Kimchi is a staple of Korean households, but it has also become very popular in America.
This traditional Korean food can vary in components, but typically includes some combination of veggies, garlic, ginger, chili, peppers, salt, and fish. The mix of ingredients is pickled and fermented, which originally was a way to preserve the vegetables for the winter months.
The most popular vegetable used is cabbage; however, carrots, radish, cucumber, and scallions are frequently used too.
The fermented food originated in Korea during the Three Kingdoms period, 1st century to 7th century AD. Families then had long used preservation methods to keep a consistent food supply for their families during the long, harsh, winters. Therefore, when cabbage first arrived in Korea in 2030 BC, families turned to fermentation to preserve it. Then in the 16th century, the first chili peppers arrived from the Americas, giving kimchi its spicy flair.
Kimchi definitely has a bit of acquired taste, but those who eat it enjoy it immensely! So, what does it taste like? To keep it to the point, because kimchi is a fermented dish, its most prominent flavor is typically sour.
Let’s talk about fermented kimchi a little more and see if you’d want to incorporate it into your daily foods.
What Does Kimchi Taste Like?
Depending on the kimchi recipe used, it can be made with different vegetables, the length of the fermentation can vary, and the amount of salt or sugar used can also differ. Its flavor is generally complex and can differ widely depending on the kimchi recipe.
Generally speaking, kimchi will taste sour, but it will also be spicy and umami (savory). Yet, since it’s a fermented food, its most prominent flavor is the sour taste.
This is caused by the lactic acid produced by bacteria as the kimchi ferments It creates a tangy, pungent flavor similar to that of sauerkraut.
If there’s garlic in the kimchi, that will intensify in taste during fermentation.
Kimchi can also be spicy depending on how much pepper is used and what kind is used.
If your kimchi recipe has ingredients such as fish paste, fish sauce, anchovies, or anything else fish-related, you’ll have a strong umami note. If the recipe doesn’t have fish, for example, radish kimchi or baek kimchi, then the taste will be lighter and fresher.
What Does Kimchi Smell Like?
I’ll be honest, the smell of kimchi is not meant for sensitive noses!
If you’ve been eating kimchi your whole life, you may actually like (or be used to) its strong odor. However, if you’re new to the smell, it’s going to take a lot of getting used to.
Kimchi smells very strong and pungent, especially if it’s fermented seafood. Many say the fermented smell is what’s the most potent. Anything fermented in general can smell like hydrogen sulfide, aka rotten egg odor, so prepare your nose if you’re not used to it!
What’s the Texture of Kimchi Like?
Overall, kimchi is crunchy when it’s fresh and you bite into it. It also depends on the fermented vegetables used and how long they’ve been cooked for.
For example, cabbage can turn soft if stored for a long time. But it’s still very edible. Think about it…kimchi uses vegetables. When vegetables are raw or undercooked, they still have a crunch to them. When overcooked, especially with leafy vegetables, they become soggy and wilted. You can still eat it, but the crunchiness begins to go away.
What Tastes Similar to Kimchi?
You can compare the taste of kimchi to a spicy, crunchy pickle. Pickle lovers know that spicy pickles do exist. And how do pickles get to their usual taste and texture? Cucumbers get pickled, which is another way of saying fermented. This is why kimchi and a spicy pickle can be very similar.
If you’re looking for something similar to the kimchi vegetable and taste, try using sauerkraut.
Sauerkraut is basically the German version of kimchi. It’s finely cut raw fermented cabbage. It’s also known for its distinctive sour flavor, which can relate back to the taste of kimchi.
Kimchi Nutrition and Benefits
So now you’re thinking, “Okay, kimchi is throwing me off a bit with the taste, why should I eat it?” Well let me tell you, kimchi has some great health benefits that may sway you.
Kimchi is packed with nutrients and remains low in calories. Although its exact nutritional profile differs between batches and brands, 1 cup of kimchi has approximately only 23 calories, therefore leading to potential aid of weight loss.
It also has only 4 grams of carbs, 2 grams of protein, less than 1 gram of fat, 2 grams of fiber, and only 747 milligrams of sodium.
There are tons of vitamins as well. That same cup of kimchi contains 19% of the daily value of Vitamin B6, 22% of Vitamin C, and 55% of Vitamin K. It also has 20% of the daily value for Folate, 21% for Iron, 10% for Niacin, and 24% of Riboflavin.
The health benefits don’t stop there. Kimchi also contains a ton of probiotics, which links to the prevention and treatment of certain types of cancers, the common cold, constipation, gastrointestinal health, heart health, mental health, and skin conditions.
The probiotics also may reduce inflammation, therefore may slow the aging process a bit. Imagine the fountain of youth, but with kimchi.
Meanwhile, the Lactobacillus bacterium in kimchi may help boost your immune system, and the probiotics and healthy bacteria may help prevent yeast infections.
Uses for Kimchi
Now that I’ve convinced you to eat kimchi for the nutrients and benefits, how can you go about using it?
Eat it Plain
If you like it plain, power to you! Kimchi can be eaten alone, and you can pick on it like a snack.
Make a Rice/Grain Bowl
Eating it with steamed rice adds a nice flavorful kick. You can also add it to a grain bowl with more fixings and mix it in. A popular Korean dish similar to this is called bibimbap.
Throwing kimchi into a tomato base really hypes up the flavor in a braise. It gives an unexpected, pleasant twist.
Add it to Stew
Kimchi adds a medicinal-level spice and funk to a traditional Korean tofu stew, and it may actually help you feel better when you’re under the weather.
Sub out tomatoes with kimchi and butter for a spicy sauce. Italians and Koreans alike will love this swap!
Scrambled eggs and kimchi are almost like eggs and hot sauce. You can even add it into egg sandwiches for extra crunch or flavor.
If you’ve tried it with steamed rice, incorporating it into fried rice will be another tasty experiment, and it’s a simple addition and makes for another classic pairing.
Replace the Sauerkraut
We mentioned how sauerkraut has a similar taste to kimchi, so try swapping it out and using the Korean version on sausages and hot dogs.
You already can’t go wrong with cheese and bread, so why not incorporate kimchi into it to add a notch of spice?
More rice! Simple sushi rolls such as avocado or cucumber can heighten its taste with kimchi. You can use it instead of the ginger and use dollops at a time.