Exotic Eats: Kimchi (gimchi or kimchee)

By , SparkPeople Blogger
It's Korea's most popular side dish

What is it?
Vegetables—usually Napa cabbage, but also daikon radish, cucumber, scallions, or perilla leaves--mixed with garlic, ginger, onions, dried shrimp (sometimes), and hot pepper paste. (It's the food in the upper right in the picture.)

Kimchi is spicy and pungent, like a fiery sauerkraut. (The heat level is usually comparable to a medium salsa.) In Korea, it's served at every meal: For breakfast, it's eaten alongside white rice and maybe an egg over easy. For lunch and dinner, it's served in stews, soups, stir fries and alongside barbecued meats. It tops pizzas, burgers and pastas. There are 187 varieties of kimchi, according to the Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul (I visited when I was living in South Korea back in '05.). The most popular is made of Napa cabbage.

Where do you get it?
I buy it in half-gallon jars at my local Korean grocery. Don't have a Korean grocery? No problem!

My local supermarket carries small jars of kimchi in hot and mild flavors. Look for it in the produce section, near the wonton wrappers and fresh herbs. Whole Foods and health-food stores sell it near the soy products. (You can make your own, too. I sometimes do! Ask, and I'll give you the recipe!)

Nutrition data
Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt and natto, are full of probiotics. Those helpful bacteria help fight off germs in the gut, and they help keep you regular, too.

The vegetables in kimchi provide plenty of nutrients and minerals. Cabbage is loaded with nutrients like sulforaphane, a chemical said to boost cancer-fighting enzymes. Kimchi is low in calories and sugar, contains plenty of fiber, Vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. Dr. Jonny Bowden even included kimchi in his "150 Healthiest Foods on Earth."

Meanwhile, the garlic helps lower cholesterol and aid in blood clotting, and the spicy red pepper has pain-reducing and cardiovascular effects. (An added bonus: Eat kimchi to clear your sinuses!)

Kimchi trivia:
  • Koreans say "kimchi" instead of "cheese" when taking photos.
  • Kimchi is so popular that Korean airlines serve it in tiny pouches on every flight. Travel pouches of kimchi can be found in any Korean supermarket—they're popular with Koreans who are traveling to milieus that might be lacking in kimchi.
  • Many Koreans have special kimchi refrigerators in their homes.
  • The first Korean astronaut, Ko San, blasted off to space this year with kimchi. The bacteria was removed—after plenty of research by the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute.

Broiled kimchi

Kimchi fried rice

Find more kimchi recipes at SparkRecipes.com

Do you like kimchi? What exotic eat is a staple in your house? Vegemite? Sauerkraut? Pickled herring? Harissa? Email editor@dailyspark.com, and we might write about your favorite exotic eat.

Photo: side dishes to accompany a Korean barbecue meal in Seoul, 2005

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When I became a vegan, I despaired of ever finding a suitable kimchi. However, I finally found one without shrimp or other animal products. Ironically, this one comes from Korea, while all the nasty ones are made in the USA.
If you're vegetarian/vegan, you need to find the uber sized asian grocery store, which is where I found mine. Report
Yum. I love kimchi but I haven't had any for a while. Thanks for the reminder. I sometimes eat pickles with brown rice for breakfast, and kimchi would be a good substitute for the pickles. I'll have to go look for some. Report
mmmmmm yum!!! Love kimchi!
LOVE kimchee. I admit, it was an acquired taste, but Korean food just tastes so healthy! I'd encourage anyone to give it a couple of tries before making any judgments. Report
I've never tried it, but I would love to. We don't really have a "staple" in our house. When I was growing up, it was white rice and fish... I guess that tradition ended with me. I make brown rice occasionally and fish whenever I think about it, but I couldn't say that they are staples. Report
I love it! I like it best with rice to tone down (or compliment) the hotness! It definately helps with regularity! :D Report
The recipe here at Sparks for Kimchee, had over 1,000 mg. of sodium. This is NOT a product I would care to try with all that salt! I can eat my garlic like an Italian!! but MINUS salt! Report
My sister's husband is Korean. One day, while we were chatting on the phone, I heard her open the fridge door (we often clean our kitchens while talking), and say, "Oh, Brian didn't get the lid tight on the kimchi jar, and now my whole fridge smells like feet!"

Evidently, Brian buys his kimchi by the gallon at a nearby Korean deli. The next time I visited, he was having some, and offered it to me, and I said, sure, I'd try it. I sniffed it, and said to my sister, "You're right--it does smell like feet!"

