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What Does Kimchi Taste Like? Learn facts and flavor profile


What is special about kimchi? Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish made of fermented cabbage, radish, and various other vegetables. What does kimchi taste like?

It has a unique flavor that combines salty, sour, spicy, and sweet flavors together to create an unforgettable taste. For those of you who are still in the dark about kimchi, we’re here to help! This article will discuss all you need to know about this well-loved dish.

black bowl served with bright red kimchi.

What Is Kimchi?

This Korean staple is a pickled and fermented mixture of different vegetables. Kimchi is many things. It can be a dip, side dish, and condiment. The recipe is so flexible that you can decide what to put and still get yummy kimchi.

The traditional way of making kimchi starts with salting the cabbage. The next step is making the porridge, which acts as a binder for the ingredients. Then, kimchi makers drain the cabbage and coat it with seasoned porridge. Finally, they store the coated cabbage and leave it to ferment.

Contrary to popular belief, kimchi is not a single dish. Instead, it is more of a processing technique. In fact, there are over 180 varieties of kimchi.

History of Kimchi

Kimchi is a traditional dish in Korea, with over 3,000 years of history under its wing. Koreans invented it to extend the shelf life of vegetables and provide a reliable food supply during winter.

To understand this, you’d have to know that many years ago, refrigeration was not yet a thing back then. To preserve the summer harvest, people used the fermentation process.

Every Korean family has their kimchi recipe. So much so that when a woman marries, the mother-in-law usually teaches her the family recipe. It serves as her welcoming rite.

Kimchi is undeniably a significant part of Korean heritage. Even UNESCO recognized it. The agency inscribed kimchi-making in the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. It’s a compilation of different practices that makes up a place’s cultural heritage.

What Is Kimchi Made Of?

People outside Korea think kimchi is just a dish made by fermenting cabbage. But since kimchi is not a unique dish but a technique, you can make it with almost any vegetable. The only real requirement is that it undergoes the pickling or fermentation process.

Here are the most common ingredients people use in their kimchi recipes.

Vegetables

People use different kinds of vegetables to make kimchi. The most popular recipes use Napa cabbage. But you can also use green cabbage and cucumbers to make this orange-hued dish. Daikon radish kimchi is even a thing!

Mustard leaves, lettuce, kohlrabi, and carrots are also top choices. You can even use green beans, celery, spinach, and green onions. If none of these appeals to you, you can try eggplants, bamboo shoots, or beets.

Some use a single vegetable, while some use a combination of these as the main ingredients.

Spices and Aromatics

Kimchi won’t be complete without herbs and spices.

The most common ones include sugar, salt, garlic, scallions, and gochugaru. Some put fish sauce and anchovies. Ginger is also a popular ingredient.

Most recipes have chili powder or chili flakes that make kimchi spicy. But you should know that the early Koreans did not put chili in their original recipe.

This is because chilis were not yet a thing in Korea back then. Koreans only started adding chilis in the 1600s, when merchants brought them to Korea.

Porridge

People make the porridge component of kimchi using water and glutinous rice flour. They cook this mixture until they get a paste-like consistency. Then, they put in the flavorings.

The seasoned porridge is what coats the cabbage and gives it flavor. It acts as a medium for the ingredients to bind, resulting in thick, chunky kimchi.

What Does Kimchi Taste Like?

The flavor of kimchi is unique. Most recipes tick all the boxes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and spicy. And no, it does not end there – it even has that sought-after umami flavor.

Because of this, kimchi tastes incredibly complex. The most evident taste, though, is sour. This is because of the fermentation process that promotes lactic acid formation.

The taste of kimchi depends mainly on the recipe and the fermentation period. As mentioned, the recipe can vary from family to family and from area to area. And, the longer you leave your kimchi to ferment, the more intense it will taste.

Kimchi also develops an acidic taste due to this process. This flavor gets stronger with time as well.

What Does Kimchi Smell Like?

