Fermentation Part 6: Kim chi

Kimchi 2

Kimchi is very important to the Korean diet. Unlike sauerkraut or those bread and butter pickle slices that you may or may not eat next to your sandwich, Kimchi is unquestionably a part of a Korean meal— it’s non‐negotiable. This single foodstuff has completely infiltrated Korean culture: there is Kimjang, the annual communal Kimchi-making ritual that happens each November all over the country; there is a Kimchi museum in Seoul and a Kimchi institute of culture; and one of the most requested wedding gifts of modern day Koreans is a specialized Kimchi refrigerator. For many, a fridge with its precise temperature controls and wide storage capabilities, beats the ancient practice of burying earthenware crocks underground.


Kimchi—its flavor, health-enhancing properties, and other virtues—is a frequent subject of conversation in Korea and, increasingly, beyond.

In the west we might think that Kimchi is one recipe, but it is not. Just like there are several types of pickles there are many types of Kimchi. Some authorities list over 150 different types of Kimchi. Kimchi has also been adopted into many other ethnic foods, especially Japanese. In one Tsukemono recipe book, there are actually almost 20% Kimchi recipes. Even though the most common Kimchi varieties we come in contact with are hot and spicy, there are many varieties that are not. They are usually all vegetables with an emphasis on cabbage, but some are not. Most have a fish sauce in it, but others also have dried fish, anchovies, oysters, shrimp, squid or beef broth. You can see a bit of a trend in Korea over the Kimchi. Generally in the North the Kimchi style has less salt or other seasoning, with more water. As the Kimchi trail moves south on the peninsula, it becomes hotter, thicker and packed with stronger flavors.

Because there are more Southern Koreans in North America, we come in contact with more of the Southern styles of Kimchi.


Kim Chi

You can compare the different types of Kim Chi to the different types of wine. When you first get introduced to wine there really doesn’t seem to be much variation, except sweet or dry. When you taste Kimchi for the first time, the normal reaction is to the level of spice, but its real defining characteristic is its tanginess. We often associate this sensation with sourness and acidity, but in Kimchi, it’s more than the flavor of vinegar—it’s the taste of fermentation. It is a unique characteristic that all fermented foods, such as wine, beer or cheese share. The acidity produced by natural fermentation due to lactic acid is more natural for our own body’s digestive pH and not as aggressive to our taste buds as the acidity in many commercially manufactured vinegars.

When the flavors of Kimchi—chili pepper spice, garlic, and ginger—blend together in a perfect acidity (pH), the result is a delicate balancing act of flavors and sensations similar to what wine achieves. In the same way, Kimchi’s vast array of differences in flavor and texture also depend on a balance of flavors and fermentation. The natural fermentation process helps flavors meld together with acidity and brightness that work to create the depth, roundness of texture, and complexity that develop with aging.


  • 1 head (2.5 kg) cabbage (Napa or Chinese best)
  • 125 grams salt (5% weight of cabbage)
  • 1 2/3 cups water
  • 90 grams scallions, or green onions
  • 1 1/2 lbs daikon radish
  • 1/2 cup Korean chili powder (Korean is moderately hot and aromatic compared to Japanese chili powder). I have also used shredded chili pepper
  • 15 grams sugar
  • 20 grams salt
  • 1/2 cup dashi (I have used fish sauce, or shrimp paste or soy sauce also, or made a few different varieties)
  • 30 ml umezu (optional)
  • 30 grams garlic
  • 15 grams ginger root



  1. Cut cabbage and pack tightly in container and pour the salt water over it, place a light weight on top and let stand overnight … you can turn it occasionally too, but it is not necessary
  2. After 6 – 12 hours, or once cabbage is pliable rinse in water and squeeze out moisture (yes, really squeeze) set aside and make your marinade.
  3. To make marinade, add spice, salt and umeboshi. You can also added kombu (use less or no salt with either of these); other vegetables too, like carrots; I have not always used the diakon.
  4. Mix marinade well with rinsed and squeezed
  5. You can be quite creative actually as long as the pickling part is similar.
  6. It takes about 4 or 5 days to start bubbling, and then it keeps in the refrigerator for 10 -­‐ 12
  7. The proportions are good, but I often make it quite a bit larger.


Here are a few video to show you how to make Kimchi

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