Kimchi is a staple in Korean cuisine. Kimchi has become popular even to non-Koreans because of the Korean diaspora and the emergence of Korean restaurants all over the world, introducing Korean cuisine – kimchi, specifically – to a global audience.
But what is kimchi? It is the national dish of both South Korea and North Korea. Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish. It is made of salted and fermented vegetables. Napa cabbage and Korean radish are commonly used in making traditional kimchi.
- They used to call kimchi timchai which translates to “submerged vegetable”.
- Buddhism has a role in promoting kimchi. They promoted a vegetarian way of life and one of the ways they preserved food is by making kimchi.
- Some of the earliest versions of kimchi are not spicy. They did not use garlic or chili pepper to make kimchi.
- Kimchi was one of the select few foods that have the distinction of being sent to space via the Soyuz TMA-12. It fed South Korean astronaut Yi So-yeon.
- Kimchi Research Institute in Busan was awarded a grant to develop anti-aging kimchi, anti-cancer kimchi, and anti-obesity kimchi.
Kimchi Buying Guide
There are a lot of kimchi products with labels written in both Korean and English. This is good because you can read and understand the information you should be aware of. It is not ideal to buy kimchi sold in packaging with a label written in Korean if you cannot read Korean. Read the label and if there are several choices available to you, pick the healthier option. Many kimchi products sold in the market contain food additives and preservatives, so choose those that are naturally fermented, non-GMO kimchi with no additives and preservatives.
Even though this is Korean food, you can buy kimchi in major groceries and supermarkets in the US. For more choices, visit the nearest Koreatown in your area, or head to the nearest Korean cuisine restaurant. Your last option is ordering this online. You can also buy kimchi during events like the Annual Korean Festival and similar events that showcase Korean cuisine and delicacies. You may also want to visit your local farmers market since small local businesses selling preserved and fermented food make and sell kimchi too, like the San Antonio-based family-owned company Happy Guts Food.
Kimchi Production & Farming in Texas
Kimchi, Korean food, and Korean restaurants have become ubiquitous in Texas because of the growing Korean population in the state and because of the growing popularity of Korean culture (K-pop, Korean drama, etc). In the entire state of Texas, Dallas is where you will find the largest Korean-American community. There is a Koreatown in Carrolton, Texas. It is no wonder kimchi and Korean food is becoming popular among non-Koreans.
The kimchi landscape in Texas is a combination of commercially-produced kimchi and homemade, artisanal, small-batch kimchi produced by small, local businesses. Kimchi is produced not only by Korean-Americans living here in Texas, but non-Koreans who developed an appreciation and passion for kimchi and other similar preserved food are selling their homemade products in farmers markets too.
This is made possible by the availability of major ingredients. There are a lot of options when it comes to what to use as the main ingredient in making kimchi and many of these are available here in Texas. Cabbages and radishes are two of the most common choices for the main ingredient of kimchi. For cabbage, most prefer napa cabbages, bomdong, or headed cabbages. If they are using radish, they prefer Korean radishes, ponytail radishes, gegeol radishes, or yeolmu radishes. If none of these are unavailable or you want to try something new, you may want to consider these options: aster, balloon flower roots, burdock roots, celery, chamnamul, cilantro, cress, crown daisy greens, cucumber, eggplant, garlic chives, garlic scapes, ginger, Korean angelica-tree shoots, Korean parsley, Korean wild chive, lotus roots, mustard greens, onions, perilla leaves, bamboo shoot, momordica charantia, pumpkins, radish greens, rapeseed leaves, scallions, soybean sprouts, spinach, sugar beets, sweet potato vines, or tomatoes.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals:
Food additives and preservatives are found in kimchi. Literature that discusses the health risks related to eating too much kimchi attributes the health risks to the food additives and preservatives found in kimchi.
- Synthetic dyes – Enhance the color of the product to the desired orange color of kimchi. Some of the major concerns regarding the use of synthetic dyes are (1) the potential to cause cancer as a result of excessive intake; (2) allergies; (3) asthma; (4) DNA damage, and other disorders.
- Para-hydroxybenzoic acid – Used as a food preservative.
- Saccharin – used as an artificial sweetener.
- Dulcin – Used as an artificial sweetener.
- Sucralose – Used as an artificial sweetener.
- Acesulfame K – Used as an artificial sweetener.
