Kimchi 101 part 1: Introduction, Types and Cuts

Introduction – How I Became Interested In Kimchi Making
The generic term for Korean fermented vegetables, kimchi is traditionally prepared as an annual event at kimjang, prelude to the winter months when fresh vegetable supply is limited. It had never occurred to me to prepare homemade kimchi until the course at Matthew Kenney taught so, specifically for the innovative dish of raw kimchi dumplings. It was surprisingly easy, although the first attempt was marred by erroneous inauthenticity with respect to the preparation method and a result that vaguely resembled the traditional Korean kimchi I was familiar with. Propelled by a sudden fascination of fermented foods, I delved into books, online resources and materials, hungry to learn about the art and science of making kickbutt kimchi. And now three rounds of kimchi making later, I hereby present what I have gleaned along the way.

Kimchi may have started out as a simple salted vegetable way back in the 3rd or 4th century A.D. Red chili peppers, known as gochugaru, were not introduced until the 17th century, when Portuguese traders based in Japan brought it over from Central America. The inception of gochugaru was an epochal event, an important innovation in Korean food culture. The lasting adoption of gochugaru is testament to how much it enhanced the taste. Kimchi – and gochugaru – is now a signifier of Korean cuisine, culture and laborious love.

Kimchi Types
Varieties of kimchi are as numerous as the number of people that prepares it; that is, it is very personal and customizable. Kimchi types are classified based on season – winter or summer – which in turn influence the choice of ingredient. The most prevalent types of kimchi are baechu Napa cabbage kimchi, radish kimchi, fruit and root vegetable kimchi and namul (seasoned vegetables) with the option of adding gochugaru. Furthermore, each family of kimchi can be prepared by a number of ways and cuts e.g. whole, wrapped, cubed or shredded (see Tables 1 and 2).

Table 1. Classification of Kimchi by Main Ingredient.
Main IngredientKimchi Name & Description
Baechu (Napa Cabbage)Tongbaechu. Whole napa cabbage kimchi, the most popular and traditional kimchi and found at all banchan.
Baek. White kimchi without gochugaru, or what I call kidchi. Taste is mild, refreshing, and kid-friendly.
Bossam. Wrapped cabbage parcels with a generous stuffing of vegetables. An elegant side dish at dinner parties.
RadishNabak. Red water spring kimchi with radish and cabbage in lightly spiced broth. Nabak refers to the square cut that is applied to the radish. It is the most highly prized of water kimchis and usually served chilled.
Yeolmumul. Green water summer kimchi made with leafy young summer radishes in a mild and tangy soup. Its green color immediately sets it apart from other kimchi. A quintessential summer banchan.
Dongchimi. White water winter kimchi, another example of non-spicy kimchi. Dongchi and mi means as winter solstice, and flavor respectively. Putting the two together, it loosely translates as ‘tasting winter,’ a hark to the eponymous small white radish that comes into season in fall.
Chonggak. Whole ponytail radish kimchi, highly favored for its numbing spiciness and crunchy bite. Chonggak means ‘bachelor,’ alluding to the braids of bachelor boys of the olden days that resemble the long stems of the radish.
Kkakdugi. Diced radish winter kimchi. The seasoning for kkakdugi is similar to that for baechu. However kkakdugi has a more refreshing flavor and a crunchy texture because of the characteristics of Korean radish.
Musaengchae kimchi. Daikon noodles (doodles) coated and fermented in a pungent paste of gochugaru and garlic.
Jang. Soy sauce water kimchi. It is unique with a sweet and savory taste from chestnuts, pears, persimmons, and soy sauce.
Greens (namul)Shigeumchi namul. Spinach seasoned with soy and sesame, and possibly gochugaru.
Gat kimchi. Mustard leaf and stem kimchi.
Minari. Minari or dropwort is a leafy green resembling parsley and is very healthful, rich in vitamins A, C and immune-boosting. The stems may also be used to bundle mushrooms and tamago to form an attractive appetizer.
Kongnamul. Soybean sprouts seasoned in sesame oil, and possibly gochugaru. The seasoning is kept mild to allow the nutty taste of the sprouts to shine.
Other VegetablesOi Sobaegi. Stuffed cucumbers with chili and spring onion.
Gaji. Seasoned eggplant.
Hobak. Seasoned pumpkin.

Kimchi Cuts
Prior to research on kimchi, I was only familiar with chopped baechu kimchi served at express Korean cafes. Thanks to The Kimchi Cookbook by Lauryn Chun (recommended), I got to know much more.

Table 2. Classification of Kimchi by Cuts.
Cut NameDescription and Function
Whole or HalvedWhole vegetables slows fermentation for a nuanced taste and support the traditional concept of tasting vegetables intact, to bring out the ideal balance of flavor. Vegetables are usually stuffed with julienned vegeables for extra flavor. Used in tongbaechu, bossam kimchi, chonggak kimchi.
NabakThin, flat square cuts of 1½-2 inches applied to napa cabbage and daikon radish. Used in water kimchi.
CubedBite-sized cubes of about 1-inch are specific to kkakdugi daikon kimchi.
GutjoriA rough julienne ideal for fresh or instant style kimchi. The rough cut allows longer and more even fermentation.
Matchstick or Julienned Delicate julienned cuts are most common when used as a stuffing for whole cabbages. Julienned cuts are usually applied to radish, carrot and other root vegetables.

Kimchi Health Benefits
Fermented food products including kimchi are associated with many health benefits as explained in more detail at this page. In summary:

  • Fermentation by lactic acid bacteria can result in increased vitamin and mineral content, especially B vitamins, as byproducts.
  • Secreted exopolysaccharides are linked to have anticancer, anti-inflammatory, immune modulating, and blood cholesterol lowering properties.
  • Fermented foods are a direct and rich source of probiotics, and thus help to give an intestinal boost and reduce the risk of colon cancer.
  • Kimchi’s main ingredient, Napa or Chinese cabbage, belongs to the sulfur-rich Brassica family which are are known to have anticancer phytochemicals.
  • Capcaisin in gochugaru, another main ingredient in kimchi, also exhibits anti-cancer activity; it is capable to induce apoptosis of cancer cells by generating excess of reactive oxygen species.

A little heavy on the technical and knowledge aspect today but I’ll be sharing the process and recipe in the next part of Kimchi 101!

Readings and Resources
Books and Publications
Chun, Lauryn and Massov Olga (2012). The Kimchi Cookbook: 60 traditional and modern ways to make and eat kimchi. US: Ten Speed Press.
Katz, Sandor E. (2003). Wild fermentation: The flavor, nutrition, and craft of live-culture foods. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing.
Kwak, S.H. et al. (2014). Cancer Preventive Potential of Kimchi Lactic Acid Bacteria (Weissella cibaria, Lactobacillus plantarum). J Cancer Prev. 19: 253–258.

Websites and Blogs
Crazy Korean Cooking.
Korean Bapsang.

Images for collage from various sources.


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