Korean fruit punch is the shareable bowl you want for July 4

By Evan Kleiman

Korean fruit punch (hwachae) is an excellent quencher for hot days. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Whenever I start seeing a new food trend on TikTok, I’m always initially skeptical. Hwachae, aka Korean fruit punch, was last summer’s trend. But when the videos started rolling through again this year, I thought I’d get ready for the heat and give it a try, although not at 3 a.m., which seems to be the preferred time of TikTok influencers. Here’s the original 3 a.m. hwachae girl slurping her mix. Warning: If ASMR isn’t your thing, mute before you watch.

Given the summer heat in Korea, it’s not surprising that there are several traditional quenching drinks in the culinary tradition. Persimmon punch and omija-pear punch are two, but more popular are those based on watermelon.They can be as simple as scooped or cubed watermelon mixed with a bit of sugar and ice and left to chill. By the time you’ve finished the fruit, you have an icy “punch” at the bottom of the bowl to drink. 

The next iteration adds a tart-sweet fizzy soda to the mix, often Sprite or a Korean cider like Chilseong or Cheon Yeon Ciders, which are lemon-lime sodas. Cheon Yeon has the addition of vanilla. The soda is added right before consuming so the fizz is intact. Here is a set of recipes for these variations at their simplest. I asked Yoonjin Hwang of Spoon by H, who said, “My mom and most Korean moms used watermelon as a bowl. They put all kinds of fruits they have in the fridge, and press and scoop it with an ice cream scoop, or [use] baking tools to make fruit shapes or heart shapes. They also put a can of fruit cocktail and mix it with Chilsung Cider.”

But the most common versions seen in social feeds makes the punch more baroque. There are a variety of fruits in the bowl, always keeping watermelon the main event. I’ve seen cantaloupe, berries of all kinds, kiwi, and bananas. 

But the biggest difference is the addition of milk to the bowl, usually in the form of strawberry milk. Some simpler recipes use milk and sugar. But some thirsty people make their own strawberry syrup and add it to the milk. Often there are textural elements added like slippery coconut jelly or strawberry ice cream. 

Influencers often sell the bowl as a way to fight dehydration, which makes it a perfect hangover cure. Of course in LA, you can find it combined with shots of soju, and drink it as a cocktail. I imagine rabbit ice would take it over the top texture-wise.

Joanne Molinaro teases us with a dish from her upcoming cookbook that centers desserts and beverages. Photo by Joanne Molinaro.

But it’s customizable. I knew that Joanne Molinaro of The Korean Vegan fame is working on a new book centering desserts and drinksm so I asked what is in her hwachae bowl. She said, “Puréed watermelon, raspberry sorbet, sparkling water, and any plant milk! I order oat milk for this. I also add some raspberries, tapioca balls, a couple mint leaves, and edible flowers.”

Because I’m me and try not to participate in big food, I made some changes to the ingredients for my bowl, but not too many. I wanted to keep the spirit of the whole situation. So my bowl has watermelon, cherries, strawberries, peaches, milk, strawberry ice cream, and coconut jelly. I forgo the fizz, but if I were to add it, I’d squeeze some lemon and lime juice into the bowl and just use soda water and add sugar as needed.

Evan’s Hwachae bowl. Photo by Evan Kleiman