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Kimchi is a staple in Korean cuisine. It is a popular traditional side dish made of fermented and salted vegetables like Korean radish and cabbage. Kimchi is made from a broad selection of seasonings such as garlic, ginger, spring onions, chili powder (popularly referred to as Gochugaru by natives), and jeotgal.
There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi, each made with a combination of different vegetables as its main ingredient.
Traditionally, natives stored kimchi in large earthenware below the ground to prevent it from getting frozen during cold winter months. This was the most commonly followed method of storing veggies throughout the seasons including summers. The in-ground storage helped to keep kimchi cool in the summer months, thus, slowing down the process of fermentation. Today, people prefer to use special kimchi refrigerators to store it.
What makes Kimchi a perfect addition to your menu is it can be made in several different ways. You can choose the veggies and seasonings of your choice and follow the cooking methods that you prefer.
I am sure, by now, your taste buds must already be kicked to know more about Kimchi and how to prepare it at home. Let’s check the ingredients, taste, and the best way to prepare Kimchi.
What does kimchi taste like?
The most suitable word to describe the taste of Kimchi is “complex”. Since Kimchi is prepared from several vegetables and seasonings, it develops a complex flavor that doesn’t fit into the traditional definition of sweet, salty, or sour.
The taste of Kimchi depends on the ingredients and the recipe you follow. However, if you are still looking for specific flavors to name, you may call it a bit spicy, umami, and sour.
The flavor also depends on the vegetables, the amount of salt and sugar added and the duration of fermentation. Here are some flavors and tastes you can expect when you prepare Kimchi using common ingredients:
- Vegetables: The vegetables you include in your kimchi recipe can dramatically alter its taste. If you use cabbage, then Kimchi would have stronger flavors while radish or cucumber would give it lighter flavors.
- Spicy: Depending on how much red pepper you add, the taste of kimchi will range from very mild to very spicy. The pepper powder would also give it its classic red color.
- Sour: Since kimchi is a fermented dish, it would have a prominent sour flavor that can be attributed to the presence of lactic acid produced by bacteria. The process of fermentation would also create a pungent and tangy flavor similar to that of sauerkraut.
- Fish: fish is a common ingredient in most kimchi recipes. You may even add a fish product like fish paste, fermented fish sauce, and anchovies. These ingredients would give kimchi a strong umami flavor. On the other hand, kimchi that doesn’t have fish usually has a lighter and fresher taste.
- Garlic: Garlic is a strong component that determines kimchi flavor. The flavors would intensify further during fermentation thus yielding a deeper and more complete taste.
- Sweet vs. Salty: You will find varying intensities of salty and sweet flavors in your kimchi based on how much sugar and salt you add.
The secret of the complex taste and flavors of Kimchi comes from the soft texture of the vegetables. Once the veggies are salted, their texture becomes soft. And it is this texture that enhances whatever flavors your Kimchi possesses.
Most of the health benefits of Kimchi come from the vegetables and spices it contains as well as the process of fermentation it undergoes. Here are some of the benefits of kimchi:
- May improve digestive health
Due to the process of fermentation involved in making Kimchi, it contains enough of good bacteria that can replenish the healthy bacterial flora in your intestine. Coupled with its high fiber content from green leaves and veggies, it can protect you against common digestive issues like constipation, stomach upsets, and indigestion.
- Improves immunity
Kimchi is loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents that can boost the defense functions of your immune system. It can prevent the risk of infections and allergies while promoting the body’s natural ability to fight diseases.
- Promotes weight loss
Kimchi can help you lose weight faster by increasing your body’s metabolic rate. It can stimulate the fat burning processes thus allowing you to lose several pounds in a shorter duration.
- Potentially fights cancer
Kimchi is filled with natural anti-cancer ingredients that can inhibit abnormal processes involved in the growth and multiplication of cancer cells. It also boosts the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory action of the immune system thus reducing oxidative damage and inflammation in healthy organs. Kimchi may help prevent the precursors that are known to trigger cancerous changes.
- May slow down aging
Kimchi contains spices and herbs that can slow down the degenerative changes in the skin, brain, heart, and other tissues thus delaying the signs of aging. It can help improve skin complexion by reducing wrinkles and fine lines.
How to make kimchi
Like I said earlier, there are various ways to prepare Kimchi. However, if you are just starting out, I would advise you to stick to the traditional method. Once you get the basic idea of how to prepare it, you can experiment with different ingredients and flavors.
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Kimchi has a long tradition and is considered a Korean national dish. It is probably the most well-known fermented dish served all around the world. There are many varieties of kimchi, from sweet to sour and those in between.
large napa cabbage (Chinese cabbage)
small daikon radish
bunch of green onions
small chunk of ginger peeled
cloves of garlic
of Korean coarse red pepper
of fish sauce
Sterilise glass mixing bowl with boiling water or wash well with warm soapy water. Wash napa cabbage and cut into long thin strips (julienned style) and place it in the mixing bowl. Add salt and gently start massaging salt into cabbage leaves for a couple of minutes.
