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Eat Well Feb. 3. 2015
How-to

The Ultimate Kimchi | Fermentation 101

Feb. 3. 2015
How-to
McKel Hill

McKel Hill

MS, RDN, LDN, Dietitian

Learn why everyone needs fermented foods in their daily life for optimal health and gut function, and how to make your own at home!

I’ve loved kimchi and all fermented foods ever since I realized what they were, their health benefits, and the amazing flavor. Starting off, many of you may be reading this title even wondering how to pronounce this recipe, it’s called kimchi (kim-chee); and second, some of you may already be looking for the exit button as soon as I mention the word fermented.

I get it, the word fermented for whatever reason has a negative connotation and many of us immediately turn up our noses and freak out a little bit. We all need to take a second here and befriend the word FERMENTED and learn what fermentation is all about. Other cultures, especially asian cultures where fermented foods are as essential to a meal as bread rolls are to us here in the US, embrace fermented foods and their impact on ones health.

What exactly is fermentation? Fermentation is simply a process where a carbohydrate is converted into an acid or an alcohol, it involves live bacteria and often results in higher yields of good bacteria, probiotics! Probiotics are the good guys, they’re the bacteria army you want on your side and you want to keep their home (your gut) thriving with food for them to grow (prebiotics) and in balance with the natural and normal occurring bad bacteria and yeast to create a happy ecosystem. I’ve spoken in depth about probiotics here, but just to quickly recap why everyone can benefit from consuming probiotics: regular bowel movements, more efficient digestion (i.e. absorbing nutrients from our food), higher immune function, lower digestive disease prevalence, producing nutrients, depression and mental health, aids our body in healing any gut abnormalities (such as leaky gut), may improve skin conditions (such as acne, psoriasis, etc.) and helps stabilize blood sugar levels.

Many of you might be thinking, well can’t I just take a probiotic capsule? Yes, you could certainly do that, but I always recommend getting your probiotics and nutrients from food- and besides, I know I’d much rather eat something incredibly delicious and more affordable than pop a pill. We need to learn how to embrace fermented foods as their own “food group” and treat it with importance just like we do any other food group, macronutrient and micronutrient. Our digestive system and gut health is vital to our overall health- I don’t know how I can stress the importance of this concept any more. I repeat, our gut health and internal ecosystem is vital to our health; therefore taking care of it by providing it with whole foods to create the food (prebiotics) that the bacteria can consume and thrive in our gut is SO important!

 

    

Bacteria is the beez neez- yeah I said it! It truly is an amazing colony of microorganisms that we all already have living in our bodies and guts, yet most of us don’t nearly have as many of the good guys as we need. During the fermentation process lactic acid is created by the natural sugars found in whatever is being fermented (cabbage, cucumbers, peppers), feeds the bacteria which is then converted to lactic acid. Lactic acid specifically is also is responsible for giving that “sour” or “tang” taste to sourdough bread, pickles, sauerkraut, and of course kimchi. It’s also a natural preservative and the reason fermented foods keep so well for a long time!

Truthfully, I love eating kimchi right out of the jar with a fork as a random snack throughout the day or while I’m preparing lunch or dinner, but you can enjoy it in so many ways. I often find myself adding it to salads just as you would any other topping, to sandwiches for a little kick of heat, dolloped onto cooked gluten free grains like quinoa, millet, amaranth, brown rice, or in pasta. Traditionally, kimchi is used as a condiment like most other fermented foods are, so use it wherever you enjoy most. Also, traditional kimchi is made with soy sauce and fish sauce, both of which are not gluten free nor vegan- my version is both gluten free and vegan!

Making kimchi is a bit of a process, yet is completely fruitful and simple when you break it down. The actual prep time of kimchi, i.e. chopping veggies and gathering spices isn’t where this is so much a process as playing the waiting game is. Kimchi isn’t a dish you can prepare and enjoy right away, it’s one that needs time, love and care for it to ferment well. I typically will make large batches of kimchi at the start of each month to have enough to last me 2-4 weeks depending on how often I use it. If you’re starting out with making fermented foods I recommend making a smaller amount to get used to the process and the flavors you enjoy.

 

  

   

Kimchi can be as mild in heat as you like or as spicy as you like- I enjoy it most on the spicier side. Herbs and spices that you’ll need to make kimchi are ones that are found in almost every whole food pantry! My version of kimchi is quite different than most, I incorporate very strong somewhat medicinal ingredients such as higher ratios of ginger root, garlic, turmeric, beets, and even kale! This version is incredibly pungent and spicy, if you don’t like spicy simply use half or 1/4 of the amounts of ginger, chili flake, jalapeno and add a bit more honey. Remember, this is YOUR kimchi, make it how you like!

