Hot, Salty & Sour: My Kimchi Recipe

I love kimchi, and I make kimchi at home a few times a year, usually in the autumn when Napa cabbage, hefty daikon radishes, carrots, garlic and chili peppers can all be found at the market in abundance.

I buy them by the case, taking advantage of discounted prices – cabbage for 75 cents a pound, carrots for a dollar. The farmers, who all practice organic methods and grow in mineral-rich soils, cut me a deal not only because I buy so much, but also because they know that when my pot of kimchi has fermented away, I’ll bring a quart to each of them. And my kimchi is good, really good.

A Good Kimchi Recipe

A good kimchi recipe balances texture, flavor and heat. Unlike homemade sauerkraut, where uniformity is the goal, a good kimchi is a dish of variety: chunks of radish and garlic, chili-flecked cabbage leaves and brilliant heat. Indeed, one of the first mistakes newcomers to kimchi make is to simply shred all the ingredients together and pound them away as they would any fermented vegetable dish, but the flavor and textural variety of kimchi rests on different cuts: chunks (not shreds) of cabbage, whole pickled strips of carrot and radish and hunks of good garlic. I typically serve kimchi in condiment-sized (1/4 cup) portions.

Benefits of Kimchi

Like all fermented foods, kimchi is extraordinarily rich in beneficial bacteria – those bacteria that line the gut and help to build our immune system, manufacture and assimilate vitamins. Kimchi is also a rich source of vitamin C and other antioxidants due not only to the ingredients in most kimchi recipes, but also due to the fermentation process itself which typically increases the antioxidants found in foods.

Kimchi, and other fermented foods, may also play a role in the mitigation of risks for metabolic syndrome. Several Korean studies found that those people who consumed the most kimchi (thereby adhering to their traditional diets) were the least likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome – a condition that is on the rise world-wide, but particularly in industrialized nations.

The Right Ingredients for Your Kimchi

I use Napa cabbage, Daikon radish, carrots and garlic in my kimchi recipe, and I season these vegetables with a paste made from fresh chili peppers (though you can use the leftover paste from homemade fermented chili sauce if you like), ginger root, fish sauce (which you can purchase at Asian grocers or online), unrefined sea salt and whole, unrefined cane sugar.

Unrefined cane sugar (which you can purchase at most health foods stores and online) helps to boost the microbial activity of the bacteria, providing them food as the kimchi ferments. It further enhances the flavor, softening the heat of the chilies without detracting from their taste.  Don’t worry about residual sugar, as the beneficial bacteria will consume it; however, if it still concerns you, consider omitting the sugar and adding a shredded apple pear or green apple to the batch.

Unrefined sea salt, rich in minerals, helps to keep pathogenic and opportunistic microorganisms at bay while promoting an environment that keeps beneficial bacteria – those responsible for fermentation – happy and proliferating. You can find unrefined sea salt online (see sources).

The Right Equipment for Your Kimchi

When you begin fermenting foods, like kimchi, mason jars offer a good option; however, they are not ideal. Fermentation is an anaerobic process. That means the vegetables you ferment should not be exposed to air during fermentation as this can cause contamination by stray microbes and molds.

If you plan to ferment foods regularly, invest in a fermentation device equipped with a weight and an airlock (see sources) or a fermentation crock such as the Harsch, Polish or German sauerkraut crocks which you can purchase online (see sources).

These devices are intended for fermentation and their structure as well as the addition of weights (which keep vegetables submerged in the anaerobic environment of brine) and airlocks (which allow carbon dioxide to escape without allowing new air in) help to ensure that fermentation is more reliable in your kitchen and that your fermented foods are less likely to be contaminated by other microorganisms.

