Kimjang (김장) or Crazy Korean‘s South African version, the making and sharing large quantities of kimchi (fermented cabbage) ahead of the long winter months to come (though not in Durban!), is an essential part of Korean culture. Despite being centered around kimchi, this practice has never been limited to just food preparation. Kimjang is more of a ceremony, bringing family members together, promoting cooperation among members of society and sharing with the less fortunate. This provides a sense of identity and unity, enhancing ties among different communities. Korea’s kimchi and kimjang, have both received much international recognition in 2013 UNESCO declared them part of the world’s intangible cultural heritage.
Before refrigeration, the kimchi was then buried underground in jars to keep it cool—but not frozen—and then it was shared throughout the community all winter long. Specialized kimchi refrigerators now do the work of underground jars. They’re specially designed to keep different kinds of kimchi at optimal temperatures and humidities without mixing their unique flavors and odors. While many people might only know of cabbage-based kimchi, there are multitudes of other varieties—all made to take advantage of the vegetables available nearby, or in season. That remarkable variety makes the kimchi refrigerator’s job very important, as it needs to hold many kinds of kimchi at once. If you open one up, you’ll find it full of stackable plastic containers designed to seal in freshness. The fridge directly cools the containers, the same way the earth historically kept buried kimchi pots at the right temperature.
We used google to try and source good information on kimchi and came across Mrs Kims’s Kimchi, a Korean American company: this is what they had to say to some frequently asked questions.
What exactly is kimchi?
Kimchi is a fermented vegetable, commonly napa cabbage or daikon radish. It is similar to sauerkraut, but uses a flavorful brine/sauce, which is typically a blend of dried chili flakes, ginger, garlic, scallions, salted shrimp and/or anchovy sauce. There are many variations of kimchi depending on region, season and vegetables used.
Do you bury your kimchi in the ground?
We don’t have the space to do that in New York City, unfortunately. And with refrigeration, there’s really no need to bury it in the ground these days, so we can make kimchi year-round!
Why is my kimchi fizzing when I open it?
When kimchi ferments, it releases CO2 gas as a byproduct. When you open the jar for the first time, the trapped CO2 gas rushes up to the surface, causing the fizzing. This is a desirable trait of kimchi as it indicates that it is at the height of fermentation and ready to eat! Click here for Fermentation 101.
Why is my kimchi overflowing when I open it?
Because kimchi is a fermented food, there’s a lot going on in the jar. Kimchi expands as it produces CO2 while fermenting, and some jars have larger pieces of kimchi that can be pushed to the surface as the CO2 rushes out when opened for the first time. Temperature also affects how vigorously the contents will ferment, so if it’s been sitting out at room temperature for a while, the more likely it will overflow when you open it. To avoid a potential mess, we suggest chilling the kimchi for at least a few hours before opening it and then doing so over a sink with a bowl underneath to catch any fugitive kimchi!
Why is the jar leaking and/or why is the lid bent out of shape?
See previous question. We really try to avoid this by filling the jars with enough head space to expand and accommodate the CO2 gas, but all the jars are hand filled and fermentation rates vary, so it’s possible to get a super active jar of kimchi that leaks a little or if the lid’s on too tight, it will get bent out of shape under the pressure. It is totally safe to eat, but be extra careful opening these jars because they will definitely overflow and fizz. Do NOT open over a white carpet or in front of your date!
Why does the kimchi not taste as tart as the last time I bought/tried it?
Our kimchi is left to ferment right in the jar, so when you pick it up at the store, it could be at an earlier stage of fermentation. The longer it ferments, the more tart it becomes. If you can’t wait a few more days, you can leave the jar out at room temperature for 12-24 hours to speed things up. Also, you can see how aged the kimchi is by looking at the “best before” date, which is 8 months after the jarring date. The closer it is to the “best before” date, the more tart it will be.
Can I eat the kimchi after the “best before” date? If so, for how long after?
Yes. In fact, if you prefer very tart kimchi, it will taste even better after 8 months. If it’s too tart for you, you can cook the kimchi, by adding it to stews or stir-frys. Kimchi does not spoil easily due to the high acidity (it is similar to pickles), but after about 1 year in your fridge, you will notice that the cabbage might not be as crunchy as it used to be.
How long will the kimchi stay fresh after I’ve already opened it?
For best results, be sure to push all the kimchi below the liquid so that it is not in contact with oxygen (probiotics do not like oxygen). The kimchi won’t spoil because it has already been acidified, but you will notice a difference in taste and texture in about 2 weeks once the jar has been opened, so be sure to finish the jar before that happens. If not, you can always cook with it!
Is your kimchi pasteurized or flash-heated?
No way. Our kimchi is naturally fermented right in the jar. It is a living food. It is never heated, treated with additives or otherwise tampered with. We don’t mess with Mother Nature!
Why do some jars look fuller than others on the shelf?
Some jars may have more of the leafy parts of the cabbage than the fleshy part, which are more likely to become compressed as the contents settle. Also, none of the jars are ever filled to the brim because we need to allow room for the kimchi to expand and produce CO2 gas during fermentation. Some jars that look fuller may be busy fermenting, but they all settle down after a while, some more than others.
Why does the kimchi have a carbonated taste when I first eat it out of the jar?
Because the kimchi has been producing CO2 while fermenting, you will taste the carbonation or even feel fizziness on your tongue if you eat it immediately out of the jar after opening it for the first time. We suggest you transfer a serving to a dish and let it aerate for a few minutes to let the carbonation subside so the true flavors can come out (much like a fine wine!).
Is it ok if I eat a whole jar in one sitting?
Kimchi is meant to be savored in small quantities to enhance an existing meal. We also don’t want you to eat it all in one sitting due to the high sodium content (it provides around 9-11% of your daily allowance of sodium in a 2 tbsp serving based on a 2,000 calorie diet).
What else do I do with kimchi besides eat it as a side dish?
Kimchi is a very versatile ingredient that can be used across all kinds of cuisines! To retain the benefits of the probiotics, we suggest eating it cold. However, if your kimchi has gotten too tart or old for your taste, it is delicious in stir fries, stews, baked into bread or on top of pizza, used as a braising liquid – the possibilities are endless. Please visit our ideas section for some inspiration on how to use kimchi.