If you love this recipe, I highly recommend fermenting these other vegetables and giving it a go: beets, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, mushrooms, cauliflower, cucumbers, bell peppers, radishes, garlic cloves, onions, hot peppers, and the list goes on!

 

Instructions
  1. First, sterilize every piece of equipment you’ll be using (bowl, knives, cutting board, mason jar for storing, etc.); I do this by submerging them in boiling water for about 5 minutes.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine all shredded fruits, vegetables, and spices.
  3. Using several large mason jars or 1 large mason jar (which I recommend) pack in each jar full with the shredded fruits, vegetables, and spices. You’ll pack these into the very top, then use pressure from your fist to press it down leaving a little room at the top.
  4. In a small mixing bowl, combine water, apple cider vinegar, honey and opened probiotic capsules (if you’re using these only) and stir until combined. Pour this mixture to fill each mason jar to the top with liquid leaving only 1 1/2 inches for the vegetables to expand. Most likely you will need additional water to fill to the top, just use filtered water for the extra.
  5. Option to use a piece of parchment paper or wax paper, place under the lid to keep the liquids from the metal and secure by tightly screwing on the lids of each jar.
  6. Shake well and store in a dark, cool place for 3-4 days, weeks, or up to 1 month depending on the flavor and strength of flavor. Shake these jars daily (an important step!).
  7. Open the jars and taste your cultured vegetables and adjust for seasonings, you may want to gradually add about 3 tablespoons of honey or maple syrup to sweeten. If the kimchi has reached a flavor and strength you enjoy, remove from countertop and place in the fridge.
  8. Store in the refrigerator after opening for several weeks if not months.

FAQ about Fermentation!

Q

Do I need to add a starter to make this ferment?

A 

It’s completely optional. You can add a starter such as a probiotic capsule containing lactobacillus or other starters, but this will naturally ferment without a starter with the natural occurring sugars, added brine/salt, and the way you make it following the recipe.

Q

How do I know my fermented veggies are “good”, safe to eat, and done fermenting?

A

The nose knows! Smell your fermented veggies for a strong, tangy, but pleasantly sour smell. When tasting it should be spicy, strong, pungent, but never foul or “off” tasting- the longer you let kimchi and fermented veggies sit to ferment the stronger their flavor will be. Trust me, you’ll know when kimchi is bad, it’s horrible smelling and tasting! Play it safe, if you think it’s “off” and have your kitchen intuition screaming at you to not eat, then don’t eat it.

Q

How can I make a milder tasting kimchi?

A

Sitting your kimchi out at room temperature for a longer period of time will result in a strong kimchi, if you want to slow the fermentation process down a little bit, pop it in the fridge which will continue to ferment just much slower and less strong. My tip, always start fermenting at room temperature, and if you taste the kimchi and it’s perfect for you, then pop it in the fridge!

Q

I finished making my kimchi and the flavor is way too strong, what can I do? Should I throw it away?

A

No worries, this has happened to me before too! First, don’t throw it away! Second, just mix it with extra cabbage or any of the vegetables that you used in the fermentation process. This will just help “spread” the flavor over to more raw vegetables so the flavor will chill out a bit.

Q

I see something growing on the top, it looks like mold, what should I do?

A 

Red flag, throw this batch out! This has happened to me before and it’s because the jar and all the utensils you used to make kimchi was most likely not sterile or clean enough. Always be sure to use clean forks, jars, and lids (and no taste testing with a fork and putting it back in the kimchi batter before fermenting…guess what you’ve just added? A whole new lot of bacteria from your mouth!).

Q

What supplies do I need for this whole process and where do I find them?

A 

Great question and it’s simple! I use very large mason jar (holding up to 4-5 liters), a huge mixing bowl, crock pot or large stock pot to sterilize your jars in, knife and cutting board, mortar and pestle, and a good apron cause it’s about to get a little messy!

