While kimchi has been trending globally for about ten years, it has been a staple in Korea for over a thousand, with recipes passing from generation to generation.
What is kimchi, and why is it so popular? We will tell you all about this fantastic condiment, including how to make it and how you can use it to make delightful dishes!
What Is Kimchi?
Kimchi (김치) is a traditional Korean condiment made from fermented Nappa cabbage and Gochugaru, a type of chili powder with a smoky aroma. Aromatics like ginger, garlic, scallions, and daikon radish are also used to prepare kimchi to add different layers of flavor.
During the lacto-fermentation process, which can range from 1 to 10 days, kimchi develops complex flavors. At the end of the process, kimchi has a tangy, spicy, and subtly sweet taste.
History of Kimchi
The history of kimchi begins around 220 AD, during the Three Kingdoms period. According to the Korean Tourism Organization, farmers started pickling white radishes with salt and water to preserve them throughout the winter when crops did not grow.
As Koreans started trading with nearby countries during the Koryo Period (918–1392 AD), new vegetables, including Nappa cabbage, were introduced.
In the mid-1700s, kimchi became the red and spicy condiment we know today, as spices were introduced to Korea by Western traders.
Types of Kimchi
Korea has many kinds of kimchi, each relying on different vegetables, spices, and preparation. Here is a non-exhaustive list of different types of kimchi.
Baechu is the most popular type of kimchi. It features Nappa cabbage flavored with Gochugaru chili pepper flakes, ginger, garlic, and scallions. It is the variety most people refer to when talking about kimchi.
Kkakdugi is a type of kimchi prepared from pickled cubed white radish (called mu). While these radishes look similar to Daikon radishes, they are generally shorter, have a more robust flavor, and have a denser texture. The preparation of Kkakdugi is the same as Baechu kimchi and relies on the same aromatics.
Baek is the non-spicy version of Baechu. In Korean, “baek kimchi” means “white kimchi.” It is an excellent introduction to kimchi for those who cannot tolerate spiciness, as it contains no hot pepper flakes.
Once again, Nappa cabbage, ginger, and garlic are the main ingredients, but it can also include chestnuts, pears, and jujubes.
Oi Sobagi is for cucumber lovers. Korean cucumbers are sliced in quarters before being stuffed with shredded carrots, chives, onions, and kimchi paste.
As opposed to other types of kimchi, Oi Sobagi doesn't require any fermentation and must be enjoyed immediately to preserve the freshness of the cucumbers.
Yeolmu kimchi is often served during summer as it uses young radish greens. It may include Nappa cabbage as well, although not all recipes do.
Gat kimchi swaps the cabbage for leafy mustard greens. The stems and leaves are sliced into strips and then coated with Gochugaru paste. Mustard greens give this kimchi a more intense and earthy flavor.
Health Benefits of Kimchi
As a fermented food, Korea's national side dish contains a lot of healthy probiotics that may contribute to improving overall health.
Kimchi was recently named among the top 10 superfoods in 2023 in Pollock Communications' annual report, along with other fermented foods such as kombucha, pickles, and yogurt.
Here are three benefits of kimchi.
It Can Improve Gut Health
Latilactobacillus, a bacteria naturally present in kimchi, can improve gut bacteria by increasing the diversity of microbes. Moreover, probiotics enhance the gut barrier, resulting in better absorption of nutrients by the body and providing stronger protection against viruses.
Kimchi can also help repopulate good gut flora after antibiotic treatment.
It May Reduce Inflammation
According to a study published in JMB, compounds found in kimchi and other fermented foods like yogurt or kombucha may increase antioxidants. Although no study has been done on humans, mouse studies have shown a decrease in inflammatory compounds after administering mice a small dose of kimchi extract.
It Might Protect Your Heart
Lastly, kimchi might reduce cholesterol and help maintain normal blood sugar levels. These are two critical factors that contribute to better heart health.