Hot, Salty & Sour: My Kimchi Recipe

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 quarts

Hot, Salty & Sour: My Kimchi Recipe

A simple, authentic kimchi recipe, that doesn't involve burying a crock in your back yard. The flavor is bright, hot and pleasantly sour.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 lb ginger (peeled and cut into chunks)
  • 1/4 lb fresh chili peppers (trimmed of stems, seeded if desired)
  • 2 tbsps whole, unrefined cane sugar (find it here)
  • 2 tbsps fish sauce (find chemical-free fish sauce here)
  • 1/4 cup unrefined sea salt (divided)
  • 2 large heads Napa cabbage (chopped into large chunks about 2 inches by 2 inches)
  • 1 1/2 lbs carrots (scraped and cut into finger-length sticks 1/4-inch thick)
  • 1 1/2 lbs daikon radish (scraped and cut into finger-length strips 1/4-inch thick)
  • 8 heads garlic (peeled and chopped)

Instructions

  1. Place ginger, chili peppers, sugar, fish sauce and 1 tbsp sea salt into a food processor. Process until you form a smooth paste.
  2. Place chopped cabbage into a large mixing bowl, sprinkle with remaining sea salt and cover with warm (not hot) water. Stir until sea salt dissolves and allow the cabbage to sit for twenty to thirty minutes. Drain the cabbage and pat it dry.
  3. Place the cabbage, carrots, radish and garlic in a large mixing bowl. Spoon in the chili and ginger paste you prepared in step #1 and toss to coat.
  4. Transfer the mixture, cup by cup, into a gallon-sized vegetable fermenter or fermentation crock (available here) and pound down with a wooden spoon until the vegetables release their juice. Continue layering and pounding until all the vegetables have been transferred to the crock. Pound again until the vegetables have released all their juice and the level of brine fully covers the vegetables and that the vegetables rest within one inch of the crock's lip.
  5. Weight the vegetables down with your crock's weight or a small sterilized stone, cover and ferment at room temperature for at least one week before trying the kimchi. If you prefer a sourer flavor, ferment longer. Transfer to the refrigerator when the kimchi has reached the desired level of sourness where it will keep for at least six months.
http://nourishedkitchen.com/kimchi-recipe/

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What people are saying

  1. Colleen C says

    This sounds incredible! I love Kimchi – it is the best part of the meal at Korean Japanese restaurants. I tend to surprise people with how much I will eat in one sitting. It is so yummy! Drooling now…

  2. Susan Garrett says

    I love your recipes! I am diabetic so putting sugar in anything isn’t an option. Do you think xylitol would work?

    • jenny says

      Definitely not. Xylitol is not a natural sweetener, and since it has not sugar, it won’t feed the beneficial bacteria. Worse yet, there’s evidence that xylitol is antimicrobial, so it might actually inhibit the proliferation of beneficial bacteria to some degree. You could skip the sugar entirely, though – and your kimchi should turn out fine!

      • says

        Xylitol is found in many natural fruit and vegetables and is usually made from Birch tree bark. But it still might not work because of its antimicrobial properties. Can one use unrefined honey in kimchi?

    • Anja says

      one kimchi recipe i use has this instead of sugar: half an apple, half a pear and half a sweet onion pureed with 1 cup of water to provide the sugar needed for the ferment and also a good part of the liquid to submerge the vegetables. i go ahead and add the garlic into this to puree all at once….. yumminesss

      • says

        sugar isn’t necessary. none of the kimchi recipes i have tried call for sugar and they turned out great. you dont need additional sugar for fermentation, after all, you’re trying to make kimchi, not alcohol, right? my guess is that the sugar jenny adds is merely for flavor which i look forward to trying. the korean markets here have a large variety of kimchi’s – hot & salty, sweet and mild and sometimes fishy. Some entirely daikon, others with napa or one of my favorites, kale kimchi! room temperature is going to be a bigger factor as to how quickly or aggressively your kimchi ferments. one week is a great starting point for a cool 65-70 degree kitchen but if its in the 90′s you’ll find that pot ripening up strong and fragrant in just a couple days

    • Bebe says

      I had a Korean lady give me a recipe for her kimchi and she used a little applesauce. I thought it was weird because I had never put sweetener of any kind in my kimchi but since then I’ve seen many traditional recipes that use fruit, including citrus… now it makes sense.

    • TruthisTreason says

      The sugar is used as part of the fermentation process. Xylitol is a natural sweetener. Lots of disinformation in these replies here.

      • Jenny says

        Xylitol is *not* a natural sweetener. It is a heavily processed sugar alcohol sold as “natural.” Just because it’s marketed to natural foods enthusiasts doesn’t make it natural.

