What is kimchi?

Kimchi is a Korean family of well over 100 different vegetable pickles eaten as a side dish, a wrap and as a condiment. It is the most famous Korean dish, made and eaten in both North and South Korea, and increasingly popular in the West.

Each kimchi pickle is produced by lactic fermentation in brine in the same way as sauerkraut and pickled cucumber. By far the most popular and the best-known kimchi in the West is pickled cabbage and the Korean version is identified by the common addition of fish sauce (made from fermented shrimp and other fish) or dried shrimps, both of which give an extra characteristic smell and taste that is addictive to some, abhorrent to others. Since the 16th century kimchi has also included chillies introduced from South America, sometimes in fiery amounts, but this is not essential. Ginger root, daikon radish, carrot, garlic, herbs and spices might also be added.

Kimchi is proven to have nutritional benefits. Read our guide on the health benefits of kimchi.

How to make kimchi

Kimchi is commonly sliced and added to soups and hotpots or chopped to be stirred through rice. A whole leaf can be used as a wrap for meat, fish or shellfish. Most often it is sliced and enjoyed as a piquant side dish.

If you make your own cabbage kimchi, choose recipes that use quartered or large pieces of cabbage rather than slices, as these give more predictable results. The correct cabbage is the napa variety, commonly known as Chinese cabbage; it’s a pale, tightly packed long shape with wide white stems, and it’s this variety that brings such broad nutrition to kimchi.

A two-week fermentation is considered a minimum and retains some of the freshness of the cabbage – but it can be eaten when months old.

See our quick kimchi recipe.

How to store kimchi

Kimchi must be kept cool, which is why it is traditionally made in late autumn or in winter. Provided it is made, bought and stored with care, kimchi will last a long time, although there will be an increase in flavours and smells.

Where to buy kimchi

Increasingly available in Asian supermarkets and online.

Choose the best kimchi

This is strictly according to personal taste, based on ingredients and length of fermentation. A small degree of fuzzy white mould is associated with the fermentation process and not harmful but if mould persists and is excessive and discoloured, accompanied by a strong, unpleasant smell, it is likely something’s wrong. Fermented food is generally very safe but, if in doubt, throw it out.