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Various kimchi.jpg
Various kimchi
Place of originKorea
Associated national cuisine
Main ingredientsVarious vegetables including napa cabbage and Korean radish
VariationsBaechu-kimchi, baek-kimchi, dongchimi, kkakdugi, nabak-kimchi, pa-kimchi, yeolmu-kimchi
Korean name
Revised Romanizationgimchi

Kimchi (/ˈkɪm/; Korean: 김치, translit. gimchi, IPA: [kim.tɕʰi]), a staple in Korean cuisine, is a traditional side dish made from salted and fermented vegetables, most commonly napa cabbage and Korean radishes, with a variety of seasonings, including gochugaru (chili powder), scallions, garlic, ginger, and jeotgal (salted seafood).[1][2] There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi made with different vegetables as the main ingredients.[3][4] In the past, kimchi was traditionally stored underground in jars to keep cool during warm months, and remain unfrozen throughout the winter months, during which time it was a vital source of vegetables.[2] With the rise of technology, kimchi refrigerators are more commonly used to store kimchi.



The term ji (), which has its origins in archaic Korean dihi (디히), has been used to refer to kimchi since ancient times.[5] The sound change can be roughly described as:[6]

  • dihi (디히) > di () > ji ()

The Middle Korean form dihi is found in several books from Joseon (1392–1897).[7][8] In Modern Korean, the word remains as the suffix -ji in the standard language (as in jjanji, seokbak-ji),[9][10] and as the suffix -ji as well as the noun ji in Gyeongsang and Jeolla dialects.[11] The unpalatalized form di is preserved in P'yŏngan dialect.[12]


Gimchi (김치) is the accepted word in both North and South Korean standard languages. Earlier forms of the word include timchɑi (팀), a Middle Korean transcription of the Sino-Korean word (literally "submerged vegetable"). Timchɑi appears in Sohak Eonhae,[13] the 16th century Korean rendition of the Chinese book, Xiaoxue (in Korean, Sohak).[14] Sound changes from Middle Korean to Modern Korean regarding the word can be described as:[15]

  • timchɑi (팀; 沈菜) > dimchɑi (딤) > jimchɑi (짐) > jimchui (짐츼) > gimchi (김치)

The aspirated first consonant of timchɑi became unaspirated in dimchɑi, then underwent palatalization in jimchɑi. The word then became jimchui with the loss of the vowel ɑ () in Korean language, then gimchi, with the depalatalized word-initial consonant. In Modern Korean, the hanja characters 沈菜 are pronounced chimchae (침채), and are not used to refer to kimchi, or anything else. The word gimchi is not considered as a Sino-Korean word.[15] Older forms of the word are retained in many regional dialects: jimchae (Jeolla, Hamgyŏng dialects),[16] jimchi (Chungcheong, Gangwon, Gyeonggi, Gyeongsang, Hamgyŏng, Jeolla dialects),[17] and dimchi (P'yŏngan dialect).[18]

The English word "kimchi" perhaps originated from kimch'i, the McCune–Reischauer transcription of the Korean word gimchi (김치).


The origin of kimchi dates back at least to the early period of the Three Kingdoms (37 BC‒7 AD).[19] Fermented foods were widely available, as the Records of the Three Kingdoms, a Chinese historical text published in 289 AD, mentions that "The Goguryeo people [referring to the Korean people] are skilled in making fermented foods such as wine, soybean paste, and salted and fermented fish" in the section named Dongyi in the Book of Wei.[20][21] Samguk Sagi, a historical record of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, also mentions the pickle jar used to ferment vegetables, which indicates that fermented vegetables were commonly eaten during this time.[20][22] During the Silla dynasty (57 BC – AD 935), kimchi became prevalent as Buddhism caught on throughout the nation and fostered a vegetarian lifestyle.[23]

The pickling of vegetables was an ideal method, prior to refrigerators, that helped to preserve the lifespan of foods. In Korea, kimchi was made during the winter by fermenting vegetables, and burying it in the ground in traditional brown ceramic pots called onggi. This labor further allowed a bonding among women within the family.[23] A poem on Korean radish written by Yi Gyubo, a 13th century literatus, shows that radish kimchi was a commonplace in Goryeo (918–1392).[4][24][25]

Pickled radish slices make a good summer side-dish,
Radish preserved in salt is a winter side-dish from start to end.
The roots in the earth grow plumper everyday,
Harvesting after the frost, a slice cut by a knife tastes like a pear.

— Yi Gyubo, Dongguk isanggukjip (translated by Michael J. Pettid, in Korean cuisine: An Illustrated History)

Kimchi has been a staple in Korean culture, but historical versions were not a spicy dish.[26] Early records of kimchi do not mention garlic or chili pepper.[27] Chili peppers, now a standard ingredient in kimchi, had been unknown in Korea until the early seventeenth century.[citation needed] Chili peppers, originated in the Americas, were introduced to East Asia by Portuguese traders.[27][28][29] The first mention of chili pepper is found in Jibong yuseol, an encyclopedia published in 1614.[20][30] Sallim gyeongje, a 17‒18th century book on farm management, wrote on kimchi with chili peppers.[20][31] However, it was not until the 19th century that the use of chili peppers in kimchi was widespread.[32] The recipes from early 19th century closely resemble today's kimchi.[33][34]

A 1766 book, Jeungbo sallim gyeongje, reports kimchi varieties made with myriad of ingredients, including chonggak-kimchi (kimchi made with chonggak raddish), oi-sobagi (with cucumber), seokbak-ji (with jogi-jeot), and dongchimi.[20][35] However, napa cabbage was only introduced to Korea at the end of 19th century,[32] and whole-cabbage kimchi similar to its current form is described in Siuijeonseo, a cookbook published around that time.[36]

