Salty like soy sauce and spicy like sriracha, kimchi is the Korean superfood—condiment, ingredient, side dish, and tasty probiotic—you need to be eating right now. Here's more about this delicious fermented dish.
What is Kimchi?
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made by first combining vegetables -- usually a lightly colored leafy green called Napa cabbage (or sometimes cucumber)-- with red chili powder, salt, garlic, ginger, onions, and fish sauce or anchovy paste. The mixture is then rested at a cool, dry room temperature until it has fermented.
Kimchi dates back for more than 1,500 years. It came about for the same reasons we have things like beef jerky and canned peaches. Ancient Koreans, without modern refrigerators, wanted to eat fresh food all year long. Now, it has found a home stateside, where it's loved for it’s pungent, pickled flavor and unique health benefits. The varieties are endless and can be as regionally specific as barbecue in the U.S.
What Does Kimchi Taste Like?
Do you like sauerkraut? If you’re a fan of one fermented cabbage, you’ll likely be a fan of the other. (In fact, kimchi would make a delicious Reuben.) Kimchi is almost always salty, spicy, and packed with umami. It can vary in sweetness and crunchiness. depending on the amount of sugar and vegetables used. You can add more chili to make it hotter, or less for a milder variety. If you’re vegetarian, you can leave out the fish sauce or anchovy paste, though it’ll lack some of the funky flavor kimchi is known for.
The Health Benefits of Kimchi
The health benefits of kimchi come from the bacteria that grow during the fermentation process. It’s a vegetable probiotic in the same way yogurt is a dairy probiotic. It's good for your tastebuds and your gut! Some medical reports have linked kimchi to more than just healthy digestion—it’s said to help lower obesity, cancer risk, and cholesterol, as well as improve your skin, brain, and immune system health.
If you haven’t got the days—or weeks—to wait for kimchi to ferment, it’s an easy ingredient to pick up at your local Asian market. If you’re near an H-Mart (locations around the country), the Korean supermarket has a particularly expansive selection. But even if that’s not an option where you are, you won’t be left high and dry: Pick up a jar or can on Amazon for under $10.
Making and Storing Kimchi
If you’re making kimchi yourself, you'll need to store it in an airtight container for at least 24 hours at room temperature. Traditionally, it ferments in a clay pot buried in the ground to maintain a cool and consistent temp (but not so cold as the fridge, which slows the process).
Once your kimchi is done—or your store-bought jar is opened—you can store it in the fridge for months. It will get increasingly sour as the lactic acid builds up, but this “ripe” kimchi is perfect for using as an ingredient in cooked dishes.
This homemade version is made from fermented cabbage, and flavored with garlic, ginger, onions, chile powder, and fish sauce.
Cooking with Kimchi
Many Korean dishes use kimchi as an ingredient; if they don’t, it’s likely served alongside with a bowl of steamed rice. The ideal gateway into cooking with it is to try it in fried rice.
Kick up the flavor on your fried rice with a spicy infusion of kimchi. In this version, fried rice is tossed with hamburger and fried egg.
"The longer it sits in the refrigerator, the bolder the flavor gets," says Heather Johnson Carpenter, recipe submitter.
"Incredibly tasty, and visually thrilling, savory pancakes," says Chef John. "I loved the taste and texture, but what really got my attention were the dancing bonito flakes on top. I found them as mesmerizing as I did delicious. Along with the kimchi, feel free to toss in any leftover meat and vegetables and see what happens. These would also be great topped with spicy mayo and served with eggs or grilled meat."
Other ways to cook with kimchi: