If you're a fan of Korean food, you've probably heard of kimchi, but what exactly is it? The word itself roughly translates to "salting vegetables." Kimchi is a staple side dish in Korean cuisine that consists of fermented vegetables. The most common vegetables you'll find in kimchi are cabbage and radishes. Salt, garlic, ginger, peppers, and chili powder are also common kimchi ingredients, which give the dish a sour, tangy, and sometimes spicy flavor.
Though it may seem like kimchi has only recently become a trendy food in the United States over the last few years, it's been around for centuries. As the national food of both North and South Korea, historians trace back the origins of the dish all the way back to 37 BCE-7CE. One major difference between kimchi back then and now is the use of chili peppers. It is believed that Koreans didn't start adding chili powder to their kimchi until the 1600s when the Portuguese introduced chili peppers to Korea for trading.
The 1988 Olympics in Seoul marked one of the first times kimchi was introduced to westerners. Organizers of the Summer Games were nervous that athletes and spectators would be turned off by how popular the dish is (not to mention it's pungent odor). However, kimchi became a hit with visitors and has since slowly became a favorite amongst foodies all over the globe.
There are officially over 200 different variations of kimchi, which is pretty insane! Originally, kimchi only had two ingredients: salt and cabbage. However, people started adding in more ingredients over time, like fish paste, garlic, and other vegetables like radishes. Here's a few more common types of kimchi you may come across in your exploration of Korean cuisine:
Whole cabbage kimchi is probably the most common type of kimchi you'll find. For this version, cabbage is trimmed, sliced into four pieces, and then brined. The finished product will have big chunks of cabbage. Perhaps one of the reasons why whole cabbage kimchi is so popular is because it has much milder flavor than other kimchi variants.
Kkakdugi kimchi is another common type, but instead of cabbage, it's made of out of white radish cubes. This version is also topped off with fine red chili powder. Don't let the red chili powder intimidate you though; kkakdugi kimchi is still fairly mild.
Green water kimchi, aka Yeolmu-kimchi, is a lot like kkakdugi kimchi, except it is made with both green and red chili peppers. It also a bit spicier.
Ponytail kimchi, or Chonggak kimchi, is the spiciest kimchi of them all. It's made with whole radishes, ginger, garlic, and spicy red pepper powder.
Even if you don't eat Korean food very often, there are plenty of reasons why you should add kimchi to your diet. First of all, kimchi is a probiotic, so it can aid gut health and help with digestion. Kimchi contains way more healthy bacteria than yogurt, making it good probiotic source for people who are lactose intolerant. It can also help stop and prevent yeast infections. Plus the fermentation process allows ingredients like garlic, chili powder, and ginger to provide anti-cancer and anti-obesity properties, cholesterol reduction, brain health promotion, immune promotion, and skin health promotion. Kimchi is also full of antioxidants and vitamins A, B, and C, which can help prevent heart disease and diabetes.
No wonder Health Magazine named kimchi one of the "World's Healthiest Foods!"
Making kimchi requires some patience - the process can take a couple of weeks - but the final product is so worth it. This simple recipe is a good place to start if you're making kimchi for the first time:
In Korea, kimchi is an extremely versatile food. It can be served as a side dish with rice, noodles, and soup or it can be served as a main dish. Kimchi is also commonly served in stews with a variety of meat and vegetables. However, you don't have to feel so limited to eating kimchi with Korean food. If you're a more daring foodie, perhaps you'll like kimchi on your next plate of nachos or in a grilled cheese. Here's some of our favorite recipes:
The sky's the limit when it comes to kimchi!