        Xylitol is made by processing xylan (usually from a corn source, and unless it’s organic it will be GMO). Then it is processed by acid hydrolyzing and hydrogenization (typically using a catalyst like nickel). It’s then evaporated. Then they stir in ethanol to crystalize it. Then it is centrifuged.
        Sounds natural to you? I don’t think so.

        • elisssabeth says

          Xylitol can also be made from birch. I know this because my daughter is deathly allergic to corn and this is the only kind of xylitol she can tolerate…you are correct in that MOST xylitol is made from corn. But NOT ALL. For example, Glee Gum Unsweetened is the only gum on the U.S. market, at all, I have found that is completely corn- and corn-derivative-free because their xylitol is derived from birch.

          • Linda says

            But the fact remains that it is HEAVILY PROCESSED using Nickel-Alum (can anyone say ‘heavy metal contamination’?) and it is devastating to the environment (especially if it IS a birch source). Along with the fact that it can cause severe intestinal issues, WHY would anyone use it? Just because the advertisers have said it is ‘NATURAL’ doesn’t mean it is!

      • Linda says

        It WAS ‘natural’ before being massively processed you it ‘looks’ like the sugar we know! Not so much by the time WE get it!

    • Alex says

      Susan, the sugar will be completely consumed by the fermentation process. I’ve made sauerkraut with slices of apple in the jars, and when the kraut was finished fermenting, the apple slices had no trace of sweetness in them.

    • rachel says

      The recipe calls for 2 Tbls sugar and about 10 lbs veg. That’s an insignificant amount per serve, and is consumed by the yeastie beasties,, anyway.

      Curious tho- do you use any kind of refined flour, starch or Irish potato? Much bigger problem than the insignificant portion of sugar here.

  3. Arda says

    Hi Jenny,
    Been interested in starting to experiment with fermented foods. Your kimchi looks simple enough but my family doesn’t eat spicy foods, can we omit the chilies or reduce( pls provide amount) so it’s hardly spicy? My little ones will not likely eat it if its spicy. Keep these recipes coming.

    • jenny says

      You certainly can eliminate the chilies, but it won’t really be an authentic kimchi; that said, the real key is to make what your family will eat. If they like it with just ginger and garlic, great!

  4. Rowan says

    How about a ‘print this recipe’ feature? I love your site! Such a wealth of knowledge and ideas. Thank you!

    • jenny says

      I’ve been looking … looking … looking for a reasonable plugin to use for that function and can’t find one. Still looking.

      • says

        You can create another “printer friendly” page (HTML – no photos, or one small one. No side bar. But be sure to keep your logo so we know where it came from.) Then just add a link to that page. All browsers have a print function. Ctrl+p will do it.

        Also “http://www.printwhatyoulike.com/” will allow you to print any web page, selecting only the portions of the page you want printed.

        BTW: My husband loves kimchi and I’ve been looking for a recipe to make some. This looks easy and delicious. I may have to make two batches. A hot one for him and a milder one for the girls and me.

    • Deb says

      It might not be as nice as a ‘print this recipe’ plugin, but if you’re using Explorer you can right click and find the print option on the list that pops up. I love this site, look forward to reading the newsletter everytime I see it in my email.
      Deb

  5. says

    I have never had kimchi with carrots before, or so much ginger! I am still working on big case brought back from Korea a few weeks ago, but I definitely want to try to make my first batch when that runs out. I maybe I will mix some carrots in place of some of the scallions in the recipe I have. Looking forward to seeing more of your versions of Korean recipes in the future!

  6. Chris says

    I am going to try this as soon as I can! Question–Is there any way to preserve fermented food without refrigeration?

    • Jenny says

      Fermented foods can be kept on the countertop; however, they will continue to age – so refrigeration helps to halt the aging, and keep the fermented food at a flavor that appeals to you. They can also be kept in any cool place: a basement, garage, root cellar.

      • Chris says

        So, sauerkraut, for example. When I see it canned in a mason jar somewhere, does that mean the good bacteria are gone?

        • jenny says

          Yes, that’s correct: it will have lost much of its value due to canning. If it is refrigerated (like Bubbies), it will still contain beneficial bacteria.

