How to Make Kimchi

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Traditional to Korean cuisine, kimchi is a spicy blend of naturally fermented vegetables including Napa cabbage, radishes, green onions, garlic ginger, and Korean red pepper. Try it on eggs, rice, noodles, hot dogs, pizza, and grilled cheese.
The lactic acid bacteria you need for fermentation is already present on the raw ingredients like on the cucumbers for the pickles. The sugars in the vegetables are converted into lactic acid, acetic acid, carbon dioxide, and ethanol, but kimchi produces less acid and is more carbonated. You may hear a sizzle and see fizz while it is fermenting.
Kimchi

Making Baechu (Bet-Schu) Kimchi: Mack (Chopped Cabbage) Style

The season will impact vegetable size and quality, as well as time needed for fermentation. Look for light-green Napa cabbage with compact, elongated heads that feel heavy for size. In summer, Napa cabbage may be softer and ferment faster; while in winter, Napa cabbage may be firmer and need more time to ferment. Some ingredients, such as Korean red pepper powder and Korean radish, may need to be purchased through specialty Asian stores or ordered online.

During preparation, proper sanitation practices must be followed to prevent contamination by spoilage or harmful microorganisms. This includes proper handwashing as well as using clean equipment, utensils, and surfaces throughout all preparation steps.

Equipment:

  • Large sharp knife and cutting board
  • Blender or food processor (optional for blending ginger and garlic)
  • Measuring cup, measuring spoons, and mixing utensils
  • 1-quart saucepan for making sweet rice paste
  • Food-safe, glass, or plastic storage container with a tight-fitting lid. For example plastic rectangle kimchi container, glass mason jars with bands and lids, or gallon-size resealable zipper plastic bags. Do not use metal containers nor earthenware with cracks or chips. Container(s) must fit in your refrigerator, but big enough to hold 2 cabbages.
  • Large glass, plastic, or stainless steel mixing bowl
  • Disposable food handler gloves (highly recommended) for protection from red pepper powder while handling kimchi

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium heads Napa cabbage (about 6-8 pounds total)
  • 1 1/2 cups coarse salt, non-iodized, divided (baked or sea salt recommended)
  • 1 gallon + 1/2 cup cold water, divided
  • 2 Tbsp. sweet rice flour
  • 1-10 cloves garlic, depending on taste preference
  • About 3 slices fresh ginger root (about 0.2-0.4 oz.)
  • 1 cup Korean red pepper powder –specific “for kimchi”
  • 1/2 Korean radish (about 1-1.5 pounds), or daikon radish
  • 1 Asian pear (optional)
  • 10 green onions
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce (optional)
  • 2 tsp. finely ground salt (optional, as needed)

Directions:

  1. Prepare Napa cabbage:
    • Rinse heads under cold water and drain.
    • Cut away and discard any spoiled or damaged spots.
    • Cut Napa cabbage into four quarters and remove the core from each. Chop quarters into 2-inch pieces.
  2. Salt cabbage:
    • Prepare salt water solution of 1/2 cup coarse, non-iodized salt and 1 gallon cold water in a large mixing bowl.
    • Dip cabbage pieces briefly in the saltwater solution, to facilitate penetration of salt into the cabbage pieces. Discard the saltwater solution.
    • Drain and place cabbage pieces in a bowl. Sprinkle 1 cup of course, non-iodized salt over the cut cabbage and massage it into the cabbage well. Allow cabbage to sit covered at room temperature for 3 to 6 hours (a longer time will make it saltier).
    • Rinse cabbage pieces 3 to 4 times with cold water to rinse away the salt, then place in a colander to drain out excess water from the cabbage for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Prepare seasonings:
    • Add sweet rice flour to 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and set aside to cool.
    • Clean, peel, and finely mince (or use a blender with a small amount of water) garlic and ginger. Mix with cooled sweet rice flour paste and add Korean red pepper powder.
    • Clean and peel radish, clean and trim green onions, and if desired, clean and peel Asian pear. Slice all Julienne style, or into matchsticks about 1 inch in length.
    • Using clean hands and disposable food handler gloves, mix above seasoning paste and Julienned vegetables together in a large mixing bowl. Then mix in fish sauce to create a spicy veggie paste. Add salt only as needed.
    • Combine cabbage with the spicy veggie paste, rub together and mix thoroughly.
  4. Pack container:
    • Pack kimchi tightly into container, minimizing air exposure and encouraging brine formation. Fill container about 2/3 of the way full, as fermenting microorganisms will release carbon dioxide (CO2) and create bubbling and fizzing.
    • Cover tightly. If using jars, seal to finger-tip tight. If using bags, squeeze out excess air. Place on a plate or in a bowl to catch potential overflow.
  5. Ferment
    • Option 1: Kimchi may be placed in refrigerator so it ferments slowly over 3 to 4 days. This may be preferred, especially during hot weather.
    • Option 2: Place sealed container in a well-ventilated location (may become pungent), with a relatively constant room temperature, around 68°F is ideal. Ferment only 1 to 2 days at room temperature, tasting it daily until it reaches preferred tangy taste and desired texture.
  6. Store and enjoy
    • Store fermented kimchi covered tightly in the refrigerator. Keep it pressed down to minimize air exposure. Kimchi may become more sour over time. Discard if you observe indications of surface mold.
    • Kimchi can be enjoyed in countless recipes. Try it with eggs, rice, noodles, potatoes, in stir fry, fried rice, soup, pancakes, or on a sandwich or hot dog.

Recipe provided by HyoJung Kang, local kimchi expert, with edits by Laura Bauer, Ph.D., RD, in collaboration with Colorado State University Food Science & Human Nutrition Extension.

Resources and Acknowledgements

Colorado State University Extension. Understanding and Making Kimchi.

Health Benefits of Kimchi as a Probiotic Food. Park et al. 2014. Journal of Medicinal Food. 17(1): 6-20.

Understanding Kimchi. Brown, C. and Carlson, R. 2013. FTEC 210 students, Colorado State University Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition.