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What's the Deal with Kimchi, Anyways?

Created December 19, 2019
You’ve heard of kimchi. Maybe you’ve even tasted it. But you still have questions—what is kimchi’s actual deal?

What’s in Kimchi?

There are all different types of kimchi, but the most widely known and widely available is the cabbage version. It usually includes Napa cabbage, radish, gochugaru (a type of red chili), green onion, garlic, ginger, fish sauce and sugar. The ingredients are salted and fermented, creating the flavorful, funky condiment we all love.

Why We Love It

Kimchi is one of our favorite fermented foods for a few reasons. First, it’s a little bit unexpected. It’s not a pickle, but it’s not fresh veggies either. Kimchi is part condiment, part vegetable side dish. It adds a delightful surprise and a certain je ne sais quoi to a wide variety of dishes.

We also love kimchi because it’s a zero-prep garnish. It’s the secret veggie weapon that we always keep stocked in our fridge. Keeping a jar of crunchy veggies in the fridge means it’s easy to up your veggie intake even if all the fresh produce in your crisper drawer has gone bad. Plus, kimchi is trendy, and who doesn’t want to be in the know? Get on the fermentation trend with ease by adding kimchi to a few of your favorite dishes.

What to Look For

  • Strong flavor: We’ve done our fair share of kimchi taste-testing, and we always rate the strong, complex flavors of traditional kimchi the highest. However, if you’re looking for a milder version or don’t consume fish, vegan kimchi is becoming more widely available, using red miso, MSG, dried mushrooms or soy to imitate the fishy flavor of traditional kimchi.
  • Heat: Sure, you can buy non-spicy kimchi, but that’s kind of missing the point, right?
  • Plenty of liquid: If kimchi is a secret weapon, then the liquid from a kimchi jar is the secret secret weapon. We like to use the liquid from the kimchi in dressings and marinades, so we always opt for brands that contain lots of liquid.
  • Texture: We prefer a crunchier kimchi. Super-fermented kimchis can get quite soft.

What to Make with Kimchi

Korean Shakshuka

Kimchi can be added to a wide variety of savory dishes, but if you’re looking for a jumping off point, we have a few ideas.

How to Use Kimchi in Daily Cooking

You can place sliced kimchi straight from the jar on salads, noodles rice bowls and other savory dishes as-is, or you can butter-fry your kimchi first. Cook your kimchi in butter to caramelize the veggies and take a little of the edge off of the fermented kimchi, then spoon the butter-fried kimchi over anything that needs a crunchy, spicy topping, from eggs to grain bowls to avocado toast. It’s great on pizzas and tacos or stuffed into quesadillas.

Butter-Fried Method

Here’s exactly how we fry our kimchi in butter: in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter; add 1 cup thinly sliced kimchi (drained and patted dry) and cook 3 to 5 minutes, until beginning to brown.

How to Store Kimchi

Be careful when opening a new jar of kimchi. The trapped gases from fermentation can cause the kimchi to bubble up out of the jar upon opening. The safest technique is opening over the sink with a towel handy to catch any spills.

The strong fermented flavors of kimchi also come with what some think is a not-so-pleasant bonus: an odor. If you find it offensive or just don’t want your whole fridge to smell like kimchi, be careful to clean the rim and exterior of the original container before storing. Then tightly seal the container inside a zip-top freezer bag large enough to hold the container.