  7. Karen says

    Hi Jenny, thanks for sorting out my meal plans, today’s arrived and I’ve picked up the one I missed. A quick question regarding fermentation in general – mostly sauerkraut so far but this kimchi sounds delicious! I am still using quart-sized glass jars with a rubber seal, initially I left the air-tight seal off when fermenting (well-weighted beneath the brine) on the counter top, then replaced it when I refrigerated the sauerkraut, but I noticed that when I released the seal to serve some there was a definite release of gas – in fact some kraut I had put in a plastic pot which was maybe 4 weeks old at most, actually popped the lid! I am a bit worried as once in the fridge the sauerkraut is no longer beneath liquid, I keep it covered with the glass jar lid shut, but not with the air-tight seal and have had no problems with eating it (quite the opposite it tastes increasingly delicious though more ‘sour’ and helps my digestion no end!) Obviously I don’t want to risk contamination but it seems to be still fermenting quite strongly once refrigerated (the door is the only place it fits so perhaps it is not that cold) and not beneath a protective brine. I do have the glass vegetable fermenter you used to recommend, which I haven’t used yet as it makes such a large volume but we are eating more and more ferments so I might start using it – but once the sauerkraut or kimchi has fermented on the countertop in the large fermenter for 1 week (or longer?) do you then transfer it to quart jars and airlock them? But I’m worried they will continue fermenting and blow the jar – any advice welcomed as ferments have become a core addition to our family’s diet and I want to continue! Thanks for all the hard work you put in, by the way, and the site is looking great !

  8. Jinni says

    Jenny,
    I think I’m going to try this. In LA, it’s getting impossible to find kimchi without MSG. I have a lead on a couple of sources, but still . . . . Have you tried dried shrimp instead of fish sauce?

      • Jinni says

        Ok, bought some MSG free Kimchi today (the price was crazy), but also got my cabbage and radish to start a batch tonight. I’ve seen it done so many times, it’s time to try it myself.

  9. Elizabeth says

    Definitely try the sterilized (boiled) stone–that’s what the folks in Korea used. No need for fancy crocks. My mother-in-law uses whatever plastic container she has available and packs it in super-tight. Lock-N-Lock containers are good for this. But… she uses a special kimchi refrigerator to keep it at the right temperature so it doesn’t explode after being in there for a few months. If you don’t have a kimchi refrigerator then after the initial fermentation you may want to transfer your kimchi to a container with an inch or two of space between the kimchi and the lid. Also, it helps to stir out any air bubbles every few days, so the bubbles don’t make the liquid level rise too high and overflow. And always make sure to close your kimchi container tightly… otherwise the smell of sour garlic will really change the flavor of the rest of the food in the fridge.

    My experience with kimchi is that is turns out well one time and less well the next, until eventually with practice it becomes a bit more reliable. You have to allow yourself to mess up occasionally.

    For folks who don’t like hot peppers, google “white kimchi” or “water kimchi”. You will find cool and refreshing recipes that do not burn your mouth.

  10. Olivia says

    Can this be made without the fish sauce? I can’t find a natural brand in the UK? Or does anyone know of a good brand?

  11. Carol says

    Is the garlic necessary at all? I love fermented things, but I’ve never tasted Kimchi because it contains raw garlic, and I avoid garlic as much as possible. Do you think shallots (another strong tasting allium) would work instead?

  12. Leslie says

    Wondering what type of chilies you use? I have read some kimchi recipes that say our Southern cayenne and “non-Korean” chilies are too bitter/hot. Anything that you have found to be ideal?

  13. Angel says

    This is the best kimchi I’ve ever had, including the $10/jar kind. I’m surprised how easy it was–perfectly pickled, no scum or mold (I did use the fermentation jar from Cultures for Health). I eat some almost every day–it’s great on burgers and even in borscht! (added to my bowl once it’s cooled a bit, of course). Thank you! This recipe is priceless to me.

  14. says

    JUST finished my 1st batch….waiting anxiously to see how it comes out. I bought a fermentation jar from an Asian Market. It is glass and has a large rim at the middle of a stack with a bowl that covers over the top. The instructions state to pour water in the rim and put the bowl on the top of the stack for keeping air bubbles away. My concern is the kimchi is only about 3/4 full to the top. All of the cabbage is covered with liquid BUT what about it being only 3/4 full?? Is it a worry??