If you have any more questions, please do comment below and I’ll pop them here in the blog! I’m still learning and by all means am I an expert on fermentation, but I have a BLAST experimenting in the kitchen with all the flavors and foods to ferment. Cultured/fermented vegetables are where it’s at, they truly add a little “digestive fire” to your gut, especially when making them with a little spice and heat! The combination of good bacteria, fiber, and spices will keep your digestion moving smooth and efficient, something everyone can benefit from. I hope you all seriously give this one a try, you won’t regret it! Comment below with any questions you may have or any other tips you’d like from me to help you along! Remember I’m an email away ([email protected])

xx McKel

The Recipe

Serves

Print

Ingredients:

1 head of organic napa cabbage

1 bunch of organic kale

1 organic golden beet

1/2 cup shredded ginger root

1/4 cup shredded horseradish

1 organic granny smith apple

7 spring onions, chopped

1 clove organic garlic

2 leeks, chopped

2 organic carrots, shredded

1 jalapeno pepper, sliced

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

1/2 tablespoon ground cumin

3 tablespoons chili flakes or powder

Sea salt

1-2 cups of pure water

3 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar

Local honey or maple syrup to taste

1-2 probiotic capsules (completely optional)

Directions:

First, sterilize every piece of equipment you’ll be using (bowl, knives, cutting board, mason jar for storing, etc.); I do this by submerging them in boiling water for about 5 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine all shredded fruits, vegetables, and spices.

Using several large mason jars or 1 large mason jar (which I recommend) pack in each jar full with the shredded fruits, vegetables, and spices. You’ll pack these into the very top, then use pressure from your fist to press it down leaving a little room at the top.

In a small mixing bowl, combine water, apple cider vinegar, honey and opened probiotic capsules (if you’re using these only) and stir until combined. Pour this mixture to fill each mason jar to the top with liquid leaving only 1 1/2 inches for the vegetables to expand. Most likely you will need additional water to fill to the top, just use filtered water for the extra.

Option to use a piece of parchment paper or wax paper, place under the lid to keep the liquids from the metal and secure by tightly screwing on the lids of each jar.

Shake well and store in a dark, cool place for 3-4 days, weeks, or up to 1 month depending on the flavor and strength of flavor. Shake these jars daily (an important step!).

Open the jars and taste your cultured vegetables and adjust for seasonings, you may want to gradually add about 3 tablespoons of honey or maple syrup to sweeten. If the kimchi has reached a flavor and strength you enjoy, remove from countertop and place in the fridge.

Store in the refrigerator after opening for several weeks if not months.

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Did you try it out?

Share Your Thoughts & Images

  • Emily

    These photos and simple instructions are inspiring me to load up on cabbage at the market. My favorite way to eat kimchi is on a steaming bowl of brown rice with sauteed tempeh and a drizzle of sesame oil. I was wondering where you purchased your gorgeous spice bottles with the cork toppers. Thanks!

    • YES, I love it on rice with tempeh, it’s the best. Click the link for my jars that I use, they’re Weck and amazing!

  • Love this post! I too am such a huge fan of fermentation and think is something we are seriously missing in our North American diet. One of my favourite books on fermenting all sorts of things is The Art of Fermentation…. a seriously amazing book on the subject and for recipes. xo

  • Veronica

    how much Apple cider vinegar do I need for the recipe?

    • See the recipe 😉

      • Emily

        Looks fantastic! Probably a silly question, but how do you “shred” the Apple?

        • McKel Hill

          Not a silly question at all! A grater 😉

        • McKel Hill

          In a grater! (not a silly question) 😉

    • When I shake my jar, some of the veggies become exposed on the top (I squished them down, but when I shook it they started to float) – is that bad, they aren’t in the brine?

      • I find that happens sometimes with mine too, you either need a little more brine or water to fill or just stir again. It’s okay, I’ve never had an issue with the tops as you can always discard that too.

  • I love fermenting and everything is homemade – I’ve just made a raw fermented cashew cheese for a risotto I’ll post on my blog. But with products like sauerkraut and kimchi, I don’t know why, I always fail! I’ll retry with your recipe, wish me luck! 😀

  • Janhavi McKenzie

    Thank you for sharing this recipe. I am starting to explore making my own kimchi and this recipe is very timely. I like the medley of ingredients including the horseradish. I notice you don’t say how much salt to put in. Some recipes use lots of salt, others not so much. The recipes I’ve read so far indicate salt is very important for the fermentation process as well as promoting healthy bacteria and limiting unhealthy bacteria. How do view and determine the amount of salt?

  • Beautiful photos and instructional to the recipe. This is something I enjoy.

  • Love this post and and I really want to make this. Funny thing is, I didn’t have a clue about what kimchi was until I read this!

