How to Make Easy Kimchi at Home
Why buy Kimchi when you can easily make a batch of do-it-yourself kimchi from home, packed with probiotic goodness! Interested in finding out how? Then read on!
Kimchi is a fermented food originating from Korea where it is the national dish. Made largely from eastern varieties of cabbage and radishes, over 187 historic varieties have been documented. Traditional kimchi recipes were governed by factors such as the seasons, available spices, and what vegetables were in abundance and needed to be preserved.
Kimchi is another traditional method of making fermented vegetables (cabbage), similar to Sauerkraut but with a different set of ingredients. It’s more complex than sauerkraut in taste with sour, sweet, and spicy tones all combining into something special. Kimchi is extremely healthy, providing you with a major dose of probiotics.
The Kimchi History
Kimchi’s practical function in Korea was to preserve vegetables that were grown in the summer, into a dish which could be eaten all through winter to supplement diets.
Nowadays ready-made kimchi can be purchased anywhere in Korea, and also in many places throughout the West. However older people and those who live in the rural areas still practice large scale kimchi making at the end of autumn when the cabbage stems are at their sweetest for the best tasting kimchi.
In earlier Korean times, kimchi making was something of a secret process to each family, with the mothers passing down the family recipe to their daughters, who would then carry it into their marriage as a type of culinary asset.
Modern Day Kimchi
Kimchi making in modern times is a little different. With the advent of the internet and its myriad of recipe sites and blogs, kimchi making is open to any one! With increased varieties of vegetables, spices and other ingredients available to the average person, there are lots of recipes which differ to the strictly traditional Korean varieties. While this might seem like a diluting of the original kimchi characteristics, traditional kimchi underwent just such a change in the 1500’s when chili was first introduced to Korea.
In premodern times kimchi was stored in clay jars and buried under the ground to keep it a low temperature for a very slow fermentation process. Nowadays many families in Korea have special fridges designated for their kimchi storage, set at just the right temperature.
Health Benefits of Kimchi
As a fermented food, kimchi is a natural probitotic which also contains the nutritional benefits of the vegetables and spices of which it is made. Here are some quick kimchi health facts:
As a natural probiotic, kimchi contains an array of beneficial bacteria which have some definite health impacts. These include:
- Re balancing of the internal flora of the digestive tract
- Heightened nutrient absorption
- Better waste and toxin elimination
- Overall boost of health and vitality due to the absorption of more vitamins, minerals and other vital nutrients
Read our article about the health benefits of fermented foods.
Vitamin C content
Fermented kimchi is also high in vitamin C. One serving (100 grams) can contain up to 50% of one’s daily requirement. Vitamin C is vital for:
- Warding off colds
- Strengthening the immune system
- Maintaining elasticity of the skin
- Healing wounds
- Staving off cancerous cells
Kimchi is also rich in carotene. As with vitamin C, one serving of kimchi can provide up to 50% of one’s daily requirement. Carotene is an important nutrient for the body, whose levels can be low if one’s diet consists of mainly starch and protein. Carotene is converted in the body into vitamin A, which is important for:
- Healthy skin and mucus membranes
- A strong immune system
- Maintenance of eye health
A backbone ingredient of kimchi, garlic’s potency brings with it health benefits such as:
- Improved immunity to cold and flu’s
- Better bone health
- Assistance in eliminating heavy metals
- Normalization of blood pressure
- Improved cholesterol levels
Chilies, another staple ingredient of kimchi, have been getting a lot attention for the following health benefits:
- Improved blood circulation
- Improved heart health
- Cleansing of arteries
- Metabolism booster
- Assistance in digestion and thorough elimination
Part of the reason why Koreans have elevated kimchi to the status of national dish is due to the belief that it is a powerful health aid and tonic. As you can see, this is more than backed up by the nutritional facts!
Which Way Should I Make Kimchi
Seeing as there are 187 documented traditional recipes, and countless newer renditions, tweaks and new ingredients – you might have problems figuring out where you should start.
Fear not — we’ll give you the basic, yet delicious recipe that you will deliver everything you expect from a good Kimchi. You can afterwards experiment with other variations!
