Kimchi, a staple food in Korean cuisine, is a traditional side dish of salted and fermented vegetables, such as napa cabbage and Korean radish, made with a widely varying selection of seasonings, including gochugaru (Korean chili powder), spring onions, garlic, ginger, and jeotgal (salted seafood), etc. It is also used in a variety of soups and stews. It is eaten as a side dish with almost every Korean meal.

There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi made with different vegetables as the main ingredients. Traditionally, winter kimchi, called kimjang, was stored in large earthenware fermentation vessels, called onggi, in the ground to prevent freezing during the winter months and to keep it cool enough to slow down the fermentation process during summer months. The vessels are also kept outdoors in special terraces called jangdokdae. In contemporary times, household kimchi refrigerators are more commonly used.

Kimchi is made of various vegetables and contains a high concentration of dietary fiber, while being low in calories. The vegetables used in kimchi also contribute to intake of vitamin A, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), calcium, and iron.

Common Variations

  • Baechu-kimchi (배추김치) - spicy napa cabbage kimchi, made from whole cabbage leaves.
  • Baechu-geotjeori (배추겉절이) - unfermented napa cabbage kimchi.
  • Bossam-kimchi (보쌈김치) - wrapped kimchi.
  • Baek-kimchi (백김치) - white kimchi, made without chili pepper.
  • Dongchimi (동치미) a non-spicy watery kimchi.
  • Nabak-kimchi (나박김치) a mildly spicy watery kimchi.
  • Chonggak-kimchi (총각김치) cubed chonggak "ponytail" radish, a popular spicy kimchi.
  • Kkakdugi (깍두기) spicy cubed Korean radish strongly-scented kimchi containing fermented shrimp.
  • Oi-sobagi (오이소박이) cucumber kimchi that can be stuffed with seafood and chili paste, and is a popular choice during the spring and summer seasons.
  • Pa-kimchi (파김치) spicy green onion kimchi.
  • Yeolmu-kimchi (열무김치) is also a popular choice during the spring and summer, and is made with yeolmu radishes, and does not necessarily have to be fermented.
  • Gat-kimchi (갓김치), made with Indian mustard.
  • Yangbaechu-kimchi (양배추 김치) spicy cabbage kimchi, made from "headed" cabbage leaves (as opposed to napa cabbage).

Kimchi by season

Different types of kimchi were traditionally made at different times of the year, based on when various vegetables were in season and also to take advantage of hot and cold seasons before the era of refrigeration. Although the advent of modern refrigeration – including kimchi refrigerators specifically designed with precise controls to keep different varieties of kimchi at optimal temperatures at various stages of fermentation – has made this seasonality unnecessary, Koreans continue to consume kimchi according to traditional seasonal preferences.

Spring

After a long period of consuming gimjang kimchi (김장김치) during the winter, fresh potherbs and vegetables were used to make kimchi. These kinds of kimchi were not fermented or even stored for long periods of time but were consumed fresh.

Summer

Yeolmu radishes and cucumbers are summer vegetables made into kimchi, yeolmu-kimchi (열무김치) which is eaten in several bites. Brined fish or shellfish can be added, and freshly ground dried chili peppers are often used.

Autumn

Baechu kimchi is prepared by inserting blended stuffing materials, called sok (literally inside), between layers of salted leaves of uncut, whole Napa cabbage. The ingredients of sok (속) can vary, depending on the regions and weather conditions. Generally, baechu kimchi used to have a strong salty flavor until the late 1960s, before which a large amount of myeolchijeot or saeujeot had been used. Gogumasoon Kimchi is made from sweet potato stems.

Winter

Traditionally, the greatest varieties of kimchi were available during the winter. In preparation for the long winter months, many types of kimjang kimchi (김장 김치) were prepared in early winter and stored in the ground in large kimchi pots. Today, many city residents use modern kimchi refrigerators offering precise temperature controls to store kimjang kimchi. November and December are traditionally when people begin to make kimchi; women often gather together in each other's homes to help with winter kimchi preparations. "Baechu kimchi" is made with salted baechu filled with thin strips of radish, parsley, pine nuts, pears, chestnuts, shredded red pepper, manna lichen (Korean: 석이 버섯; RR: seogi beoseot), garlic, and ginger.