    But I have a question – Do you think I can I add a little bit of the whey water I strain off from making kefir to boost the bacteria?
    Thanks so much,
    Joann

    • I hope you try it out, it’s amazing! I cant’ say that I would use whey water for this one as the flavor might be quite off/not a good combination. BUT you can totally make kefir with that 😉

    • Johnny

      Great Blog and recipe but where do you buy your Mason Jars and ingredients?

      • McKel Hill

        You can purchase them in the NS Shop under Kitchen Essentials!

  • Yesssss!!! I’ve been looking for a vegan kimchi recipe. This looks AWESOME!! So excited to try this on the weekend:)

  • Grace

    Thank you McKel for this!! I think we all need a little kimchi in our lives and I am big believer in that. I think I tell everyone I talk to or that is willing to listen on how probiotics and prebiotics are essential for our everyday life. I will be trying this recipe cause I love love spice. Thank you and I hope you are having a super awesome day.

  • Yoojin

    i’d love to see a recipe created with some kimchi 🙂

  • Holly

    Where do you get your canning jars? I have never seen ones like it…so very cool!

  • Kathryn

    Newer studies are suggesting that synthetic probiotics, like the ones we get in capsule form, are unusable to our gut. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

    • Most of the probiotics we can obtain from capsules are just fine for reaching the gut, BUT food is by far a better carrier 😉 xx M

  • Gretchen

    Love this! I have been following your blog for a couple months and love your recipes. I know it’s always better to prepare your own, but when in a pinch do you think purchasing a fermented kraut is a good option? I picked up a ginger beet kraut from whole foods a few days ago made by Farmhouse Culture that is not pasteurized. Also, in your opinion, is store-bought kefir a good source of fermented food / probiotic? Or does the pasteurization negate any benefits? We have 2 young children, and while they are adventurous and good eaters, getting them to drink kefir is much easier than getting them to eat kimchi! Thanks for all of your creative and healthy cooking inspiration!

    • Great question and thank you for all the kind words! Yes, there are great store bought brands out there but they’re mostly pricey in comparison of what you could do at home! I love Farmhouse Culture, but hope you try this out too! xx M

  • Thank you for sharing this recipe. Looks very interesting! Would love to make my own kimchi!

  • I love the ingredients you include (such as golden beets, horseradish, and turmeric!) but I am unsure why you add raw apple cider vinegar. I’m aware of the great health benefits that it includes, but don’t know why you’d add it to a ferment, since only salt is needed to ferment.

    • Thank you! This version is my “fiery version” noted at the top of the recipe, apple cider vinegar gives it a kick and is another source of natural probiotics that help boost this!

  • Jessica

    Hi McKel! I noticed in the instructions it says to fill all the ingredients to the very top of the jar. But then you mention that 1 1/2 inches should be left on top for the veggies to expand. Which should be done? I’ve never done any fermenting, so I don’t want to make any mistakes. Thanks 🙂

    • I’ll clarify that, you press the veggies down hard (as seen with my picture) so that you have made a little room for expansion 😉

  • At home fermentation always initially seems intimidating. But after going through a handful of great tutorials, like yours, it really isn’t that bad at all! I’m half Korean and want to get back to my roots and I LOVE kimchi. This has me craving some now 🙂

  • Useful! I love kimchi, and I would love to start making my own.

  • Anna

    I’ve never had kimchi before but your beautiful photos and recipe have me intrigued. One question though, is the fact that the vegetables are organic, an important part of the fermentation process? It’s sometimes difficult to get certain organic veg near me but I’ve seen recipes such as sour dough starters which state organic is imperative for the process.

    I’m looking forward to giving it a try 🙂

    • It’s best if you can get organic vegetables all the time, but in this case if you can’t make sure you’re washing them very well and it’ll be fine! I hope you try it out soon and be sure to share it on instagram!

  • Thanks for this fantastic recipe! It looks delicious and the photos are a huge help.

    I’d just add that Sandor Katz (‘The Art of Fermentation’) advises just to remove any moldy top layer and carry on – that surface mold can’t penetrate the rest of the kimchi and is a very occasional and unavoidable side effect of fermenting which you shouldn’t be worried about. He’s also not big on sterilisation – if anything, you want an environment where bacteria can thrive a little, not one where everything has been killed off. Everything should be clean and hygienic for sure, but on his advice I gave up the boiling and sterilising long ago and have never had any problems (including the above mentioned mould) since.