Kimchi Nutritional Value
Per 100g (3.5oz), kimchi contains:
- 21 calories
- 0.22g of fat
- 4g of carbohydrates
- 1.4g of sugar
- 1.2g of fiber
- 1.65g of protein
How You Can Make Kimchi at Home
While kimchi can be found in most supermarkets, Korean households have made it at home using recipes passed from generation to generation.
Making kimchi is easy but demands patience, as it requires a few days to be ready. Here is how to make kimchi at home:
- Prepare the kimchi paste: Mix water with rice flour and sugar. Heat over medium heat for 2 minutes or until it has thickened. Stir in the hot pepper flakes, minced ginger, garlic, and fish sauce.
- Prepare the Nappa cabbage: Chop and wash the cabbage until clean. Drain it and transfer it to a small bowl. Sprinkle salt over the cabbage and massage it with your hands to coat it with the salt. Let it sit for about 3 hours. Rinse the cabbage and drain it again.
- Coat with the paste: Coat the cabbage with the kimchi paste. Add the scallions and sliced daikon radish if using.
- Transfer to jars and let it ferment: Finally, pack the cabbage into clean jars, cover it with a lid, and let it ferment at room temperature for about two days.
As it ferments, the flavor of kimchi becomes more spicy and sour.
5 Ways To Use Kimchi
Kimchi is often served as a delicious side dish. It can also be used in the preparation of recipes and is perfect to elevate the flavor and increase the heat of many dishes. Here are five ways you can incorporate it into your recipes.
Sprinkle chopped kimchi on rice or noodles for a hint of tanginess and spiciness. Not only does it bring flavor, but a crunchy texture as well. It can also be used as a topping to Tteokbokki, a classic Korean dish with rice cakes simmered in a spicy sauce.
From kimchi noodle soup to hotpots, and stews, kimchi is a condiment that takes any soup to the next level. It can be added at the beginning or toward the end of cooking to keep its healthy benefits. Add about one-third cup of kimchi to four cups of hot vegetable broth for a quick kimchi soup.
If you want to add crunchiness and spiciness to noodle dishes, grab that jar of kimchi! Chop the kimchi into thin strips and add it to your noodle stir-fries.
Do you want to know what to do with the leftover kimchi juice? Combine it with soy sauce and a teaspoon of cornstarch to create a sauce that will coat the noodles.
You can make kimchi dumplings by mixing finely chopped kimchi with bean sprouts, scallions, ground meat, or tofu for a plant-based version. Wrap in dumpling wrappers and steam for a few minutes before serving them with a dipping sauce.
While there are more common ways to use it, kimchi juice can be incorporated into drinks like cocktails. Adding kimchi juice brings tanginess and a hint of spiciness, creating a nice kick of heat, perfect for elevating the flavors of boring beverages.
Is Kimchi Spicy?
Depending on the recipe and your tolerance level, Baechu kimchi can go from mildly spicy to very spicy. Recipes can be adapted by reducing the amount of Gochugaru.
Is It Safe To Eat Kimchi?
As long as it is appropriately stored, kimchi is entirely safe to eat. However, it would be best to consume kimchi in moderation due to its high sodium content. One serving per day, which equals about ½ cup (90g), has 18% of the recommended Vitamin A and 50% of Vitamin C.
How To Store Kimchi?
After opening, kimchi should be stored in the refrigerator at about 4°C. It will keep for up to 2 months and become more sour as it continues to ferment. If you prefer less sour kimchi, enjoy it within three weeks after opening. On the other hand, homemade kimchi is best used within one month as it contains no preservatives.
Thomas is the founder and recipe developer at Full of Plants. He shares simple yet innovative recipes that only make use of plant-based ingredients. Full of Plants was created in 2016 and has become a trusted resource for plant-based recipes. Thomas’ recipes have been featured on MSN, Today, Elle, and printed magazines like VeganLife and Vegan Food & Living.