Kimchi, a staple of Korean households for generations, has gained superstar status in the kitchen, and it’s easy to see why. With a complex flavor and a variety of uses, kimchi's appeal is broad and deep. Made from vegetables, garlic, ginger, and fish sauce, it hits a range of flavors—sweet, sour, and spicy—and works as a condiment, an ingredient, a dip, and a side dish all on its own.
What Is Kimchi?
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish whose components can vary but usually include some combination of vegetables, garlic, ginger, chili peppers, salt, and fish sauce. The mix is pickled and fermented, which was originally a way to preserve the vegetables for the winter months. Cabbage is the most common vegetable used to make kimchi although carrots, radish, cucumber, and scallions are also frequently used, too. There are hundreds of kimchi recipes that vary depending on the region and season in which they are produced, and it's very easy to make it a vegan dish by keeping all the ingredients plant-based.
Kimchi is available commercially and isn't expensive, but it can be fun to put together your own based on preferences. It can take a little bit of time to prepare the vegetables, but like other fermented foods (e.g., bread, beer, and kombucha), it's mostly a hands-off experience. It will develop its flavors and its nutritional profile during that process. Kimchi keeps for a while, making it an economical, versatile, and easy-to-prepare food item to have in the fridge.
In Korean culture, kimchi is served with almost every meal, including breakfast. Not only is kimchi eaten by itself as a side dish or appetizer but it is also used as an ingredient in a variety of dishes. Kimchi jjigae, a traditional stew made with kimchi, is perhaps one of its most popular uses. The fermented food is also used to flavor fried rice, stir-fry dishes, noodles, sandwiches, and even pizza.
What Does It Taste Like?
Kimchi’s flavor is complex and varies widely depending on the recipe. The main flavor notes you’ll find in kimchi include sour, spicy, and umami. The flavor will also vary depending on the vegetables you choose, the length of fermentation, and the amount of salt or sugar used.
Because kimchi is a fermented dish, its most prominent flavor is typically sour. Lactic acid produced by bacteria during fermentation creates a tangy, pungent flavor similar to that of sauerkraut. The garlic, if present in kimchi, intensifies in taste during fermentation. Kimchi can also be spicy, depending on how much pepper is used and what kind, and may have ingredients such as fish paste, fish sauce, or anchovies; anything fish oriented will give it a strong umami note. Kimchi made without fish will have a lighter, fresher taste, especially if it's made with radishes or cucumbers.