Traditionally, kimchi is a Korean side dish made from salted and fermented vegetables. Its bright orange color was a staple on Korean tables. However, kimchi has been gaining in popularity and is now common in other areas.
With garlic, ginger, chili paste, salt, fish sauce, vegetables, and more, kimchi has a complex flavor. Overall, kimchi is sweet, sour, and spicy. The vegetables should have a bit of crunch to them, if they are mushy, your kimchi may have gone bad.
There are a variety of ingredients that can be put into kimchi. You can also alter the amount of time it ferments for. Both of these will change the flavor of your kimchi.
How Does Kimchi Get Its Flavor
In kimchi the vegetables are fermented. Fermenting vegetables is the process of converting carbs into alcohol and acids. During the process, the vegetables take on a sour, tarty flavor.
Pickles are probably the most common fermented vegetables that people will recognize. Pickles start out as cucumbers, then they get fermented and turn out as sour, salty pickles.
What Goes Into Kimchi
All kimchi starts with vegetables. The most common one is cabbage, but sometimes radishes, carrots, and cucumbers as well. You’ll salt and then soak your vegetables.
Next, come the ingredients that make up the kimchi flavor. Again, there are many to choose from, but we’ll look at a common list.
When cooking garlic, you help bring out the sweetness in it. However, in kimchi, you generally don’t, so you get more of a bitter fresh, earthy flavor from the garlic.
Ginger is an excellent spice as it has a nice peppery flavor and gives food a little bit of a bite, perfect for kimchi.
Yes, chili paste is hot. However, heat should not be the only flavor in your chili paste. Chili paste, especially ones usually used in kimchi, should be thick and have notes of both saltiness and sweetness.
The primary spice will be heat, but a subtle sweetness will come through as well.
Fish sauce is used both to help the kimchi ferment, but also for its flavor. Fish sauce will help give the kimchi a more complex flavor.
A good fish sauce has an earthy, savory flavor. It will probably be salty and briny and taste like fish, as it often contains anchovies.
How Do You Eat Kimchi
Traditionally, in Korean culture, Kimchi is served as a side dish at almost every meal. However, in addition, kimchi is often eaten as an appetizer before meals, as well as added to stews.
Recently, kimchi is being sold in the form of a shot. Marketed as a probiotic health drink, if you’re curious about the flavor, you can drink some.
Kimchi shots are the brine, so to speak, without the vegetables. It will taste mostly of salt and fish with some earthiness. The texture will not be overly smooth, but it shouldn’t be chunky.
There are a few other things you can do with that leftover brine if you’re not into shots
This is a great way to flavor those store-bought ramen noodle cups. Simply stir some in once it’s heated for a more authentic ramen flavor. It will both give your soup a little texture and add some heat.
Another great way to use up the leftovers is when reheating fried rice. Tossing fried rice in the microwave tends to pull out its moisture. This is an excellent way to add some back in.
In addition to helping de-clump your rice, it will bring a nice salty flavor to your rice.
Traditionally, a bloody mary is made with tomato juice, vodka, and a mixture of spices and condiments. Those condiments consist of hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, and other spicy ingredients. Try substituting the kimchi for those ingredients, you’ll get a similar, but more complex flavor.
A Bold Combination of Flavors
While made of complex and varying ingredients, the general flavor palate of kimchi is sweet, sour, and spicy.
It’s fairly simple to make and more popular than ever, so it’s easy to find in stores. There is no reason not to give it a try.