Kimchi (also spelled Kimchee) is a traditional spicy fermented vegetable side dish that originated in Korea around the 7th century. It is so popular in Korean culture that it is rare for a meal to be served without it! In fact it is estimated that South Koreans consume 40 lbs of Kimchi per person annually.
A fermented dish of many flavors
The basic ingredients of Kimchi are simple: Cabbage (usually Napa cabbage), garlic, onion, ginger, red peppers and salt.
Additional ingredients may include a small amount of fruit, such as apples or pears, radishes, seaweed, small fermented fish or other sea foods, and sometimes a thickener made of rice starch.
When it comes to Kimchi there are unlimited ingredient combinations. Some like it hot and spicy, while others enjoy the medley of flavors in a tamer mild version.
Folklore, history and fact
As with many traditional foods, Kimchi has its share of stories. One such story is that in Korea, when getting your picture taken, the photographer instructs you to say ‘Kimchi’ instead of ‘Cheese’.
Kimchi is so integral to Korean food culture that there is actually a museum dedicated to Kimchi. The Pulmuone Kimchi Museum was established in 1986 in Seoul to study the culture of Kimchi and to promote it both within Korea and abroad. The museum has a sampling room and now has 100,000 visitors a year - and there are over 80 different kinds of Kimchi on display!
Kimjang (Kimchi-making) is a 2 to 3 day traditional event in Korea where families gather to make enough Kimchi to last through the cold winter months.
The event takes place during napa cabbage harvest. Depending on family size, it’s not unusual for 100 or more cabbages to be prepared for Kimjang!
Kimchi has been ‘anecdotally’ found to prevent and cure both the contagious respiratory infection SARS and the H1N1 swine flu. Anecdotal or not, giving chickens Kimchi seems to have even cured chickens of ‘bird flu’.
Variations on the theme
Americans are picking up on the incredible versatility of Kimchi. In Los Angeles a Korean taco maker serves Kimchi Tacos, where one person was overheard saying, “It’s like this Korean Mexican fusion thing of crazy deliciousness.”
The healthy taste of Kimchi
As with other cultured vegetables, Kimchi provides an array of nutrients such as vitamins A, C, B1, B2, and niacin, plus calcium and phosphorus. Onions and garlic provide antioxidant properties. And consuming fermented foods such as Kimchi provides beneficial bacteria for gut health.
Make your own Kimchi
It’s fun to make your own style of Kimchi. To the basic ingredients, you can add fermented fish, fish sauce, sea veggies. You can make it mild or extra spicy hot. You can mix it up with some of your favorite veggies. Use your imagination or use a recipe. It’s all up to you.
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