But it was very tasty. Report
I don't like kimchee, vegemite or sauerkraut but I like some probiotic items such as Greek yogurt and kefir. Report
Kimchi rules! I love the stuff, but have not found the right recipe to make at home - never tastes like what I had in Korea. Anyone have a great recipe they would like to share? Please let me know as I do watch my sodium intake and would really like to start making this for parties - my friends would love it! Report
i LOVE kimchi. i ate almost a whole jar of it once. then i went to the gym later and i guess i sweated out all of the garlic. when i entered the locker room this woman 2 rows away could smell me and told me i should cut back on the garlic. HAHA! i haven't eaten it since but i love it. Report
I love Kimchee especially the Cabbage Kimchee, however the fresh cucumber kimchee is also very good. The smell is from the fermentation and the garlic. I spent a year in Korea and everyone does eat it and in a bus full of people, it reeks. I don't like anything pickled EXCEPT Korean food like the Kimchee and the pickles made our of radishes. Its great to find out it's so healthy. Report
I love kimchi! Especially now that I find out it's actually healthy! ^_^ You find it plenty of times in Japanese restaurants, too. Report
lol this sounds so disgusting to me! (hate spicy, hate sauerkraut, hate pickled and fermented foods) you guys can keep it! :P Report
I love Kimchi!! When we lived in Hawaii we would regularly eat at a Korean restaurant and I fell in love with it. Report
Kim Chee is a staple in my house. Of course I'm the only one who eats it but that's ok with me. I was born in Hawaii and have eaten every variety there is. Cucumber Kim Chee is awsome, as well as regular Kim Chee as long as it's spicy. It's super easy to make to and way good for you. Report
It depends who makes it, so it can be great or can be awful. Love it with steamed rice or in Ramen noodles. Cucumber kimchi is even better, in my opinion, and doesn't have to be fermented so you can eat it right away. Report
So surprised to read about one of my favorite dishes.
If you are a lover of 'hot' foods you will love Kimchi. Its very unique and tasty.
At an early age I was introduced to it and always enjoy it as a treat.
:o) Report
kimchi is absolutely delicious! it really depends on who made it~ and how it's made... it also depends on how long it's left to ferment... reallyy good stuff :) i LOVE kimchi pancakes!!! they're my favoritee~ there are some better looking pictures of kimchi though.. haha this one looks sorta gross lol Report
One day at work there was an awful smell and I thought an animal had died in the ceiling. Turns out a co-worker was eating kimchi at her desk. For those around you, please have your lunch in the cafeteria. Report
I love Kimchi and can wait to try these recipes. Also a Korean friend is going to teach me her mother's recipe. Report
we make kimchi with fresh spinach :) its very tasty
and yes, harissa is a staple in our home; we live in tunisia which is where harissa is originated from :) Report
I love pickled everything- and Spicy food in my addiction.. Im off to find some kimchi. Does Wal-mart have it? Report
I love kimchi. I grew up with a good friend who was Korean and at her house I learned to eat kimchi. I was actually surprised when I went to a Korean restaurant and they put about 10 little bowls of all kinds of kimchi in front of us. I thought there was only the red hot kimchi as that is all I had had at that point but kimchi comes in many strengths from very mild to very hot. Lot it. Get it whenever I can. I would love to get the recipe on how to make my own kimchi. Report
Wow! who knew, I love Korean food and Kimchi is great, the hotter the better! Its awesome to learn that I can continue to have something that I thought was a pleasure I'd have to leave behind in my quest for a waistline! Lol! Report
I have to say one thing, if you can find a oriental of any kind grocery store and look in the freezer section they have kimchi wontons. They are SO GOOD! I am a very picky eater. I mean very picky. I like what I like and pretty much if it looks liek that I am not eating it. However, I had a neighbor who was Korean when my husband was stationed with the Navy in georgia. She was a really good cook, one day this was on my plate when we got the kids together for a playdate and we were having lunch, my son was too little but my daughter loved it (I should state that my daughter also loves sushi!). I do not like sushi except california rolls which are basically sushi hater food. :O). So, anyhow, I had it because I wasn't going to be rude. It was delish. I think it is worth the try for anyone who is open minded. If you can find the wontons.........you will love it even more! Report
Honestly, I think this sounds horrible. I'm definitely not a kraut or cabbage fan. However, if I had some in front of me, I'd try it. Report
Kimchi rocks, I eat lots of it and it has really helped my digestion. Fermented, pickled foods are really good for your mood. I take it to potlucks and it is always a hit with about forty percent of the crowd. I love it! Report
Not a fan of kimchi. Sorry. :( Report
That looks delicious :D Report
I love to try different things, but spicy is not my thing. My family loves spicy food, but I can't handle it too well. Report
I am eating Kimchi soup as I write this for breakfast. I love the taste, we add schredded spicey pork and tofu. Report
I love all sorts of unusual foods, the spicier the better USUALLY!!!!! However, the one food I cannot stomach is Korean, after a trial in Hing Kong many years ago, and never been tempted since.... Report
I love the stuff - it's a combo of 2 of my favorite things: pickled food and spicy flavors! And the Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul is definitely worth a visit if you're a foodie.

