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What Does Kimchi Taste Like? [Definitive Guide]

Kimchi is a traditional Korean staple that is used as a side dish, condiment and dip.

Kimchi is made from vegetables, ginger, garlic and fish —although adding fish isn’t mandatory. Kimchi has different flavours that range from sweet and sour to spicy.

Kimchi’s complex flavour and many uses have made it famous internationally.

What Does Kimchi Taste Like?

The dish has a complex flavour, and its taste mostly depends on the recipe used. For the main flavour, kimchi is usually spicy, umami and sour. 

Its flavour also depends on the amount of salt or sugar in it, the vegetables and the amount of time it fermented for. Here are the different ways kimchi will taste and the factors that affect the taste:

Sour Tastes

One of the most popular things about kimchi is the fact that it is a fermented dish. This basically means it will taste quite sour. The bacteria produce lactic acid during fermentation which gives the kimchi a really sour and tangy flavour.

Umami Tastes

Almost all kimchi recipes have fish or a fish product as an ingredient. These products may be a fish paste, anchovies or fermented fish sauce. These fish products will give the kimchi a prominent umami flavour. This means that if the kimchi doesn’t have any fish or fish products, it will taste fresher and lighter.

Sweet and Salty Tastes

There are different opinions when it comes to the amount of salt and sugar to be added in kimchi. Some like it sweet, while others like it are salty.

Spicyness

Kimchi ranges from mildly spicy to extremely spicy depending on how much red pepper you add. The red pepper powder also gives kimchi its characteristic red colour.

Garlicky Flavors

Garlic is a vital ingredient in kimchi flavour. Its natural flavour intensifies during fermentation to give a deep and intoxicating base flavour.

Vegetables Included

The vegetable that is used to make kimchi will visibly change the taste of the dish. If you use radish or cucumber, your kimchi will have a light taste as opposed to using cabbage which will give you a strong flavour.

Is Kimchi an Acquired Taste?

An acquired taste is when something is either unpleasant or neutral to you at first, but you grow to like and enjoy it as you get familiar with it.

When you acquire a taste for a dish, you ignore the food’s off-putting qualities and have begun to appreciate its benefits.

Kimchi is a perfect example of an acquired taste because of its overpowering odour and its hot and pickled taste.

Advocates will advise acquiring a taste for kimchi because it is one of the healthiest meals. It contains few calories and has low-fat content. Kimchi also contains a lot of fibre, vitamins and carotene.

Does Kimchi Taste Like Sauerkraut?

Kimchi and sauerkraut are both excellent sources of probiotics. Although they are similar, there are a few differences between them.

Kimchi is much spicier than sauerkraut, and it is also known as Korean kraut. They are both prepared with a base of cabbage, but kimchi contains pepper and other vegetables.

Kimchi has a higher antioxidant content than sauerkraut. But it does not contain dill or caraway seeds like sauerkraut does.

Sauerkraut —which is German for sour cabbage— is prepared with shredded cabbage heads. Kimchi, on the other hand, is made ready with intact leaves and stems of the Chinese cabbage as well as pepper, garlic, ginger, fish products and other vegetables.

More salt is added to kimchi during fermentation than to sauerkraut. Kimchi also ferments at much lower temperatures than sauerkraut.

Kimchi tastes like a crunchy, spicy pickle that is saltier but less acidic than sauerkraut. Sauerkraut has a flowery scent because of yeast growth.

How to Eat Kimchi

Kimchi usually comes in jars and can keep for an extended period before going bad. That being said, here are a few ways to eat kimchi and incorporate it into your meals:

Kimchi Dumplings

Kimchi dumplings are quite popular, both in Korea and outside Korea. Mix kimchi with minced beef, pork or tofu and wrap them in a dumpling wrapper so you can steam or fry them.

Tofu Kimchi

It is quite popular as a drink and appetiser in Korea. Tofu kimchi is a delicious side dish for a lot of main dishes. It has a complex layer of flavours from the characteristic spicy flavour of kimchi and the nutty scent given off by sesame seed oil.

Pancakes

Mix kimchi into the pancake batter to make your pancakes crunchy, savoury and spicy. It also works well with fritters.

Kimchi and Rice

Mix finely chopped kimchi into your steamed rice to give the rice a spicy, tangy flavour. You can also add it to your fried rice after every other ingredient has been fried.

Kimchi Jjigae

Kimchi stew or kimchi jjigae is a spicy stew prepared with tofu, fatty pork and kimchi. It is a medicinal stew that a lot of people eat when they have the flu or a cold.

Paste Sauce

Make a new, spicy pasta sauce with kimchi and butter. Chop up your kimchi and caramelise it in butter mixed with gochujang —Korean hot pepper sauce, add a little liquid from your kimchi jar, and you will have a spicy, umami sauce.

Can you Eat Kimchi By Itself?

Kimchi is such a versatile dish that you can eat it with almost anything, and you can eat it alone. Its taste will make it easy for you to eat it whenever you get a craving. 

You can eat it in tiny parts from the jar, or you can take it out of the jar and eat it as a salad.

You can even drink the liquid left after you have finished the kimchi, or mix it with mayo.

Does Kimchi Go Bad?

Seasoned kimchi is usually packed into an airtight and sterile jar with brine. Some people also add a little apple cider vinegar or rice vinegar.

Kimchi ferments within 2-3 weeks in the fridge, and 3-4 days at room temperature. At this point, kimchi develops beneficial bacteria like lactic acid bacteria.

After you open it, kimchi lasts for about a week at room temperature. 

It lasts much longer in the fridge. It lasts for about 3 to 6 months and it keeps fermenting as time goes on, which could make it more sour.

If you refrigerate your kimchi, make sure the temperature is at or below 4°C (39°F), because warmer temperatures will catalyse spoilage.

For people that prefer their kimchi crunchy and mildly flavourful, you will probably want to get rid of the kimchi after three months.

It’s around this period that your kimchi may lose its crunchiness and become more sour.

Kimchi can still be edible after three months, as long as there is no mold on it. 

If it has become too sour or flavourful for you, you can mix it with rice, stews, or use it to make pasta sauce.

If you are not sure whether your kimchi is bad or not, it is best to discard it.

To Sum Up

Kimchi is a Korean side dish and condiment that has recently gained international fame because of its complex flavour and its many health benefits. 

Be warned, it is an acquired taste, but if you want to try kimchi, you can make it by yourself, or pick it up at a grocery store near you.