    • Thank you, hope you enjoy it and try it out yourself 🙂

    • Please ignore the one star rating of this five star recipe – problems with my mobile browser!

  • I love kimchi, this looks wonderful!

  • I’m still to venture out into kimchi making, especially since I’ve found a brand here that does one that I absolutely love and trust! I really do want to try and make my own though, and this has been such an amazing post, thank you! So thorough!

    {Teffy’s Perks} X

  • Maureen Sutherland Weiser

    Hi McKell,

    I know you gave a range from 3 days to 2 weeks for fermentation time. What do you find your average tim? I have had it in the closet (darkest and coolest spot in the house) since Saturday, shaking daily!!

    Best,
    Maureen

    • It depends on your taste! I like mine very strong and spicy so I keep it for several weeks, but that’s the beauty of fermentation, it’s different every time so just go by your tastes!

      • Maureen Sutherland Weiser

        Thanks so much, McKel. Will keep you posted!

  • Marta

    McKel, I’m from Poland and I’m used to fermented veggies so I want to try your recipe 🙂 But I’ve heard that vinegar kills probiotics. Unless apple cider vinegar is different that vinegar…

  • Natasja

    I love your website and recipes. I was wondering what is the name of the probiotic starters you would recommend to create the kimchi?

  • Chloe

    I love the jars your using in this post? What brand are they and where can I grab some?!

  • Kam

    Hey McKel, I saw this recipe ages ago and finally found the time and motivation to recreate it, so thank you for the inspiration. I was just wondering: I put my mix in sealed jars as well but because of the extra pressure from the fermentation the liquid started to explode out of the sides, so I just lifted the kid a little off, is that okay?

  • Senthil

    All is great! Only thing i want to point out is turmeric could inhibit probiotics growth. If you really wanted turmeric you can do secondary fermentation after probiotics in kimchi has 1 week to flourish. Then you could add turmeric and mix it. Lastly the photo of your cabbage is not nappa cabbage. It is a different variety i think. It should also work but may taste different.

  • Nicole Lee

    How do you eat this? Do you just eat it out of the mason jar of throw it in a salad? I’m new to the idea of fermented foods and have no clue what to do with them.

    • You can put it on anything! Eat it from the jar, on a salad, in my Veggie Sushi Rolls, anything at all 🙂

  • I love the flavor combinations of this kimchi – full of great herbs and roots! I would strongly suggest massaging the vegetables to create a brine before letting ferment in jars – or topping the jars with brine (5%) to cover instead of water. If the veg is submerged under brine, you create a much safer environment for the right bacteria to grow AND you don’t have to shake the jar every day!

    • Great tips Kala! Thanks for sharing, I’m still learning this whole fermentation jazz too!

  • Carie

    How much salt do I use?

  • Kristina

    Bacteria IS the bees neez! I love seeing all of the different colors in this recipe, it really shows how nutritious the vegetables are. Since this article is about fermentation 101 I’d thought I’d share a post about Pickled vs. Fermented: goo.gl/fJylMm Thank you for the Q&A at the end of your article, it is very helpful!

    • McKel Hill

      It is, isn’t it!? Thanks for sharing more about that Kristina 🙂

  • Simon

    Thanks for this delicious recipe! ​I’m excited ​by your idea of putting probiotic capsules in​ there – assuming the idea is that the microbes will thrive and multiply through the fermentation? Do you ​perhaps ​have any evidence or indication that they​ actually​ survive in there? If so, then this is gold mine for gut health – much more effective and economical than buying supplements​. ​

  • Jenn

    So my jars started to overflow a bit. I see in a previous post you said to just tighten them but I have the same jars as you do so I can’t unless I go out and get more clips. Is it totally wrong if I open the jars and take a little bit out to give some more room ?? I made the batch this past Thursday night so it’s a couple days old already. Please help !!

    I may have taken a bit out because it kept exploding on my boyfriends counter lol. I hope it didn’t ruin it !

    • McKel Hill

      I’ve had that happen before too and it still turned out really great! A book recommendation I have for you (I just discovered it) is called Wild Fermentation- check that out to become a fermentation pro 😉

  • Katie

    Hello! I just made this…. sitting in three mason jars on my counter. I’m wondering though, is the brine supposed to cover all of the veggies? I’ve put about 2-3 cups of water and 4 tablespoons of ACV. The brine only goes up about 1/3 of the jar at most. Is this OK??

    • McKel Hill

      I would recommend adding more brine to fill the top 😉

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