What's hilarious is that my dh loves kimchi and Korean cuisine in general, but he normally despises anything spicy, garlicky, onion-y and with peppers... and that's pretty much Korean food summed up in a nutshell, LOL. Report
Kimchi is THE BOMB!!!!
when was a Marine stationed on okinawa in the 1980s, my artillery unit went to Korea for training exercises several times a year.without fail, we always had an older couple that followed us everywhere in theismall hyundai panel truck. at mealtimes they would set up a cooker and make big pots of ramen noodles. we could goover and buy a bowl of noodles & kimchi and a coke for $2.00. even better for those of us who hated our GI rations, they'd take an MRE in trade. if you see MREs for sale in a surplus store or elsewhere, that's probably where they came from,Korea. i got addicted to kimchee over there.Korea is a gastronomic wonderland for those who are not scared to eat "unusual" food. one year after our training was completed,some buddies and I went into town (pohang) to go to a bath-house and get something to eat. we were strolling down a street and came across a guy with a food cart. he was grilling chicken livers and hearts on little yaitori like sticks on a charcoal brazier. we all bought a cup full of the sticks and kept on walking, eating chicken hearts and swilling our OBs until we found a bat-house. ( a Korean mens only bath- house is another great thing alltogether). after we were all clean and happy, we wandered off, found a bar and piled inside for some beers.the bar maids were eating kimchee and rice for their lunch.they were also eating something that looked like some kind of nuts from plastic cups. one gal offered me some and I said sure I'll take some.i took the cup and poured the things into my mouth and started chewing.... crunch crunch crunch! they weren't nuts they were tiny little steamed snails!!!they were great, not gross at all. i loved them and asked for more. when our beer thirst was quenched, the girls told us where to find a little cafe where we could get dinner, and we went. one of the things we got there was fried potatoes.they were thin slices of potato coated in what I think was a rice four batter and deep fried! amazing! i've asked for them at ever korean restaurant I've ever been to in the states, but no one has them or even knows what I'm talking about, guess I'm going to have to make em myself. i've got to scoot off to bed, I'll post my recipe here after I make them.



"I was once arrested for walking in someone elses sleep"
steven wright+++++++++++++++++ Report
I think this is an acquired taste. My boyfriend loves it (but when they had a contest at his work, and the prize was the bosses of the losers team had to eat the nasty food everyone brought in, his contribution was kimchee). Report
I would love your recipe for Kimchee. My husband especially loves it. I have tried making it but I did not do a great job. I have a recipe for kimchee pancakes. I usually just buy a jar. It would be nice to surprise my DH. Thanks! Report
Love it. Make it. Try not to breath on anyone, wouldn't want a fire. I usually make it with chinese cabbage but I've also used cucumber for a sweet/sour recipe I found online. I just do a search and make the recipe that include the ingredients I have on hand. Simple. You can leave out flavors you don't like and ferment more or less. Report
Well I love kraut, pickled okra, almost all Asian food and spicy foods so will look for a small jar the next shopping trip.......hopefully will find it since finding rice noodles is harder than I thought it would be.......no speciality food stores within 90 miles at least *sigh* Report
I love kimichi. It is great with rice, meat, fish, pretty much anything.. Good stuff!! Report
Yum. Delicious stuff. I've even had kimchi potatoes at a fantastic bbq place here. And tofu. And sprouts. All delightful.

It sounded good until the dried shrimp part...I am vegan. I did see the sometimes so I will check the labels if I buy .I probably will just make my own because I do love spicy foods. Thanks Report
I know this dish well, kimchee. It is too hot for me, but my husband eats it like peanut butter when ever it is in the house. I have two children of Korean heritage & they do not eat it. They say it smells bad. We have sushi all the time. In fact my daughter makes it herself. I do cook other Korean dishes. But since there is only my husband and I left in the house. We go out and eat "exotic" Food all the time. I do not call it exotic b/c we have traveled to so many places and eaten some strange food. It is just part of our dining pleasure to eat foods of different cultures. Report
It sounds like it would be good. Several have commented on it's smell. What does it smell like? Report
Back in the 90s I dated a Korean man and we ate kimchee all of the time. I was the thinnest I'd ever been! It was nutritious and satisfying. I made some recently. I'll try and share the recipe. Report
I would love the recipe! Report
My boyfriend is half Korean and I had kimchee for the first time when we started dating. He isn't overly fond of it, but I LOVE it. We go to this great Korean restaurant in town, and that's one side dish I always end up hogging. :) Report
I love kimchi! It's spicy and satisfying :o) Normally, I'll eat it alone or mixed in with noodles for a quick meal. Report
^^ I LOVE KIMCHEE!!! ^^ but my favorit is Kakdoogi (trunip kimchee) ^^ Report
I've tried it, and it's NOT for me. But I don't tend to like pickled anything, so it's not much of a surprise. Report
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