Like other fermented food, kimchi has a funky smell. It may even have an off-putting scent. Its sour smell lingers. The strong scent of ginger and garlic does not help, either.

Let’s just say that it can stink up your kitchen. And if someone brought kimchi to a party, you’ll know immediately. This intense aroma is what makes people avoid it even before tasting it.

But you’ll most likely love kimchi if you can get past the smell.

Types of Kimchi

There are countless variations of kimchi, as the recipe is flexible. However, there are a few popular versions that are worth mentioning.

Baechu Kimchi

Baechu kimchi is the most famous type of kimchi. People make it using Napa cabbage as the main ingredient.

They brine cabbage and coat it with kimchi porridge. Once coated, the cabbage is then stored to ferment.

Kkakdugi

Kkakdugi is kimchi that uses cubed radishes instead of chopped cabbage. The ingredients are the same as baechu kimchi. But of course, kkakdugi has a crunchier texture and radish flavor.

Pa Kimchi

Pa kimchi also goes by the name green onion kimchi. As the name implies, this kimchi uses long stalks of jjokpa or Korean green onions. People use gochugaru, fish sauce, and traditional kimchi spices to impart flavors.

Mul Kimchi

“Mul” is the Korean word for water. That said, mul kimchi translated to “water kimchi.” This kimchi is a recipe of salted radish and cabbage slices fermented in a special liquid.

The liquid is water flavored with garlic, onions, and chili flakes. This type is different from the usual baechu as it is watery and not chunky.

Oi Sobagi

Made from cucumbers, oi sobagi is another unique kimchi variation. To make oi sobagi, people make slits in the middle of cucumbers to create pockets.

Kimchi makers then stuff the pockets with chilis, carrots, and ginger. Of course, the ingredients are flexible, as with any other kimchi recipe.

Baek Kimchi

Baek kimchi is not your regular kimchi; you’ll recognize it because it lacks the usual orange color. Instead, baek kimchi is white.

This is because people don’t use chilis to make baek kimchi. That said, it doesn’t have heat and is perfect for those who don’t like spicy food.

Health Benefits of Kimchi

With all the fuss about kimchi, you may wonder if it’s healthy. And the answer is yes! After all, its base ingredients are vegetables.

For starters, kimchi is a great source of vitamins A, C, and K. It also has choline, beta-carotene, and folate.

Since kimchi is made from fermented vegetables, it contains probiotics and other healthful benefits that could potentially benefit the diet.

Potassium and calcium are also present in kimchi. You’ll get riboflavin and niacin from eating kimchi, as well.

Kimchi has anti-inflammatory properties, too, aside from its antioxidant content. With these many benefits, it’s no wonder many people love it so much!

How To Use Kimchi in Cooking

As mentioned, kimchi is versatile because its uses are endless. Here’s a list of how you can use it in cooking.

Use It as a Side Dish

The flavor of kimchi is so great that it blends well with almost anything. Eat kimchi alongside any dish, and experience how its pleasantly tangy taste makes your meals more enjoyable.

Make a Dipping Sauce

You can combine kimchi, cream cheese, and sour cream for a mouth-watering dip! Add a splash of light soy sauce or salt to taste.

Blend using a food processor, and you’re good. Serve alongside crackers, chips, or pretzels.

Add to Rice

If you find plain rice boring, bring some life to it by adding chopped kimchi. Doing this lends a kick to the classic staple. This also works for making a kimchi fried rice dish.

Include in a Pancake Recipe

Rice isn’t the only thing that kimchi can make better. Did you know that you can even add it to pancakes? In fact, kimchi pancakes are popular in Korea. They call it kimchi-jeon or kimchi-buchimgae.

Recreate a Kimchi-jjigae Dish

A famous dish in Korean cuisine, kimchi-jjigae is a spicy kimchi stew. People make it with kimchi and fatty pork. They add tofu, season it with gochugaru, and add scallions and garlic to the mix. Recreate it at home to make use of your jar of kimchi.

