Kimchee, Kimchi, Gimchi, Kim Chee

I make my own kimchi at home. I like the flavor. I like making it. I eat for the health benefits. It keeps me from getting sick, and helps keep my other ongoing health issues in check.  And trust me – I’ve heard all your comments about how you don’t like kimchee – so I only want to hear from the kimchee lovers because I know you’re all out there!

Kimchi is a food that I was drawn to originally because of the sour and hot peppery flavor. I also loved the texture. I would go to Andronico’s in Berkeley (on Telegraph Ave.) and buy an entire jar of it and come home and eat the entire jar. I love pickles of all kinds, including pickled, small, white onions. I think that in some ways  I thought it was healthy. And it is – but in 1995 I only had a vague understanding of the health benefits.

Kimchi is fermented Napa cabbage with other spices and ingredients. The fermentation process produces lactobacilli bacteria – the very same bacteria found in many yogurts. Kimchi is sour and spicy and full of nutrients. Making it yourself at home is akin to making your own sourdough. You are ingesting the healthful microbes in your immediate environment. The microbes are not flash pasteurized either, so you get all of the healthy benefits.

In Japan kimchi has become almost more popular than in the home country of Korea. A traditional Japanese noodle shop will include several spice mixes and a couple kinds of kimchi that you can add to the soup. The noodles will have a broth, maybe an egg (depending on what kind of noodles you order), maybe a pink fish cake, and other fun things. You can put the sesame and  seaweed mixture on top (the two are toasted and fragrant and as they are added to the broth they rehydrate with an impeccable scent and flavor). Japan started making kimchi as an unfermented variety which led to a vibrant food discussion about what kimchi is. Fermented or not?

Kimchi was finally defined by the Codex Alimentarius as a fermented food, much to the delight of the Koreans who wanted to preserve their food culture and not have it co-opted and sold as something that was just a cheap imitation, a pastiche, of what kimchi really is. Kimchi is ancient, and people have been making it for 3,000 years.

At some point I was unable to find kimchi and I started making it on my own in glass jars with recipes I found in this book called Wild Fermentation.

I also heavily rely on this gorgeous book: The kimchee cookbook: fiery flavors and cultural history of Korea’s national dish.

There is a great deal of literature produced about how ingesting live microorganisms will produce a healthier life and a better immune system. One article states:

Probiotic bacteria are defined as live food ingredients that are beneficial to the health of the host. Probiotics occur naturally in fermented food products such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, cabbage kimchee, and soybean-based miso and natto. Numerous health benefits have been attributed to probiotics, including effects on gastrointestinal tract function and diseases, immune function, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and allergic conditions. (Nichols)

I was able to meet Sandor Kraut, the author of Wild Fermentation, in Portland, Oregon when he was touring the United States. On the second floor of the People’s Co-op in SE Portland I listened to newbies learn how to properly salt the cabbage – something I’d been doing properly for at least a couple years at this point. It was delightful to meet him. He had buckets of kimchee in the back of his pick up truck that he was fermenting on the road. This was inspiring.

Sandor Kraut, a fermentation revivalist, credits kimchi with his health as someone living with AIDS. He writes on his website,  “I have AIDS and consider fermented foods an important part of my healing.”

He also believes in microbial diversity and the importance of including these microbes into your body. He writes on his website:

Wild fermentation is a way of incorporating the wild into your body, becoming one with the natural world…Wild fermentation is the opposite of homogenization and uniformity, a small antidote you can undertake in your home, using the extremely localized populations of microbial cultures present there, to produce your own unique fermented foods.

I learned recently that you can actually salt and ferment any vegetable to the same effects! The Urban Homestead, and other books of this sort, are a great resource for learning how to create these crafted foods at home, yourself, and with greater satisfaction and health benefits than store-bought varieties.

The recipe that I use for kimchee is Sandor Kraut’s recipe which is in Wild Fermentation. It involves soaking the Napa cabbage in brine, which is water and Kosher salt. You can’t use traditional salts because they have microbe inhibitors – anti-caking elements – that prohibit growth of lactobacilli. After it has been soaked you add it to a mixture of chopped garlic, ginger, hot peppers, sliced daikon, snow peas, carrots,  jalapenos, or whatever vegetables you want to add. Traditionally, for the hot peppers,  you can use gochujong which is available at Diana Market (10387 Fairview Avenue, Boise (208) 323-5577). You can also just buy their kimchi, but I still think homemade is the best.

Put these into a glass container that you can seal. If you use jars like I do don’t let the kimchi touch the metal top as it will corrode the metal. Ideally you would use a ceramic crock, but I don’t have one myself since they are so expensive. I just use jars.

Fermentation experiments? Share them with me!

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Nichols, AW. (2007) Probiotics and athletic performance: a systematic review. Current Sports Medicine, 6 (4): 269-73.

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2 thoughts on “Kimchee, Kimchi, Gimchi, Kim Chee

    • Awesome! I’m glad to help people get inspired! Let me know if you have questions or need tips as you go through the process. The specific pepper that I recommend at Diana comes in a very large bag of dried flakes (maybe there are smaller ones by now, I’m not sure). There is also a gochujang paste, but I think it comes with MSG in it – so check the ingredients!

      Amy

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