The General Process
Although the different variations of kimchi seem to be endless – the basic process of making it is pretty much the same. Fermentation time varies widely from one recipe to another. Traditional kimchi was allowed to ferment at low temperatures for a number of months. Most modern recipes call for shorter fermentation time, some as short as two days.
However, the underlying method of fermentation is the same. This consists of, in very short, soaking the cabbage in salt water, mixing it with a spicy sauce and any other ingredients, packing into a vessel with a small amount of brine, and allowing it to ferment.
While the range of ingredients which is being incorporated into kimchi is increasing, there are the standard traditional Korean style vegetables such as napa cabbage, pakchoi and bokchoi, and white radish. Cucumber is also a traditional ingredient, though not as widely used as cabbage. By sticking to the traditional ingredients you can rely on a more true to type result in your kimchi. If however you wish to add in something which you have readily available and want to make use of – or an ingredient which you feel will create a great flavor profile – go ahead.
Remember, kimchi was without pepper until chilies were introduced to Asia, when it was in many regions changed for good into a spicier version of its older counterpart. While adding herbs (or some other unusual ingredient) to your kimchi might be less momentous than chilies coming to Asia, you may still be playing a part in how kimchi is evolving today!
Below we are going to outline a basic recipe for kimchi, using simple ingredients.
If you would like to play with the ingredients a little, or fermentation time, by all means do so, especially if you are a seasoned fermentation fundi. If however you have not done fermenting before, and just want some good old kimchi from your own kitchen – then stick to the basic recipe for your first batch, and make adjustments from there.
How to Make Kimchi for Beginners
Welcome to our basic recipe for kimchi! Here we are going to be using the traditional Eastern vegetables, fish sauce for the ‘umami’ flavor, and a middle-of -the range fermentation time.
Before we start – here are a couple of points to consider:
Starter – If you can get your hands on some good quality kimchi from the shop, or from someone who makes it, you can add in a small amount of the already made, fermented, kimchi. This will inject the ferment with the lacto acid bacteria (LAB) and assist in the fermentation. Having this small quantity of ‘starter’ is not crucial though, you can get great fermentation results without it as well.
No chorine – Please note that you must not use chlorinated tap water in the recipe. The chlorine has the potential to render the ferment bacteria-less, which can cause the batch to not ferment properly, especially if you are not using the ‘starter’ mentioned above.
Glass or stoneware jars – we recommend use use glass jars or stoneware fermentation crocks for the fermentation. Both of these are ideally suited for fermenting vegetables and won’t interact with the fermentation (or leak unwanted materials into the ferment). Even better, these containers (unlike stainless steel and plastic) won’t affect the flavor.
Use Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt – avoid regular table salt or any ionized salt. For best fermentation results and flavor, use a very high quality salt. We recommend sea salt (celtic sea salt particularly) or Himalayan rock salt, though if you need to save money, sea salt will do (no iodine in it).
Bail wire jars – Due to the pressure which can build up in your bottles of kimchi the best ‘basic’ type of jar to use is a bail wire jar, if you opt to seal your fermentation. The rubber seal and clamp down lid will help to minimize any chances of your ferment exploding on you. As exploding glass jars can not only be very messy, but also incredibly dangerous, having a wire bail jar which minimizes this is really great. If however you are going to be using a mason jar, you MUST burp the jar to allow pressure to dissipate.
Use an Airlock Jar – Using an airlock jar is optional, yet highly recommended as this prevents any mold buildup on the surface of the kimchi where the vegetables contact the air. We highly recommend this for all fermented vegetable making as it simplifies the process of sealing and fermenting. An airlock jar, however is optional.
Recommended Containers for Fermenting Kimchbi
Note on temperatures and burping:
As a general rule of thumb, the warmer it is, the quicker fermentation will take place and the faster pressure will build up. If the temperatures are very warm where you are and at the time of year when you are making kimchi, then for safety you should burp your ferment once during the fermentation outside of the fridge as well as just before you put it into the fridge – particularly if you are using a mason jar. If you are very concerned about explosion risks, and you are using a mason jar, you can also just screw the lid on loosely so that the ferment can burp itself.
