Have you ever heard of kimchi? If not, don’t worry - this is a journey that I am more than happy to take you on! Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish that is made from fermented vegetables and spices. It has a sharp, savory flavor and is often used as an accompaniment to other dishes. In this post, I will tell you all about the history, taste profile, and preparation of kimchi.
What is Kimchi?
It was originally made from napa cabbage, which grows abundantly in Korea, and was preserved with salt as a way to make it last longer. Over time, other vegetables such as radishes and cucumbers were added to the mix and various spices were used for flavor. Today, there are hundreds of different types of kimchi with varying levels of spiciness and sweetness.
According to IMF, Kimchi has been a staple in Korean cuisine since its origin in the 7th century. Pickling vegetables was a way to store nutrients and minerals during cold winters when fresh fruits and vegetables were scarce. Each village had an agreed-upon day when all of the women would gather to wash, season, and share the cabbage used for kimchi.
Traditionally, kimchi was stored in large stoneware crocks that were buried in the ground and left to ferment. In modern times, Korea has industrialized rapidly and now half of all kimchi is made in factories instead of homes. Despite this shift, many Korean households still make their own kimchi the traditional way and it is still an important part of Korean cuisine.
What Does Kimchi Taste Like?
Kimchi really brings a dish to life with its salty, sour, and spicy kick, not to mention that vibrant red hue that comes from the fermented chili paste in it.
The heat level? Well, that's like a surprise every time—some kimchi is gentle and mild, and some packs a serious punch! If you're ever out of that key spicy ingredient, don't worry. I've got a bunch of ideas for a red chili paste substitute that'll keep your kimchi, and any other dish, deliciously on track.
The texture also varies depending on the type of kimchi—it can be crunchy or soft. Overall, kimchi is complex and flavorful with a unique blend of ingredients that make it delicious and unforgettable. It is eaten with almost every meal in Korea and can be found in dishes like kimchi stew (kimchi jjigae) and kimchi pancake (Kimchi-buchimgae).
What Does It Smell Like?
When you open up a jar of kimchi for the first time, you may be taken aback by its pungent smell. This is because it is a fermented food product, so the fermentation process produces an odor that can be strong at first but becomes more subtle with time as the flavors develop and mellow out.
In addition to the fermentation smell, there are notes of garlic, ginger, onions, and other spices used to make kimchi that also come through in its scent.
In Korea, kimchi is more than just a side dish - it’s a way of life. Every morning, Koreans can be seen eating kimchi with their breakfast. And if you’re lucky enough to visit the country during the summer months, you’ll see entire families outside preparing and fermenting their own kimchi for the winter months ahead.
Today, I’d like to share with you some of the ingredients used in making this delicious fermented food item.
Making kimchi requires an array of ingredients, so let’s start off by listing what we need:
- Cabbage is the main ingredient in kimchi and is usually cut into small strips or cubes before being mixed with other ingredients.
- Korean chili powder (gochugaru) – This spicy red pepper powder gives kimchi its signature flavor and heat. It is made from Korean chile peppers that are dried and ground into a powder.
- Garlic – Garlic adds depth to the flavor of kimchi and helps give it a subtle kick.
- Ginger – Ginger adds a slight sweetness to the kimchi's flavor and some additional heat.
- Salt – Salt helps draw out moisture from the vegetables and aids in fermentation. The amount of salt added will depend on how much liquid is already present in your vegetables.
- Fish sauce – Fish sauce adds an umami flavor to your kimchi and helps balance out all of its flavors. If you don’t have access to fish sauce, then soy sauce will work just fine!
- Sugar – Sugar helps balance out all of the flavors in your kimchi and gives it an extra kick of sweetness. Use any kind of sugar - cane sugar, brown sugar, etc - but try not to overdo it!
Types Of Kimchi
- Baechu (Napa Cabbage) Kimchi: This type of kimchi is probably the most popular and well-known type. Napa cabbage is used as the base for this dish, which is then mixed with garlic, scallions, ginger, gochugaru (Korean chili flakes), fish sauce or anchovy sauce, and other seasonings. The ingredients are then fermented for up to 10 days before it can be eaten.
- Baek (White) Kimchi: Unlike Baechu Kimchi which has a deep red color from the chili paste or flakes, White Kimchi does not contain any gochugaru. This type of kimchi has a milder flavor than Baechu Kimchi and often incorporates different vegetables such as radish or cucumber. It is also usually served fresh instead of being fermented for several days like Baechu Kimchi.
- Kkakdugi (Cubed Radish Kimchi): Kkakdugi is made by cubing daikon radish into small pieces and mixing them with garlic, scallions, ginger, gochugaru, fish sauce or anchovy sauce, and other seasonings, very much similar to baechu kimchi. This type of kimchi has a slightly crunchy texture due to the cubed radishes and can range in spiciness depending on how much gochugaru is used.
- Oi Sobagi (Cucumber Kimchi): Oi Sobagi is made by slicing cucumbers lengthwise into four pieces before stuffing them with a mixture of garlic, scallions, ginger, gochugaru (if desired), fish sauce or anchovy sauce, sugar, salt, and other seasonings. This type of kimchi has a refreshingly crisp texture due to the cucumber slices and can be eaten either fresh or after being fermented for several days.
Kimchi Vs Sauerkraut
While kimchi and sauerkraut are considered fermented foods, their flavors and appearances differ. Here’s a breakdown of what sets these two dynamic dishes apart from one another.