  15. Scarlet says

    I made this a couple of weeks ago with our homegrown cabbages, carrots and radishes. We’ve almost finished the whole batch, it’s that amazing. My 9 month old can’t get enough of the stuff, even with the raw garlic and chillies. It was ready after 5 days as we live in the tropics.
    Thanks for a fabulous recipe.

  16. Sarah says

    To make a homemade airtight fermentation vessel for under $6, buy a ½ gal wide mouth mason jar, a wide mouth Tattler lid, a regular size lid, and a brewers airlock w/plug. The mason jars and Tattler lids come in a case of 6 and 12 respectively. It looks similar to this: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/fermented-vegetable-master.html But this crock is $12 plus s&h.

    Drill a ½ inch hole in the center of the Tattler lid. Insert the plug and airlock. Put a Tbsp of water in the airlock. Set aside. Fill the mason jar, leaving 1 in headspace. Weight vegetables using a clean regular size canning lid and a boiled rock. When the fermentation is to your liking, trade the Tattler airlock lid for a Ball freezer lid.

    I hope this helps someone else save some money!

  17. Debra says

    Hi – great recipe – I’m assuming it’s fine to use savoy &/or red cabbage as a substitute for napa. Please advise. Thanks.

  18. Maggie says

    I fermented some carrots last week and opened up the jar to skim the “scum” off the top. The batch smelled more like alcohol than sour. Why is this so? Is it still safe to consume?

    Thank you!

  19. Jim says

    Hey Jenny.. this recipe looks great. For those dedicated kimchi lovers and makers in large quantities, I have a simple solution for fermentation. Buy a beer brewer with a lid that has a water airlock. You place the water in the lock and the gases from the inside can escape, but it does not allow any air to get back inside the container.

  20. Sara Gordon says

    Hi Jenny, I already have a few jars of sauerkraut made up. Do you know if I can add the other ingrendiets to the existing sauerkraut to make kimchi? Thanks, Sara

  21. Bonni says

    Why drain the water rendered by the salted cabbage? Isn’t the intent to have all vegetables release their juice?
    Thanks!

  22. Melissa says

    This may seem like a dumb question, but in order for me to try this I need to know in advance…Will this make my house stnk? I want to try fermenting because I know how healthy it is, but I am afraid my family will be turned off completely if it smells bad. I may be able to use the shed if it is going to smell, but not sure if there is a required temperature. Thanks!

  23. says

    Admiring the commitment you put into your blog and in depth information you present.
    It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same old rehashed
    information. Wonderful read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your
    RSS feeds to my Google account.

  24. anichka says

    Thank you for the recipe! What kind of chili peppers do you use? Are they just called “chili peppers” or would any hot pepper work? Thank you

  25. says

    I made this recipe with some slight modifications according to what was available to me. I don’t have access to Napa cabbage, so I used regular, and I didn’t soak it in salt water before mixing with the other ingredients. Since I was working with dried red chilies, which I rehydrated, I may have put too much chili in it. Otherwise, everything is the same.

    I checked it after fermenting it for 5 days on the counter (72F), and it was ready. I noticed that my radishes were soft, though, and from googling it, it sounds like radishes in kimchi are not supposed to be soft. The carrot and cabbage were both still deliciously crisp.

    Did anyone else have this happen? If I make it again, I plan to decrease the garlic, because it is very, very garlicky.

    Thanks for a good recipe idea, Jenny!

  26. Claude Badley says

    8 heads of garlic? Do you mean 8 full bulbs of garlic? That is a lot. Or do you mean 8 cloves of garlic? I’ve made this recipe a couple of times and just can’t seem to get more than 2 “heads” of garlic in it before I think I just won’t be able to eat it. I really like this recipe but the amount of garlic has me wondering…
    Thanks in advance for your reply.