Cut carrots, daikon radish and green onions into long thin strips (julienned style) then add them into the cabbage bowl. Massage until all vegetables are coated in the salt and starting to soften.
Use food processor or blender to puree ginger, garlic, apple, red pepper and fish sauce until smooth texture is achieved.
Combine the mixture with the vegetables in the bowl.
Start putting vegetables into glass jars and ensuring that the vegetables sit below the brine.
Leave the ferment away from the direct sunlight for 1-2 weeks ensuring the vegetables are submerged the whole time.
Once the desired flavor is achieved transfer the jars into refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process. The longer jars are kept outside, the stronger the flavor of ferment.
Equipment: 2 glass jars, glass mixing bowl, knife and chopping board
- Serving Size:
Kimchi is loaded with several essential vitamins and minerals as well as natural medicinal compounds that may help improve your wellbeing. Here is a brief discussion about the nutritional value of one cup of kimchi.
You will be surprised to find that one cup of kimchi contains only 22 to 25 calories. The calorie content is much lower than that of a cup of tea or coffee.
The fat content of Kimchi is very low. One cup of kimchi contains only 0.11 grams of fats. The lower fat content makes it suitable for people who suffer from high cholesterol, cardiac diseases, and hypertension.
Kimchi also provides a rich content of minerals like sodium and calcium. One cup of kimchi usually has about 553 mg of sodium and 50 mg of calcium making it a nutritionally dense food to eat on a daily basis.
Kimchi is considered safer even for patients with diabetes for its low carb content. One cup of kimchi contains just 3.65 grams of carbohydrates of which a large percentage is in the form of safer complex carbohydrates like starch from vegetables.
Kimchi could be a great addition to your diet as it can help supply your body with vitamins including Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E.
How to eat kimchi
You can think of kimchi as the Korean condiment you can add to practically any dish. It is more than just a bunch of fermented vegetables. It offers an irresistible punch of flavors adding your dishes a tangy, and spicy flavor and a just-enough-crunchy texture that is similar to sauerkraut.
If you still prefer, you may eat kimchi raw for your breakfast, or mid-meal snack straight from the jar. However, I would advise you to try adding it to your dishes to enhance their flavors. Here are some ideas for how to eat kimchi:
- Most people prefer to layer kimchi on sandwiches. You can also add it to grilled cheese. Cheddar would mellow the spicy flavors of kimchi while adding it a nice crunch.
- You can add kimchi to scrambled eggs. Simply stir in greens like kale or spinach to the scrambled eggs and cook until the veggies are wilted or tender. Add kimchi and eat immediately.
- Whipping kimchi into deviled Eggs could be a great option for your breakfast menu. You just need to spike the deviled eggs using chipotle seasoning. Then, stuff them with a creamy mixture of kimchi, yogurt, and Sriracha to prepare delicious finger food.
- If you love tacos, you can try adding kimchi to it to take the flavors to the next higher level. You can marinate the steak in the mixture of gochujang and soy sauce. Finish by garnishing with a layer of kimchi.
- Stirring kimchi into fried rice can improve the nutritional content of your dish. Sauté kimchi for a while and then, add cooked rice, greens, and soy sauce. Add scrambled eggs and you are done with preparing a highly nutritious and tempting dish.
- Stuffing kimchi in a quesadilla can be a perfect option for your lazy weeknight dinner. You just need to shred some cheese, add fresh herbs and kimchi. Use this mixture to layer a tortilla and serve immediately.
- How about a pizza? Yes, kimchi goes well even with a pizza, especially when you are bored with the standard tomato sauce. Kimchi and gochujang make up for a delicious alternative to your regular tomato sauce. For proteins, top it with ground sausage, pork belly or pepperoni.
Did you see how easy it is to use kimchi in your regular cooking? And this is not all. You can come up with several other ways to include kimchi in your cooking and add a unique taste and flavors to your dishes.
How to eat kimchi from a jar?
Once you have stored kimchi in a jar and kept it in a refrigerator, you can use a small quantity out of it as and when required to add to the recipes. However, make sure you close the lid of the jar tightly in order to maintain a slower rate of fermentation. This would ensure your kimchi lasts longer and does not become overtly sour or form molds.
Is kimchi good for you?
Kimchi is said to be good for your heart, your immunity, and the digestive system. And last but not the least, it is also good for your taste buds.
The higher nutritional value of kimchi supplies your body with a good mix of several essential vitamins and minerals. It also provides a balanced proportion of macronutrients like carbs, fats, and proteins. The medicinal potential of kimchi includes its ability to potentially help fight cancer, improve your immunity, protect heart functions, and boost weight loss.
The high fiber content of kimchi is suitable for people who want to lose weight but are finding it difficult to control their food intake. The dietary fibers in kimchi create a sense of fullness in the stomach thereby limiting the food intake of a person.
