Feb. 3. 2015
Eat Well
McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder

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!


  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!


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


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.


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


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.


How can I make a milder tasting kimchi?


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!


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


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.


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


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!).


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


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