Everything You Need to Know About Kimchi

Let us answer all your questions about this delicious Korean classic.

Kimchi is a staple in many Korean households. For generation upon generation, its complex flavors and a wide variety of uses have broadened its appeal and seen it become a superstar of the kitchen. 

Kimchi is made from vegetables, ginger, garlic, and fish sauce. As you can guess from these ingredients, kimchi has an extensive range of flavors such as sweet, sour, and spicy. One of the reasons its popularity has remained so high over the years is its far-reaching uses. It works impressively as an ingredient as well as a condiment, a dip, and a side dish on its own. 

three bottles of kimchi

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made of salted and fermented vegetables. These include napa cabbage and Korean radish. The different seasonings used include spring onions, gochufaru (Korean chili powder), garlic, ginger, and jeotgal, a type of salted seafood. While it is often used in a variety of stews and soups, kimchi is eaten as a side dish with practically every Korean meal. 

If you’re looking to change things up in the kitchen and fancy adding a spark of Korean cuisine into your diet, then kimchi is a great place to start. Read on as we discuss the flavor profiles of kimchi, its uses, and much, much more. 

What is Kimchi?

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish, its components vary widely but they generally consist of a combination of vegetables, chili powders, ginger, garlic, salt, and fish sauce. This mixture is then pickled and fermented. Originally, this method was used to preserve the veggies for the colder winter months. 

There are hundreds of different varieties of kimchi to choose from. And, best of all, it’s not expensive. You can arrange and prepare it according to your own preferences making it a versatile food for many kinds of dishes. 

person making kimchi

Out of all the vegetables used in kimchi, cabbage is usually the most common. However, cucumber, radish, carrots, and scallions are regularly used as well. 

Different regions tend to determine what recipe is used. There are literally hundreds of kimchi recipes out there that also vary depending on the seasons when they are produced. One thing that kimchi is always great for, however, is being a suitable vegan dish. With so many plant-based ingredients, it is easy to prepare kimchi into a tasty vegan-friendly dish.

With such a wide appeal, it’s no surprise that kimchi is commercially available at low prices. However, it can be a fun task to make your own form of kimchi based on your preferences. While it can be a little time-consuming to prepare the vegetables, other fermented foods like miso, beer, bread, and kombucha, are pretty easy to work with.

The preparation process is when kimchi develops its unique flavors and nutritional profile. And, another benefit of making kimchi is that it keeps for quite a while. This food is not only versatile but easy to prepare and lasts for a long time in your refrigerator. Perfect when planning a week’s worth of dishes!

What Does Kimchi Taste Like?

Being such a popular dish in Korea, you would expect kimchi to be exceptionally flavorsome. Well, its taste can be pretty complex and it tends to vary depending on the specific recipe. The principal flavor notes found in kimchi are sour, spicy, and umami, possibly the hardest sensation to explain.

Other factors can also have an impact on kimchi taste. The vegetables you choose to include can determine the flavor of your kimchi as well as how long you ferment it for and the amount of sugar or salt used in the recipe.  

Kimchi is predominantly a fermented dish. Therefore, its main flavor is usually sour. Bacteria during the fermentation process produce lactic acid that leaves a tangy, pungent flavor to the dish. This is fairly similar to sauerkraut. 

If garlic is present in kimchi, its taste becomes intensified during fermentation. If you like some spice in your dishes, kimchi can be at your service. The amount of pepper and what kind you add tends to have a say on how spicy your kimchi is.

a person jarring kimchi to ferment

Also, kimchi can be exceedingly fishy. Many people add fish paste, fish sauce, or even anchovies to the dish. If you go down this route, the fish will give your kimchi a robust umami flavorful note. 

If fish is not your “cup of tea”, then simply leave it out. Kimchi without any fish paste or fish products has a lighter, fresher taste to it. Add cucumbers or radish into the mix and you get some of the freshest kimchi available. 

How to Use Kimchi

Kimchi is served with practically every meal in Korean cuisine. This includes dinner, supper, and even breakfast (however, we don’t recommend adding it to your cereal). Kimchi can be eaten on its own as a side dish or as an appetizer. Nevertheless, it is most often eaten as an ingredient in many different dishes. 

One of the most popular uses for kimchi is in a traditional Korean stew known as Kimchi jjigae. This stew is made with kimchi and other ingredients such as pork or seafood, scallions, onions, and dice dubu (bean curd). 

Fermented kimchi is also used for flavoring fried rice, noodles, stir-fry dishes, pizzas, and sandwiches. See, we said it was versatile! 

How to Make Kimchi: Kimchi Recipes

With hundreds of recipes to choose from, we are unable to list them all below. The possibilities kimchi offer are pretty limitless as this fermented food works with so many dishes so easily. 

Kimchi has a pleasing texture and flavor that acts as a great counterpoint to tofu. One reason it works so well with tofu is that its flavors are absorbed by tofu as you cook it. Kimchi can also be used to pickle eggs. Or, transform it into a savory pancake for a snack or light lunch. The options are endless! 

Kimchi is up to just about any culinary task you throw at it. It can be meat-orientated or completely vegetarian and vegan. Simply leave out any meat or fish products and search online for recipes without them. It’s that easy!

We highly recommend making scallion kimchi, kimchi fried rice, and Korean kimchi pancakes. Recipes for these can be found online and are easy and quick to prepare. 

Where to Buy Kimchi

First thing’s first, you will need to find kimchi. The good news is that kimchi is becoming easier to find in grocery stores throughout the world. With its popularity increasing each year, stores and supermarkets are taking heed and starting to stock this already iconic Korean food.

Kimchi is typically sold in the refrigerated produce section of a grocery store. If it’s not here, it will probably be near refrigerated sauerkraut and pickles. 

Asian markets are bound to have kimchi available as well as Asian restaurants and sushi bars. If you ask for kimchi at a restaurant, they will probably produce their own form of it before selling it as a side dish. 

You can even make kimchi at home. All you need are a few ingredients and a few days to allow the kimchi to ferment. Ingredients needed for kimchi tend to be:

  • 1 whole head of cabbage (Green, Napa, or Purple)
  • A 3-inch piece of ginger
  • A ¼ cup of sea salt
  • 4 to 6 cloves of garlic 
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper
  • 2 to 4 cups of different vegetables (i.e, turnips, carrots, cucumbers – these can be shredded or diced up)
  • 1 tablespoon of agave nectar (although, this is optional depending on your preference)

Check online for the full recipe and preparation so you can enjoy some delicious homemade kimchi for days to come. 

Storing Kimchi

You can keep kimchi in your refrigerator for several months. Even after this amount of time, it will keep well and be safe to eat. However, its flavor usually intensifies and becomes more pungent during this time and the vegetables will probably become somewhat softer. We recommend eating kimchi fresh to enjoy it at its best.

Final Thoughts

If you want something to eat that’s easy to put together, has a long shelf life, and is healthy for you as well, then kimchi is right up your alley. Not to mention, it’s delicious!

We hope this guide helps answer any questions you might have about this delectable Korean dish. Let us know your favorite ways to make kimchi in the comments below!

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Written by Rocco Smith

Rocco is a recent graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor’s in Editing, Writing, and Media. With seven years’ experience in the restaurant industry as a cook, server, bartender, and more, he is deeply passionate about intertwining his fondness for food with his love of language.