By Shannon Stonger
Health Impact News
As one of the most well-known fermented vegetables, besides sauerkraut, kimchi has both a large following and a long history. One bite of the sour, spicy, crunchy condiment will reel you in for good. It’s no wonder it has been one of Korea’s most beloved foods for generations!
Like most fermented vegetables, some claim that kimchi can only be made one way. But there are accounts of hundreds of different varieties of kimchi found throughout Korea. This isn’t surprising since the origin of kimchi was probably the need to preserve vegetables long before refrigeration was common.
Indeed, many forms of kimchi can be found today even here in North America. Whether it is a pricey jar purchased from a health food store, a pint found at the ethnic supermarket, or a jar of kimchi from the home-fermenter, all kimchi generally has a few ingredients in common.
While it can be made of anything from zucchini to cucumbers, most are familiar with the cabbage-based kimchi. Other vegetables are then added such as radishes or carrots. A layering of aromatic vegetables – garlic, ginger, and green onions – gives it that ubiquitous flavor. Finally, a paste or slurry of chilies with a pinch of sugar is used to give it kick and zing.
Kimchi has been touted as one of the most healthful foods in the world. And it’s no wonder as those flavors that give kimchi its distinct flavor also pack a nutritional punch.
Four Crucial, Healthful Ingredients
The inclusion of green onions certainly makes kimchi delicious, but it also adds a host of health benefits. Onions are a great source of sulfur, polyphenols, quercetin and a host of other beneficial compounds.
Ginger is a delicious, spicy addition that includes its own set of health benefits. As well as being a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, or perhaps because of its anti-inflammatory properties, it has been shown to aid with diabetes, digestion, and heart health.
Many of us are familiar with the pungent flavor of garlic, but we may not realize just how powerful this little allium is. It has been shown to be more effective at fighting food-borne illnesses than antibiotics. Additionally, garlic has long been helpful for high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, and fungal disorders.
Chili is used widely in a variety of cuisines and its benefits are broadly known. The compound capsaicin, found in chili peppers, is known to help relieve pain and reduce tumors.
Now, knowing all of the benefits of these ingredients, and understanding that fermentation enhances the vitamin content, adds beneficial microorganisms, and acts as a digestive aid to the body, we can see why kimchi has been a part of the Korean diet for generations.
Other ingredients such as fish sauce and shrimp paste are often included in kimchi recipes. Some recipes call for a long process of salting the cabbage, rinsing, and salting again. There are kimchis made from whole cabbage heads, quartered cabbage heads, and roughly chopped cabbage. Napa cabbage is almost always the variety used. Some say that you really must use a specific type of chili powder in order to achieve true kimchi.
All of these ingredients would, no doubt, contribute to making a truly authentic – as we know it – kimchi. But these are not all readily available in the average supermarket. Furthermore, it is difficult to know how pure these ingredients are when they are shipped from across the world.
Kimchi, at its most basic, is a bevy of vegetables, those healthful aromatics listed above, and a spicy combination of chili peppers and salt. If it is accessibility that you are after, then this kimchi recipe may be just the ticket. Kimchi, after all, was born from the need to preserve those foods that are both healthful and readily available.
Simple Homemade Kimchi
Note: This makes a milder kimchi. If spicy kimchi is desired, increase the cayenne to 1 Tablespoon. For instructions for optimal salt content and fermentation temperature see this article.
- 2 medium heads Napa or green cabbage
- 10 green onions
- 1 head garlic, ~8-10 cloves
- ¼ cup minced ginger
- 4 ½ tablespoons salt
- ½ tablespoon ground cayenne
- 2 tablespoons sweet paprika
- ½ Tablespoon smoked paprika
- 1 tablespoon unrefined cane sugar
- ¾ cup water
- Halve and core the heads of cabbage. Chop into bite-sized pieces and add to a large mixing bowl. Remove the roots of the green onions, dice, and add to cabbage. Peel and mince garlic and ginger and add to the cabbage mixture.
- Salt the cabbage and rub it roughly between your hands to get the juices flowing. Alternatively, use a kraut pounder to pound the vegetables.
- In a small bowl, combine the cayenne, sweet paprika, smoked paprika, sugar, and water. Whisk together with a fork. Pour the pepper mixture over the cabbage and work it in using your hands or a mixing spoon. Mix it well for several minutes to be sure all of the cabbage is evenly coated.
- Taste the cabbage and add salt, if needed. It should taste flavorful, not bland, and not overly salty. Pound the vegetables with a kraut pounder or potato masher for about five minutes.
- Transfer kimchi to clean, non-reactive vessels. (Three quart jars or one gallon jar should be adequate for this recipe.) As you fill the jars, pack the kimchi down using either a clean hand or a wooden spoon. Be sure to leave at least 1.5” of headspace in each vessel.
- You now need to weigh the kimchi down so that it sits below the level of the brine. To do this you can use a thick slice of root vegetable – turnips or beets work well, a purchased fermentation weight, or a small jam jar that fits into the opening of the jar you packed the kimchi in.
- If using the root vegetable or fermentation weight, simply place them in the jar atop the cabbage and press down until the level of the brine comes well over the kimchi and root vegetable/weight. Cap with an airtight lid of your choice.
- If using the jam jar, carefully place the clean jar into the mouth of the ferment jar and press down so that the level of the brine comes well above the kimchi. You now need to cover the opening of the fermentation jar and jam jar with a clean towel to keep out bugs or undesirable debris. This is done most easily with a rubber band. If using this method, I recommend placing your jar(s) on a plate to catch any overflow of vegetable brine.
- It is now time to allow the kimchi to ferment. This is best done at 60-80 degrees. It will ferment more rapidly the warmer the environment. During the process carbon dioxide is produced, so any bubbling you notice is desirable. If you have used an airtight lid you will need to “burp” the jar so that the pent up gases do not cause an explosion in the jar. This is done simply by slowly opening the lid, allowing it to “fizz” out for just a second and quickly sealing it back up. With the jam jar method the gases will naturally release through the opening.
- Fermentation should be visible after a few days, but that doesn’t mean it is complete. If your ambient temperature is between 60 and 80 degrees, a fermentation time of 1-2 weeks at room temperature produces a richly-flavored kimchi.
- At this point you can move the kimchi to cold storage – be it a refrigerator, root cellar, or basement – a space between 40 and 60 degrees is optimal.
- Serve fermented kimchi as an accompaniment to stir-fry, rice dishes, or any meal that needs the flavor, enzymes, and probiotics provided by kimchi.