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“The only bad Kimchi is no Kimchi ”
It’s a simple known fact that we Koreans love our kimchi. Period.
Kimchi has played an integral part in not just Korean cuisine, but in Korean culture and even identity throughout history! The vibrant, fiery red color and spicy, savory flavors of traditional Korean Baekchu kimchi reflect the essence of the Korean spirit.
Kimchi can be defined as Korean vegetable dishes that have been salted, seasoned, brined, and fermented. Thanks to traditional Korean fermenting techniques, kimchi is full of healthy probiotics and is rapidly gaining global popularity as a delicious and healthy Korean delicacy. However, the world of Kimchi runs much deeper than a trendy food.
With deep roots in Korean history, Kimchi has evolved into hundreds of different variations with a huge range of depth and flavors.
The history of kimchi actually originates from ancient China around 50 BC and its name is derived from the Chinese characters for “salted vegetables”. It was then passed to the Korean Peninsula where the Korean people began developing it to what eventually became kimchi as we know today! Even the Chinese began to notice and acknowledge the skill of the Korean people in fermenting foods.
Back in its history, Korea was considered a poor farming country with the locals living off the land before Korea’s industrialization after WWII. Without modern refrigerators to rely on, Koreans mastered spicing, fermenting, and pickling local ingredients to preserve the little food they had. Over thousands of years, these techniques built the backbone for all kinds of Korean kimchi. It was a smart, practical, and effective way to story up seasonal vegetables for Korea’s brutally cold and harsh winters.
Different types of kimchi are heavily influenced by the natural seasonal changes in Korea. The classic Baechu kimchi,made from napa cabbage, comes into season during the fall/winter and is among the last to be harvested before the winter freeze.
Many Koreans remember helping their whole neighborhoods make kimchi for the winter in a special ritual known as Kimjang. Kimjang is a time-honored tradition in Korean communities and culture.
The base of traditional Korean kimchi starts with the proper brining of native Korean ingredients. Brining protects the vegetables from harmful microorganisms and provides an environment that fosters the growth of good lactobacillus bacteria. These friendly bacteria work their magic by converting the natural sugars within the vegetables into lactic acid which not only helps preserve the kimchi but builds its distinctive flavor. The salt in the brine also actively opens the “pores” of the vegetables to absorb seasoning and flavor.
The seasoning varies from family to family, but the main ingredients usually include garlic, Korean red pepper, ginger, and some form of salt, whether it be from coarse Korean sea salt, salted seafood, or anchovy fish sauce. After the brine, the kimchi vegetables are coated in seasoning paste or submerged in a seasoned solution before being left to ferment.
Fermentation is essentially the process of enzymes breaking down ingredients to more concentrated forms. The kimchi is stored in airtight containers to prevent contamination during fermentation.Kimchi is traditionally stored in special, airtight urns called Oongi, which help prevent harmful airborne microorganisms from entering. The oongi are buried underground to rest in a cool environment as the Korean winter begins. Nowadays refrigerators or special “kimchi” refrigerators are used in fermenting kimchi. However, the principles remain the same: the control of temperature and time results in developing the true, distinctive flavors of each kimchi ingredient. Higher temperatures result in faster fermentation.
Kinds of Kimchi
Every Korean mother has her own unique interpretation of what goes into their kimchi. Over time, hundreds of variations of kimchi have been created, so much so that Korea even has a museum dedicated to showcasing Kimchi!
Kimchi is highly influenced by the seasons as the weather and climate dictate the temperature of the soil as well as the flavor and texture of the ingredients. Kimchi made during the fall and winter is fermented through the winter while spring and summer kimchis are lighter and require only a few hours of fermentation. Some of these lighter kimchis include:
- Baek Kimchi or White Kimchi is basically kimchi without the iconic gochugaru (Korean red chili flakes). White kimchi has a bright, clean, and refreshing flavor with the traditional crunchy kimchi texture that pairs perfectly with all kinds of Korean dishes! It cuts through smokey, heavy flavors like KBBQ as well as hearty, spicy stews.
- Mul Kimchi or Water Kimchi is a truly unique twist on Korean kimchi as it’s mostly known for its liquid flavors. Water kimchi typically resembles a cold type of soup with thinly sliced or whole vegetables such as radish and scallions, as well as native Korean fruits such as Korean pear. All of these vibrant ingredients are fermented in a briny broth that brings out their unique flavors.
Of course, the classic kimchis served during the winter make up some of the most widely recognized types of kimchi including:
- Baechu Kimchi or Cabbage Kimchi features whole napa cabbage and has a delicious spicy flavor and crunch. This iconic Korean staple is made with Korean red chili flakes, fish sauce or salted shrimp, garlic, and other various ingredients according to the personal recipe of the chef!
- Kkaktoogi or Cubed Radish Kimchi is made with Korean radish known for its delicious flavor and wonderful crunchy texture!
- Chonggak-kimchi or Korean ponytail radish kimchi is named for its distinctive look and delicious flavor. Its made from Korean chonggak radish, a smaller version of Korean white radish with a distinctive long leafy stem. Chonggak kimchi is known for a firmer and crunchier texture compared to larger types of white radishes.
Seoul Mills features the Pyeongchang Kotsooni Kimchi collection that includes many of the kimchi variations made with 100% Korean, high-quality, healthy, and all-natural domestic Korean ingredients. Freshly cleaned and inspected whole Napa cabbage from Gangwon-do is mixed with high-potassium kimchi seasoning to achieve it’s distinctive spicy, savory flavor and satisfying crunch. It contains less salted fish sauce to lower the high sodium content of regular kimchi. Gangwon-do’s fresh, cold climate and clean air are famous for producing some of Korea’s best kimchi! Gangwon-do napa cabbage undergoes a thorough, HACCP-certified hygienic and systematic manufacturing process to ensure top quality and safety to consumers.