Kimchee (or Kimchi): It Grows On You

There is a living, growing colony of bacteria hanging out in my kitchen cabinet. A few days ago, I started the colony myself in a mix of cabbage, daikon radish, and scallion. In case you missed it, here is the way that happened. While the kimchee (or kimchi) is fermenting I looked up some information on this ancient and culturally important food.

Here are some quick and interesting facts from Korean cultural site SeoulSync. Kimchee in space- I can get behind that!

Maangchi is an amazing cook with a website devoted to Korean cuisine and culture. She has so many kimchi recipes.  Her site even has videos to demonstrate preparation techniques.

I even found a great article from Journal of Ethnic Foods by Dai-Ja Jang, et al. About the history of kimchi.

What I could not find was good, peer-reviewed research on the health consequences of eating fermented foods. Many of the sites with recipes also made claims regarding the super-duper healthful probiotic nature of fermented foods. I also found sites insisting that eating fermented foods causes stomach and esophageal cancer. Nobody had any high quality evidence to offer, though. I will continue to look for research, and I will share when I find it.

I kept a daily record of the progress my kimchi/kimchee made as it developed. Here’s what happened.

Kimchee (or Kimchi) diary, Day 1

It is really cold in the Food It Yourself Kitchen. Although the three fermentation jars have been kept at room temperature they feel cold. I hope there are some chill-resistant Lactobacilli in there.

Kimchee (or Kimchi) diary, Day 2

Bubbles have appeared in the jars- so something is alive in there. I opened each jar and smashed the veggies down with a clean spoon.  It is important to keep liquid over the veggies. Nothing smells bad, so I guess this fermentation thing is going well.

Kimchee (or Kimchi) diary, Day 3

I smashed the veggies down again today. There were lots of tiny bubbles in the liquid and the liquid has gone from totally clear to slightly milky.  That is a sure sign that we have fermentation.  I tried a little bite. The garlic, ginger and pepper are very pungent but the fermented tang is still a little light for my taste. I will taste it again tomorrow.

Kimchee (or Kimchi) diary, Day 4

The daily gas production within the jars continues to increase, a sure sign that the Lactobacilli are alive and multiplying. The veggies continue to wilt as the salt draws water from them. Best of all, there are no signs of mold in any of the jars. I tried a slice of daikon. I think I will let the fermentation continue another day or two.

Kimchee (or Kimchi) diary, Day 5

Today, there was a definite tartness to the veggies. I had Mr. Food It Yourself taste a bit, and he agreed that the fermentation level was acceptable. We both feel that the next batch should have less salt in it, I might reduce the red pepper level next time, also.  However, I will definitely be making this again.

What will we do with it?  Eat it over rice, mix it into soups, stir-fry it with noodles- there are plenty of options. The best part is we can take our time and enjoy our kimchee/kimchi. It should last many months in the refrigerator. I am really excited about fermenting things. There are so many recipes out there for fermented vegetables, and multiple communities of fermenters you can turn to for help if you decide to try fermenting yourself.  I found a recipe for fermented root beer, even!  (Hey! That’s on the Stock Pot List, too!)

So, one more Stock Pot List item has been crossed off, and it was a big success. Fermented vegetables may or may not be really good for you, or really bad for you. I will keep my eyes open for some quality, peer-reviewed research. If you find any first pretty please share. They are very tasty, though, and I now have the confidence to create them in my very own kitchen.