Kimchi is a staple Korean dish, made from fermented and salted vegetables, that is fast gaining popularity in the West thanks to the current craze for all things probiotic. Traditionally served as a side dish, or added to soups, kimchi is a delicious way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet while also giving yourself a dose of ‘good’ bacteria to maintain a healthy gut.
There are hundreds of different varieties of kimchi, but it is usually made using napa cabbage (known as baechu kimchi, or pogi kimchi) and Korean radish, and can be seasoned using gochugaru chili flakes, scallions, garlic, ginger, and jeotgal fish sauce. This flavourful Korean favourite is packed with vitamins and minerals, and because it’s fermented, it’s also full of healthy probiotic bacteria, including the Lactobacillus bacterium, which is thought to have antioxidant and immune-boosting effects.
Kimchi may be available to buy from Asian markets, restaurants or sushi bars, and thanks to its growing popularity, many grocery stores now stock it too. But it is also a simple and fun dish to make at home, and because there are so many varieties, you can adapt the recipe until it’s exactly how you like it. Use our easy kimchi recipe as a guide, and experiment with your favourite ingredients and different levels of seasoning to find out what works for you.
What Does Kimchi Taste Like?
Kimchi is an intense flavour, made up of a powerful combination of the umami, the spicy, the salty and the sour. It tastes a little like sauerkraut, which is also made from fermented cabbage, but with distinctive Korean additions like jeotgal fish sauce, ginger and gochugaru chilli. The exact flavour will vary according to the vegetables used, the amount of seasoning, and how long it has been fermented, with longer fermentation times increasing the tangy sourness of the dish.
Kimchi is typically a fairly spicy dish, but there are so many varieties that you can usually find something a little milder if spicy food isn’t your thing. If you’re making your own kimchi, you can add as little or as much chilli as you want. The beauty of making kimchi at home is that you can tailor it to your own palate - if you want it saltier, add more salt, if you want more umami, add a little extra jeotgal - until you get it just right.
How to Eat Kimchi
You can eat kimchi by itself - it’s certainly flavourful enough to make a meal in it’s own right - but it can also be used as an ingredient, adding that unique, tangy, spicy flavour to a whole range of dishes. In Korean cuisine, it can be used in fried rice, soup, noodles and dumplings, or to stuff savoury pancakes and summer rolls. Try adding some to a traditional jjigae stew with some silken tofu and scallions, or to a bowl of bibimbap. Although originating from Japan, ramen is also a popular dish in Korea, and tastes great served with kimchi and hard boiled eggs.
Because it keeps for a long time, kimchi is one of those ingredients that always seems to be at hand even when there isn’t much else in the fridge. Luckily, it seems to go with pretty much anything, so you can have fun experimenting with different flavour combinations. Try using kimchi as a pizza topping, or to add depth of flavour to salads and roasted vegetables. It also works great as a burger topping, or blitzed in a blender to make the perfect glaze for grilled meat.
Is Kimchi Vegetarian or Vegan?
An intensely-flavoured ingredient made predominantly from vegetables, kimchi may seem like the perfect meat substitute for vegetarians and vegans. Sadly, however, the jeotgal fish sauce means that traditional kimchi isn’t suitable for anyone following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet, although it should be fine for pescatarians.
You can make vegan kimchi simply by leaving out the jeotgal, but as this is largely responsible for kimchi’s umami flavour, it is better to find a vegan replacement. Kelp powder mixed with water works well, as does soy sauce, particularly tamari, which has a stronger umami flavour than regular soy sauce. You can even buy a vegan fish sauce substitute, which is made using shiitake mushrooms and soy sauce.And if you don’t have the time to make your own, there are also several vegan kimchi products available to buy ready made in stores.
Similar Kimchi Recipe
If you love the flavours of kimchi, take a look at our recipe for nabak kimchi, where all the ingredients that go into kimchi are used to make a flavourful, spicy soup. Nabak kimchi is a light dish, traditionally eaten in the spring and summer months, and it works great as an appetiser at dinner parties. This recipe uses soy sauce instead of jeotgal, so your vegetarian and vegan guests can enjoy it too.