- Kimchi has been a staple food in Korean cuisine for centuries and is known for its spicy kick. This flavor comes from the combination of garlic, chili peppers, ginger, onions, and other seasonings added to the cabbage base.
- Sauerkraut is more subtle in flavor, with a mild tanginess that comes from the fermentation process. The only ingredient needed is cabbage which has been salted and allowed to ferment over time.
- Kimchi has an eye-catching appearance due to its vibrant colors that come from the addition of spices such as red pepper powder or flakes and ginger.
- Sauerkraut also has an array of colors ranging from white to yellowish-green depending on how long it's been left to ferment. It also looks much less uniform than kimchi as it contains pieces of shredded cabbage leaves instead of being cut into small strips like kimchi typically is.
- Both kimchi and sauerkraut can be used in various dishes or enjoyed on their own as a side dish or condiment.
- Kimchi can be used in rice dishes such as bibimbap or japchae or served with noodles or dumplings for extra flavor and crunch.
- Sauerkraut can be enjoyed cold on sandwiches or hot dishes like Reuben sandwiches or pierogis, adding some extra zing to your meals!
What To Eat With Kimchi?
Kimchi can be enjoyed on its own, but it also makes for a wonderful accompaniment to many dishes. Let’s take a look at some of the tastiest ways to eat kimchi.
- Kimchi Fried Rice - This one-pot meal is as simple as it is delicious. Start by sautéing garlic, onion, and your favorite vegetables in a wok or skillet. Once they're softened, add cooked rice and kimchi. Cook everything together until the flavors blend together nicely. Top with an egg (optional) and serve!
- Kimchi Soup - Nothing beats a hearty bowl of kimchi soup for those chilly days when you need something warm and comforting! Start by sautéing pork belly in a pot until golden brown. Add garlic, onion and scallions then stir in chicken stock and kimchi before bringing it to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes then add tofu (or any other protein of your choice).
- Kimchi Stew - If you love stew but are looking for something unique, try making Kimchi stew! Start by heating up some oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. Add pork shoulder, onion, and garlic before pouring in chicken stock or water. Add gochujang (Korean red chili paste), kimchi and diced potatoes then bring to a boil before simmering for about 30 minutes until the pork is tender. Serve hot with steamed white rice.
- Kimchi Dumplings - If you’re looking for something fun yet flavorful, try making kimchi dumplings! Fill wonton wrappers with chopped-up kimchi mixed with ground beef (or any other protein of your choice). Boil the dumplings for 5 minutes until they float then fry them in sesame oil until crispy on both sides. Enjoy these crunchy little bites on their own or as part of an appetizer platter!
People Also Ask [FAQs]
Kimchi is usually spicy because it is made with chili pepper flakes or powder.
Kimchi is generally not considered vegetarian as it contains fish or seafood ingredients.
Kimchi is an incredibly healthy and flavorful food that can be enjoyed as a side dish or as part of a meal. It has many health benefits, including being high in vitamins and minerals, aiding digestion, boosting immunity, and protecting against certain diseases. As such, it can be enjoyed for its taste and health benefits.
Kimchi fermentation is caused by lactic acid bacteria, which are naturally present in the vegetables used to make it.
Kimchi does not taste like fish; rather it has a spicy, sour, and umami flavor.
Wrap Up: What Does Kimchi Taste Like?
- Kimchi is an iconic and beloved dish in Korea with a long history of being made both at home and in factories.
- It has a unique flavor that combines saltiness, sourness, spiciness, and sweetness all into one bite! Its strong smell may be off-putting to some but it mellows out over time as the flavors develop.
- For me personally, trying out kimchi was an eye-opening experience! I found it to be complex yet delicious—and after getting used to its distinctive smell it quickly became one of my favorite dishes!
- There are many delicious options when it comes to Kimchi, that's why there is no reason why you shouldn’t be incorporating kimchi into your meals more often! Not only is this traditional Korean side dish packed full of flavor but it also boasts numerous health benefits such as probiotics that support gut health and immunity-boosting properties due to its high vitamin C content.
- It can easily be made in your own kitchen. With this easy-to-follow cucumber kimchi recipe, you now have the power to make delicious kimchi at home!
- If you have tried this cucumber kimchi recipe, we would love to know how it turned out in the comments - let us know your experience! Happy kimchi-making!
Cucumber Kimchi Recipe
- 1 large English cucumber cut into slices lengthwise
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tablespoons gochugaru red chili pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- scallions to garnish (optional)
- Start by mixing the garlic, chili pepper flakes, sugar, and salt in a bowl until combined.
- Then add the fish sauce in slowly while continuing to mix together.
- Next up is adding the cucumber slices - slightly coat each slice with the chili pepper mixture before adding them into a jar containing the remainder of the sauce.
- Pack the slices together nicely and close up the lid of your jar tightly before leaving it at room temperature for 24 hours - this is when all those spicy flavors come alive!
- After 24 hours have passed - it's ready to be served!
- Top off with some scallions and enjoy your homemade Cucumber Kimchi Recipe with friends and family.
- When making a cucumber kimchi recipe, make sure to select the freshest cucumbers possible.
- Look for cucumbers that are firm and have intact skins with no blemishes or soft spots.
- To create a deeper flavor, you can also add some chopped onion and crushed garlic to the chili pepper mixture before adding it to the cucumber slices.