

Mukbang 101

Watchers would comment continuously and urge the host to eat more or mix what they are eating with something else. But Korean Mukbangers have since moved their shows to other video and streaming platforms, such as YouTube.  Today, it is a massive and growing global trend. Countless Mukbang channels have flooded the internet seeking to take advantage of the global obsession to watch and hear people binge eating mass quantities of food. 

Types of Mukbang 

Amidst a plethora of Mukbang channels, creators aim to stand out, please viewers, and gain followers. Sometimes, the host cooks the food on camera first and then consumes it. Some videos feature sound effects of eating or cooking food and verbal descriptions of the food.  Other videos focus on someone eating, with no sound or speaking at all.

Mukbang

Some Mukbang channels focus on the personalities or visuals of the hosts themselves, while others focus on the food itself or the different types of food consumed, including strange, unusual, and even outrageous food.   Whatever the focus, Mukbangers all over the world have uploaded and continue to upload their eating videos to feed the voracious appetite for new and different Mukbang content.

The popularity of Mukbang in the United States

Mukbang

The Korean Wave (Hallyu) has allowed this peculiar Korean trend to enter the Western world. While Mukbang has been popular in South Korea for the last decade, it only gained global popularity in 2015. In the United States, Mukbang was almost unheard of until 2015, when Fine Brothers Entertainment uploaded its video of popular YouTubers’ reactions to Korean eating shows. American YouTubers were intrigued.  Mukbang went viral and a new mass of American content creators started their own channels with their own version of Mukbang. Since then, popular American Youtubers, including The Try Guys, PewDiePie, Tana Mongeau, and Liza Koshy, and Trisha Paytas have hosted their own Mukbang shows.

5 Reasons for the Mukbang Obsession and Appeal

  • No. 5:  It is Lucrative. The incredible appeal and obsession with Mukbang make it a profitable endeavor as it seems the internet cannot get enough of this phenomenon. Nowadays, Mukbangers can make $10,000 a month, not including sponsorships from food and drinks brands.     
  • No. 4: Helps Loneliness (especially in the pandemic). In Korean culture especially, it is traditional and important to eat with others.  For those who have to eat alone, these Mukbang videos help fill the gap, especially when the host live-streams his or her eating.  To some viewers, Mukbangers offer more than just watching a personality whose task is to ingest food for entertainment. Not only have the Mukbangers themselves become eating companions, but their followers and viewers also have created a community for people to emotionally connect with one another about their shared love of eating and watching others eat.
  • No. 3: Visual Stimulation – Food & People. Many Mukbang creators eat visually pleasing and appetizing foods. Sometimes hosts try new or exotic foods to gain more views and followers. Further, many of these content creators, in Korea especially, are highly attractive, but more interestingly, some are even slim. Yet somehow, these slim and fit Mukbangers consume massive quantities of food, fascinating and mesmerizing millions of intrigued viewers.
Mukbang
  • No. 2: ASMR/Audio and Sensory Stimulation. Another critical aspect of Mukbang is the sounds.  While the sounds of eating can be uncomfortable for some, Mukbang videos fall into another massively popular genre of video trends: ASMR (autonomous sensory-motor response) videos. ASMR is commonly referred to as brain or head tingles from sounds. Some Mukbang creators devote their Mukbangs to ASMR food videos only, highlighting sounds involved in cooking and eating.  Mukbangers purposefully exaggerate sounds to capture the noises made while eating, drinking, biting, crunching, chewing, and swallowing, which are highly satisfying to many people.
Mukbang
  • No. 1: Emotional Stimulation. The idea of eating food connects with our natural need and love of food. Watching another person eat actuates a feeling of delight and fulfillment.  In short, it just makes people feel good and happy to see (and hear) someone enjoy food so much. 

The Controversy of Mukbang

The Mukbang trend has been criticized for causing people to obtain poor eating habits. Mukbang videos do particularly well when these Youtubers show their audience eating a feast that easily surpasses 4000 calories in one sitting. Thus, many Mukbangers consume excessive amounts of saturated fats and calories, potentially wreaking havoc on their health, solely for the sake of pleasing and obtaining viewers. 

Critics of Mukbang raise concerns about a diet that encourages extensive amounts of junk or unhealthy food, which leads to health issues including obesity, high blood pressure, and many other ailments. Other critics say Mukbang encourages and normalizes eating disorders such as bulimia. 

However, many Mukbangers compensate for their excessive intake onscreen by counting their calorie intake and fasting offscreen. Many Mukbangers exercise intensely. The Mukbang Youtuber “Banzz” has admitted that he consumes so much that he exercises up to 12 hours a day to burn off all of the extra calories. 

Despite the criticisms, Mukbang appears to be here to stay for the long haul for all the reasons above.

Here are 9 of the most Popular Korean Mukbangers on Youtube:

  1. Jane ASMR (제인)

2. Zach Choi

3. Eat With Boki

4. Hamzy

5. Gongsam Table

6. Dorothy

7. 설기양SULGI

8. ddeong-gae

9. SIO ASMR


Ella Shin is an intern at Best of Korea and a student in New York City, who loves composing music and everything Hallyu.

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