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What is Kimchi?

What is Kimchi?

If you have experience ordering food from a Korean restaurant, you know that one of the side dishes that is guaranteed to be included with your order is kimchi. Many of us eat kimchi without fully understanding what it actually is, so we are here to answer the burning question: What is kimchi?

Traditional napa cabbage kimchi
Image from Maangchi via Google

Kimchi is a staple Korean pickled vegetable side dish with its primary ingredient being napa cabbage, but there are hundreds of varying kimchi recipes that incorporate carrots, radish, cucumber, and/or scallions to create a mash-up of pickled vegetables that will serve as a great addition to your meal. These vegetables are salted and seasoned with gochugaru (Korean chilli powder), garlic, ginger, jeotgal (salted seafood), and fish sauce before it begins fermenting.

Kimchi fermentation process
Image from Maangchi via Google

Fermenting? Yep, you read that right! Kimchi is made through lacto-fermentation which shouldn’t be unfamiliar to us because it’s also the same process used to make dill pickles! In the first stage of fermentation, the cabbage is soaked in a salty brine that kills off harmful bacteria. In the second stage, the remaining Lactobacillus bacteria converts the sugars into lactic acid. The lactic acid preserves the vegetables and creates a tangy, pungent flavor which is intensified with the added garlic. Fermentation allows Kimchi to develop its signature, complex flavor that can be sour, spicy, and umami, but its dynamic flavor depends on the recipe used.

Kimchi mixing process
Image from Maangchi via Google

Traditionally, kimchi was stored in large earthenware pots in-ground to prevent the kimchi from being frozen during the winter months. In the summer, the in-ground storage kept the kimchi cool enough to slow down the fermentation process. However, many Korean households today use kimchi refrigerators to store Kimchi for even months on end.


Image from Korea.net via Google

In Korean culture, kimchi is incredibly versatile and usually served with almost every meal. It also provides so many nutritional benefits because it’s abundant with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and best of all, it’s low in calories. Although kimchi is known for being eaten as a side dish, it’s also used as an ingredient in many Korean dishes. Some examples include kimchi jjigae (stew), kimchi fried rice, kimchi pancakes, and kimchi dumplings.

Kimchi jjigae (stew)
Image from Koreanbapsang via Google

Kimchi has been extremely popular in recent years making it easily accessible in many grocery stores. Like we mentioned, Korean restaurants never fail to make their own kimchi as a complimentary side dish for orders. Next time you come across kimchi at your local supermarket or Korean restaurant, try it out and enjoy the taste of kimchi’s well-rounded flavor.

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