Equipment you will need
- Fermentation Vessel (Swing Top Jar, Fermentation Crock, or Airlock Jar)
- Kitchen knife
- Kitchen spoon
- Small mixing bowl
- Large mixing bowl
- Food prep gloves or household rubber gloves
- Strainer or colander
- Chopping board
- 5 quart mason jar with lid, or bail wire jar
- Cabbage Shredder (optional: makes dicing up cabbage trivially easy if you want thin over chucky)
- Garlic crusher (optional)
- Grater (optional)
- Cabage Tamper (optional: makes compacting veggies into jar easy)
- 1 large head of napa cabbage – if this is unavailable, you can also use pakchoi or bokchoi
- 1 daikon radish (also known as white radish)
- 3 bunches of red radishes (you can change this to 1 more daikon radish if desired)
- 1 bunch scallions (also known as green onions)
- 1 tablespoon worth of fresh ginger
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 2-5 tablespoons course Korean red pepper flakes (can be substituted for cayenne pepper flakes)
- 1 teaspoon white sugar
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 8 – 10 cups of filter or distilled water
- 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon sea salt
Assemble all of your ingredients and do the following:
Step 1: Mix water and salt
Mix the water (6-8 cups) and ¼ cup salt until dissolved in your large mixing bowl. Chop cabbage into strips (thickness of your choice) and place into the salt water. Agitate the cabbage to make sure that the salt is getting into all the folds.
Step 2: Soak cabbage in salt water
Let the cabbage sit in the salt water for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. Shortly before you want to take the cabbage out, do the following:
Step 3: Crush garlic
Put the garlic through the garlic crusher. You can adjust the quantities to your liking.
Step 4: Grate the ginger
If you do not have a grater or a garlic crusher you can dice the garlic and ginger finely with a knife.
Step 5: Chop scallions
Chop the scallions into 1 inch segments, topping the ends and bottoms.
Step 6: Trim the radishes and dice into matchstick style pieces.
Step 7: Rinse and drain cabbage.
Once you have prepped the above ingredients, remove the cabbage from the salt water and place in a colander or large sieve. Pour out the salt water from your large bowl and fill the bowl with enough distilled water to rinse the cabbage leaves in. Place the colander into the bowl and rinse the leaves. Take the colander out and let drain over the sink.
Step 8: Make a paste
Now combine pepper flakes, sugar, fish sauce and mix. Add 1 tablespoon of filtered water and the garlic and ginger. Stir until the ingredients form a thick paste.
Step 9: Mix it all up
Now combine the paste you have made along with the cabbage from the colander and the chopped scallions and radishes, in the large bowl in which you soaked the cabbage. Fold the combo until it is evenly mixed and the paste is distributed over all the vegetables. It is highly recommended that you use gloves at this point, due to the chili!
Step 10: Make a little brine
Pour two cups of distilled water into the small mixing bowl, add a tablespoon of salt and stir until dissolved.
Step 11: Pack the jar
Pack the kimchi ingredients into your jar leaving a one inch space between the top of the contents and the lid. Once packed, pour just enough salt water over the mixture to just cover it. If you have packed the ingredients in firmly enough, you should not have to use much brine.
Step 12: Seal Up!
Seal up the jar (either completely or partially) and let it sit out of direct sunlight in a cool-ish spot for 48 hours. After the 48 hours are up, ‘burp’ the jar to release pressure from the fermentation and place your kimchi in the fridge. You can eat it right away, but a longer ferment can result in better flavors. You can let it ferment slowly in the fridge for anything from one week to a month. If you are going to leave it for more than a week, you might want to burp the jar every so often.
And there you go. If your ferment is successful, once you sample it you will most probably be as crazy as a Korean about kimchi!
On an eating note, kimchi can be enjoyed on its own, used in soups and stews, combined with barbecued meat, eaten on bread…. In this case the fermented cabbage is your oyster: ).
Final Word on Kimchi Making
Now that you have made your kimchi, you are probably getting excited to start another batch at some point. If you had any problems with your first batch, make sure that you were using distilled water. If you did so and you still think that fermentation did not take place as it should, you can also try incorporating starter kimchi into your next batch if you did not do so in the first one.
If you found that the kimchi you made was slightly sour for your liking, you can try stopping the ferment a little earlier next time. The longer fermentation goes on for, the more sour the ferment will become. If you thought that it should have been more tart and did not taste pickled enough for you, then do the opposite and allow the ferment to continue in the fridge for a bit longer.