Use Them as Toppings

The orange-colored vegetable pieces are perfect toppings for rice bowls. Aside from adding that Instagrammable charm, kimchi can provide a tangy kick to your meal. Kimchi also makes great toppings for stir-fried noodles.

Whip Up Some Kimchi Pasta

Add a twist to your pasta recipe using kimchi as an ingredient. You may add kimchi to your red sauce for a delightful variation. Kimchi blends well with cream, so it can elevate your creamy pasta dish as well.

Create Unique Burger Recipes

Include kimchi in your selection of burger ingredients for an indulgent snack experience. The kimchi flavor blends well with the usual pickles, onion rings, and tomatoes.

That said, you’ll never go wrong with serving a bowl of kimchi in your next cookout.

Elevate Your Ramen

You can also use this fermented dish to make your ramen tastier. To do this, cook ramen as you normally would and add kimchi a few minutes before the noodles are cooked. The result? Spicy, tangy, and hearty ramen.

Upgrade Your Tacos

The fusion of Mexican and Asian flavors is a great culinary experience. Case in point: kimchi tacos! Yes, kimchi also makes a great taco filling. Add it to your usuals – ground beef, cheese, and lettuce and satisfy your cravings.

Beat It With Eggs

Give your scrambled eggs a spicy twist with kimchi. Put some sliced kimchi pieces before folding your eggs, and you’re in for a treat. Top the cooked eggs with a few kimchi slices to make them extra appealing.

Kimchi vs. Sauerkraut

Kimchi and sauerkraut are two things people often compare. After all, they have many similarities. But these two dishes have many differences, including the following:.

Place of Origin

Topping the list of differences between kimchi and sauerkraut is their origin. Sauerkraut comes from China, while kimchi is a Korean original.

Ingredients

People make traditional sauerkraut from green cabbage and salt only. On the other hand, Koreans make classic kimchi from Napa cabbage and a few other ingredients. But you can make both of them using different vegetables, such as radishes and beets.

Vegetable Preparation

To make kimchi, you can use whole cabbages or chop them up into large pieces. But sauerkraut always calls for shredded vegetables. For this reason, people can use a food processor when making sauerkraut. This is not the case for kimchi.

Period of Fermentation

Compared to sauerkraut, kimchi ferments faster. Your kimchi can be ready to eat after just one to two days, while sauerkraut can take up to two weeks.

Flavor

The most notable difference between these two foods is their taste. As discussed above, the flavor profile of kimchi is complex. It has all the five basic tastes, along with the sixth – umami. Meanwhile, sauerkraut is mainly salty, sour, and acidic.

Does Kimchi Taste Good?

Kimchi is an acquired taste. To some people, it tastes good. But for some, kimchi might be the most dreadful dish ever invented.
Due to its funky smell and complex taste, kimchi is not everyone’s favorite. But kimchi tastes delicious for those who’ve come to like it.

What Is The Taste Of Kimchi?

Kimchi has a sour taste combined with sweet, salty, bitter, and spicy flavors. It also has a strong umami note. Nothing tastes like it, even when people often liken it to sauerkraut.

Fresh Kimchi Vs. Fermented Kimchi: Which Is Better?

Fresh kimchi, called geotjeori, is a type of kimchi that does not undergo fermentation. People eat it immediately after making it instead of leaving it to ferment. Understandably, it doesn’t taste as intense as the fermented version. Instead, it tastes bold and fresh.

What texture Does Kimchi have?

The texture of kimchi varies depending on the types of vegetables used, but it is typically crunchy and slightly chewy.

Summary

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish that is now well-loved worldwide. It is a mix of pickled and fermented vegetables, so it has that funky smell that throws many people off. On top of that, kimchi has a plethora of flavors. For this reason, this dish is an acquired taste.

What does kimchi taste like? It is sour due to the fermentation process. But it has a delectable blend of sweet, salty, and spicy tastes. Some undertones of bitter flavor are present, together with that unmissable umami taste.

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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