Similarly, the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties of various spices, vegetables, and herbs in kimchi may help protect you against some diseases issues and enhance the quality of your life.
What makes Kimchi specifically good for you is its ability to boost your energy levels. If you are living a busy and hectic lifestyle, I am sure, you often reach home from the office feeling completely exhausted. Having a cup of Kimchi in the morning and/or evening and as your mid-meal snack may keep your energy levels elevated and allow you to feel fresh and alert throughout the day.
How long does kimchi last?
Different people have different opinions about the shelf life of kimchi. If you are using commercial or store-bought kimchi, the best indicator to determine its shelf life is to check the ‘best before date’ on the package.
Commercial kimchi usually contains preservatives that are added to lengthen the lifespan. So, they tend to stay fresh for several months to years. Homemade kimchi, on the other hand, usually lasts for a few weeks to months depending how it’s stored.
What is kimchi made of?
Kimchi is a fermented dish made from a range of vegetables including cabbage, greens leafy veggies, carrots, and radish. It can be added with spices, herbs, and seasoning to enhance the flavors.
The best choices of seasonings include fish sauce, ginger, and garlic. Sometimes, chunks of fruits like apples are also used to make Kimchi. Kimchi also contains salt and sugar added in amounts to modify its salty and sweet tastes to suit your preferences. However, the most important ingredients of kimchi are Gochugaru or the Korean red pepper powder.
How long to ferment kimchi?
It is important to remember that kimchi can continue to ferment for several months. Hence, its taste can change over time. Most people enjoy kimchi that has aged and fermented considerably.
The level of sourness in kimchi continues to increase when it is allowed to ferment. Hence, if you do not prefer over-fermented Kimchi, you will have to discard it after three to four months.
Additionally, kimchi can last longer when stored in the refrigerator. Koreans use a specialized freezer dedicated to storing kimchi. The low temperature in the refrigerator slows down the process of fermentation and allows kimchi to retain its texture and flavors for longer.
Storing kimchi at room temperature, on the other hand, would promote the fermentation process. While it is perfectly fine to let kimchi continue to ferment by storing it at room temperature, you need to keep a watch for the signs of spoilage.
Your kimchi would be no longer safe for consumption if you find it smelling fizzy and molds growing on its surface or sides. If this happens, kimchi has to be discarded.
Also see my post on How Long to Ferment Vegetables
How long does kimchi last in the fridge?
It depends on the ingredients you have added to kimchi. Since kimchi is a fermented product, the process of fermentation would continue even when it is stored in a refrigerator. It would only slow down a bit. Hence, it will be wrong to assume that your kimchi can last for several years if you store it in a refrigerator.
You can expect it to stay fresh for a period of a few months to one or two years. If you store it longer, it will naturally become sourer. Hence, it is advisable to keep a check on the sourness levels while kimchi is stored in the refrigerator.
Whenever you feel the level of sourness is going beyond the extent you prefer, it is best to use it up faster rather than let it go to waste. You can increase the shelf life of kimchi by a few extra months by storing it in a sealed or air-tight jar.
How much kimchi should I eat per day?
Since Kimchi is a fermented food prepared from healthy ingredients like vegetables, herbs, and spices, it is considered safe to eat every day. You can eat Kimchi for your breakfast, lunch, and dinner as well as your mid-meal snack.
The mid-meal snacking option is specifically relevant to people who are trying to lose weight and want to control their urge to eat high-calorie snacks. Even patients with diabetes can consume a cup of kimchi about 3 times a day.
Kimchi, being a fermented food, can improve the microbial flora of your intestine. While this can be good for your immune system and digestion, you need to take into account your overall digestive health as well.
Do not forget that fermented foods offer benefits primarily due to their ability to support the bacterial action that results in the production of gas. So, if you suffer from bloating and gas, the excess gas production might worsen your distress.
Hence, it is best to limit your intake of Kimchi to not more than 2 cups per day if you suffer from excessive belching and bloating.
Also, if you have a tendency to eat processed foods, which is definitely not a good idea, you would need to limit your kimchi intake. Most processed foods contain a higher amount of sugars. Bacteria in your intestine feed off the sugars. Since kimchi already contains a small amount of sugar, the extra sugars from processed foods would further stimulate the fermentation by bacteria. This would create excessive gas production thus worsening your digestive symptoms.
The takeaway here is that you can consume 3 to 4 cups of kimchi every day safely unless you suffer from severe digestive issues or have a tendency to eat processed foods regularly.
However, like with any food, it is important to have a balanced diet and eat in moderation.
Kimchi possesses rich complex flavors, high nutritional content, and medicinal powers. It is very easy to prepare and lasts long. Once you have prepared a batch of kimchi, you can use it for several months in your cooking. With so many benefits, it’s worth giving Kimchi a try.
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