  27. shanaz says

    This probably sounds lame, but I can’t get over the fear of what if my fermenting goes wrong, what if it ends up turning harmful and if i consume it and something should happen to me :S helppppp

    • Lesley says

      Shanaz~
      First, it doesn’t sound lame, we are indoctrinated as a culture (most 1st world cultures) to think that fermentation is a bad thing. I had to work up some courage before I embarked on my fermentation adventures. Second, the nose KNOWS! When something has gone bad/wonky, then you will know. It will be slimy, moldy, and/or yucky smelling. It involves trusting yourself, and trusting your body. Do you eat yogurt? Cream cheese? Regular cheese? Pickles? These are all fermented. (I call it controlled rot). Before the days of refrigeration, fermentation was a daily cycle for people, not only for the wonderful probiotic benefits, but also as a way to make these foods last. Good for you for reaching out to experiment. Trust yourself. It will be awesome.

  28. says

    Just made kimchi for the first time! So excited! I opened it up and there is bubbly scum on the top. Is it okay to eat? I ate a piece and it tasted a bit sour and garlicky. Just want to be double sure before I eat more of it! Thanks.

  29. Denise says

    I just completed the recipe, I got just enough fluid to cover the vegetables but they do not come anywhere near the lip of the crock…is this going to be a problem?

    Also I have sterilized the stone, but it is still warm, is it ok to put that on the mixture?

    Please advise asap…don’t want to waste this batch…so much time and money went into it!

    Thank you!

  30. felix says

    I think you might want to check your information about fermenting foods. Fermentation is an aerobic process, not anaerobic. Fermentation of this sort, bacterial, uses oxygen and gives off carbon dioxide. Anaerobic fermentation occurs in the absence of oxygen and its main gas production is methane. When making fermented foods, you must allow the bacteria to have access to oxygen so that the process does not go anaerobic. But not to worry, if your environment is not correct, your foods will not smell or look right.

  31. Susan says

    I’m a little nervous about the garlic. Is there any risk of botulism, or is this acid enough to eliminate the risk? Otherwise it sounds terrific. I’ve been looking for an authentic but simple recipe for kimchi since I got my fermenting crock. I love sauerkraut, but I’ looking to branch out. Thanks!

  32. Katalia says

    Is there something you can use in place of fish sauce? My husband is vegetarian, and I would love to make one without fish for us …

  33. Iseult says

    Hi Jenny. I look forward to trying this recipe. Can you say what exactly is the purpose of adding sugar? Is it for flavour, or does it improve/change the fermentation process? I prefer to avoid sugar in general, but if it makes for better fermentation and gets eaten up by the bacteria anyway, I will give it a go. I have made nice kimchi without sugar or fruit, but I guess you have it in there for a reason. Thanks.

  34. Lisa says

    Hi! I’m vegan and absolutely intrigued by this. I love kimchi.
    Is there any vegan substitute for fishsauce you’d suggest?
    Thanks in advance, can’t wait to make this!

  35. crockof... says

    What kind of salt did you use for this recipe?
    As I understand it a 1/4 cup of salt can vary hugely in the amount of sodium and thus affect the length of time for fermentation.

    Thank you!

  36. Lyndsie says

    I started my first batch 2 days ago. I’m looking forward to enjoying the kimchi but for now my house STINKS and I’m afraid my husband will want to toss it. I’m fermenting in jars with an airlock system. I’ve moved my jars from the pantry to the garage but the house still smells. Any advice?

  37. Lyndsie says

    Yes, there is water in the airlock. The liquid overflowed into the airlock on the second day and I had to remove it to wash it and drain some liquid. Now there are a lot of air pockets within the kimchi and a small amount of liquid on the top, where the weight is. The smell seems to have mellowed a bit so maybe it was the overflow. I hope so because I really want to eat it! Thanks!

  38. Lyndsie says

    Oh my goodness! This is delicious! It was my first attempt at kimchi and I’m hooked. Thank you for sharing the recipe. I used a few spoonfuls of juice from my fermented pickles as a starter and my kimchi was nice and sour after only 4 days. So crisp and flavorful.

  39. Montse says

    I love Kimchi! But this will be my first attempt at fermenting vegetables. Do I need some sort of starter culture? Or brine that has been previously fermented? And I will be using mason jars, how should I cover them? Thanks for all your advice! Looove your blog!

  40. Dayna says

    Hi Jenny :)
    Would you use beets in place of the radish?
    We only have the red radish and I know those taste much different.
    Thank you!

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