Kimchi is very important to the Korean diet. Unlike sauerkraut or those bread and butter pickle slices that you may or may not eat next to your sandwich, Kimchi is unquestionably a part of a Korean meal— it’s non‐negotiable.
This single foodstuff has completely infiltrated Korean culture: there is Kimjang, the annual communal Kimchi-making ritual that happens each November all over the country; there is a Kimchi museum in Seoul and a Kimchi institute of culture; and one of the most requested wedding gifts of modern day Koreans is a specialized Kimchi refrigerator. For many, a fridge with its precise temperature controls and wide storage capabilities beats the ancient practice of burying earthenware crocks underground.
Kimchi—its flavor, health-enhancing properties, and other virtues—is a frequent subject of conversation in Korea and, increasingly, beyond.
In the West we might think that Kimchi is one recipe, but it is not. Just like there are several types of pickles there are many types of Kimchi. Some authorities list over 150 different types of Kimchi. Kimchi has also been adopted into many other ethnic foods, especially Japanese. In one Tsukemono recipe book, there are actually almost 20% Kimchi recipes.
Even though the most common Kimchi varieties we come in contact with are hot and spicy, there are many varieties that are not. They are usually all vegetables with an emphasis on cabbage, but some are not.
Most have a fish sauce in it, but others also have dried fish, anchovies, oysters, shrimp, squid or beef broth. You can see a bit of a trend in Korea over the Kimchi. Generally in the North the Kimchi style has less salt or other seasoning, with more water.
As the Kimchi trail moves south on the peninsula, it becomes hotter, thicker and packed with stronger flavors. Because there are more Southern Koreans in North America, we come in contact with more of the Southern styles of Kimchi.
You can compare the different types of Kim Chi to the different types of wine. When you first get introduced to wine there really doesn’t seem to be much variation, except sweet or dry. When you taste Kimchi for the first time, the normal reaction is to the level of spice, but its real defining characteristic is its tanginess. We often associate this sensation with sourness and acidity, but in Kimchi, it’s more than the flavor of vinegar—it’s the taste of fermentation.
It is a unique characteristic that all fermented foods, such as wine, beer or cheese share. The acidity produced by natural fermentation due to lactic acid is more natural for our own body’s digestive pH and not as aggressive to our taste buds as the acidity in many commercially manufactured vinegars.
When the flavors of Kimchi—chili pepper spice, garlic, and ginger—blend together in a perfect acidity (pH), the result is a delicate balancing act of flavors and sensations similar to what wine achieves.
In the same way, Kimchi’s vast array of differences in flavor and texture also depend on a balance of flavors and fermentation. The natural fermentation process helps flavors meld together with acidity and brightness that work to create the depth, roundness of texture, and complexity that develop with aging.
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For over forty years, Terry Willard, Cl.H., Ph.D., has studied the medicinal properties of plants. He is recognized as one of North America’s leading Clinical Herbalists. He appears regularly in the print and electronic media as an exponent of responsible herbal use. He is the past-president of the Canadian Association of Herbal Practitioners, a professional member of the American Herbalist Guild and in the Canadian Health Food Association’s Hall of Fame. Dr. Willard is the author of twelve books on the subject of Herbs including the pivotal Wild Rose Herbal Series – a series of three textbooks written to educate herbalists. Two of his books, Mind-Body Harmony and Dr. Willard Flower Essence: Emotional Alchemy and Spiritual Evolution, have been particularly popular with the general public.
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