Kimchi is sold in different kinds of packaging. If you go to the grocery or supermarket, you will find kimchi sold in sealed or resealable plastic packs in the frozen section. If you go around, you’ll also see kimchi products in plastic and glass bottles. And because it is sold as ready-to-eat food, you can also find canned kimchi sold in groceries, supermarkets, and online. The packaging of most kimchi products sold in the US has English directions on how to prepare and how to eat, when is the expiration day, what are the ingredients of the product, etc.
How do you eat kimchi? Kimchi is a side dish, which means you eat kimchi along with other dishes like grilled meat. It is tasty and flavorful, allowing it to complement other food. The flavor of kimchi is enhanced by the use of different seasonings like chili powder or gochugaru, spring onions, garlic, ginger, and salted seafood or jeotgal.
One of the challenges of eating kimchi especially for first-timers is being able to handle the smell. Kimchi has a pungent smell that some people may find unappetizing at first. Canned kimchi may also contain non-vegetable ingredients like shrimp and anchovies and these may not be compatible with your health condition (allergies), so read the label before eating.
While kimchi is the type of food Koreans (and lovers of kimchi) eat every day and that has nutritional and health benefits, some experts pointed out the potential for serious health risks associated with eating kimchi. A 2005 study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology explained the relationship between kimchi and gastric cancer, which is the most common cancer among Koreans. Dieticians raise the alarm regarding the high sodium content of kimchi and what short-term and long-term health problems would result from this, especially those at risk or currently suffering from IBS, high blood pressure, stroke, or heart disease.
An important component in making kimchi is storage. Before there were refrigerators, Koreans used in-ground storage and earthenware because, during winter, kimchi does not freeze while in the summer, the fermentation of kimchi slows down. Refrigerators made it easier in modern times to store kimchi and keep it safe and ok for eating.
When storing homemade kimchi, it is important to follow proper sterilization strictly to prevent the unwanted growth of E. coli, Salmonella, and other pathogens that could cause food poisoning.
When you open a bottle or can or a container of kimchi and leave it at room temperature, it will remain good to eat for a week at the most. If you want to keep your kimchi fresh and of good quality, store it in the refrigerator. The ideal temperature for storing kimchi is 39°F (4°C) or lower. If kept at a warm temperature, kimchi will spoil easily.
Make your own homemade cabbage kimchi
If you like kimchi, you should try making your own homemade version of this Korean food. You can make a healthier version with less sodium. Homemade kimchi also means the food has no synthetic dye. If you have family or friends coming over who love kimchi, they will surely enjoy this. And even if they do not eat kimchi, I’m sure those curious to know how it tastes wouldn’t mind taking a bite knowing you made this yourself.
This recipe yields 1 quart
- Napa cabbage, 2 pounds
- Salt, 1/4 cup
- Garlic, 6 cloves (grated)
- Fresh ginger, 1 teaspoon (peeled and grated)
- Granulated sugar, 1 teaspoon
- Fish sauce, 2 tablespoon
- Shrimp paste, 2 tablespoon
- Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru), 5 tablespoons
- Korean radish 8 ounces, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- Scallions, 4 medium scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
Step 1. Cut the cabbage lengthwise through the stem into quarters, and each quarter crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips. Remove the core.
Step 2. Place the cabbage in a bowl. Massage the salt into the cabbage until the cabbage starts to soften.
Step 3. Add water. Make sure there is enough water to cover the cabbage.
Step 4. Put a plate on top of the cabbage. Weigh it down with something heavy so that it remains pressed. Leave it like this for 2 hours.
Step 5. Drain and rinse the cabbage three times. Use cold water. Place the cabbage in a colander to completely drain. This usually takes 20 minutes.
Step 6. In a bowl, mix garlic, ginger, sugar, and fish sauce, and shrimp paste until it becomes a smooth paste. Add gochugaru.
Step 7. Put on a pair of gloves and mix the cabbage, paste, radish, and scallions using your hands. Make sure the cabbage is coated well with the paste.
Step 8. Place the kimchi in a jar or glass bottle. Press the contents until the brine is squeezed out, submerging the kimchi inside the jar.
Step 9. Seal the jar and let it ferment for at least 24 hours. Brine may seep out of the lid so place a bowl or a plate under it to collect any overflow. Do not expose this to direct sunlight.
Step 10. Open it once a day so that you can press the cabbage down and keep it submerged under the brine.
Step 11. If you are satisfied with how it tastes, refrigerate it. It is best to leave it there for two weeks before eating it.