Kimchi is a national dish of both North and South Korea. During South Korea's involvement in the Vietnam War its government requested American help to ensure that South Korean troops, reportedly "desperate" for the food, could obtain it in the field;[37] South Korean president Park Chung-hee told U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson that kimchi was "vitally important to the morale of Korean troops". It was also sent to space on board Soyuz TMA-12 with South-Korean astronaut Yi So-yeon after a multimillion-dollar research effort to kill the bacteria and lessen the odor without affecting taste.[37] On 22 November 2017 a Google Doodle was used to "Celebrate Kimchi".[38]


Basic ingredients for kimchi: napa cabbage, radish, carrot, scallion, garlic, chili powder, fish sauce, and salt
Drying chili peppers for kimchi

Kimchi varieties are determined by the main vegetable ingredients and the mix of seasoning used to flavor the kimchi.


Cabbages (napa cabbages, bomdong, headed cabbages) and radishes (Korean radishes, ponytail radishes, gegeol radishes, yeolmu radishes) are the most commonly used kimchi vegetables.[1][2] Other kimchi vegetables include: aster, balloon flower roots, burdock roots, celery, chamnamul, cilantro, cress, crown daisy greens, cucumber, eggplant, garlic chives, garlic scapes, ginger, Korean angelica-tree shoots, Korean parsley, Korean wild chive, lotus roots, mustard greens, onions, perilla leaves, potatoes, pumpkins, radish greens, rapeseed leaves, scallions, soybean sprouts, spinach, sugar beets, sweet potato vines, and tomatoes.[39]


Brining salt (with a larger grain size compared to kitchen salt) is used mainly for initial salting of kimchi vegetables. Being minimally processed, it serves to help develop flavours in fermented foods.[40]

Commonly used seasonings include gochugaru (chili powder), scallions, garlics, ginger, and jeotgal (salted seafood)[1][2] Jeotgal can be replaced with raw seafood in colder Northern parts of the Korean peninsula.[41] If used, milder saeu-jeot (salted shrimp) or jogi-jeot (salted croaker) is preferred and the amount of jeotgal is also reduced in Northern and Central regions.[41] In Southern Korea, on the other hand, generous amount of stronger myeolchi-jeot (salted anchovies) and galchi-jeot (salted hairtail) is commonly used.[41] Raw seafood or daegu-agami-jeot (salted cod gills) are used in the East coast areas.[41]

Microorganisms present in kimchi[edit]

The microorganisms present in kimchi are: Bacillus mycoides, B. pseudomycoides, B. subtilis, Lactobacillus brevis, Lb. curvatus, Lb. kimchii, Lb. parabrevis, Lb. pentosus, Lb. plantarum, Lb. sakei, Lb. spicheri, Lactococcus carnosum, Lc. gelidum, Lc. lactis, Leuconostoc carnosum, Ln. citreum, Ln. gasicomitatum, Ln. gelidum, Ln. holzapfelii, Ln. inhae, Ln. kimchii, Ln. lactis, Ln. mesenteroides, Serratia marcescens., Weissella cibaria, W. confusa, W. kandleri, W. koreensis, and W. soli.[42][43][44][45][46][47][48][49]


Tongkimchi, gulgimchi (kimchi with additional oyster) and other banchan

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish consisting of pickled vegetables, which is mainly served as a side dish with every meal, but also can be served as a main dish.[50] Kimchi is mainly recognized as a spicy fermented cabbage dish globally.[23] Variations are not limited, as Koreans "can make kimchi out of anything edible; a concept which extends toward infinite possibilities...."[51] Variations of kimchi continue to grow, and the taste can vary depending on the region and season [52]

Kimchi can be categorized by main ingredients, regions or seasons. Korea's northern and southern sections have a considerable temperature difference.[53] There are over 180 recognized varieties of kimchi.[54] The most common kimchi variations are

Kimchi from the northern parts of Korea tends to have less salt and red chili and usually does not include brined seafood for seasoning. Northern kimchi often has a watery consistency. Kimchi made in the southern parts of Korea, such as Jeolla-do and Gyeongsang-do, uses salt, chili peppers and myeolchijeot (멸치젓, brined anchovy allowed to ferment) or saeujeot (새우젓, brined shrimp allowed to ferment), myeolchiaekjeot (멸치액젓), kkanariaekjeot (까나리액젓), liquid anchovy jeot, similar to fish sauce used in Southeast Asia, but thicker.

Saeujeot (새우젓) or myeolchijeot is not added to the kimchi spice-seasoning mixture, but is simmered first to reduce odors, eliminate tannic flavor and fats, and then is mixed with a thickener made of rice or wheat starch (). This technique has been falling into disuse in the past 40 years.


White kimchi are neither red in color nor spicy. It includes white napa cabbage kimchi and other varieties such as white radish kimchi (dongchimi). Watery white kimchi varieties are sometimes used as an ingredient in a number of dishes such as cold noodles in dongchimi brine (dongchimi-guksu).


  • Geotjeori (겉절이) are fresh, unfermented kimchi.
  • Mugeun-ji (묵은지), also known as mugeun-kimchi (묵은김치), aged kimchi


Traditional jars used for storing kimchi, gochujang, doenjang, soy sauce and other pickled banchan

This regional classification dates back to 1960s and contains plenty of historical facts, but the current kimchi-making trends in Korea are generally different from those mentioned below.[53]

  • Pyongan-do (North Korea, outside of Pyongyang) Non-traditional ingredients have been adapted in rural areas due to severe food shortages.
  • Hamgyeong-do (Upper Northeast): Due to its proximity to the ocean, people in this particular region use fresh fish and oysters to season their kimchi.
  • Hwanghae-do (Midwest): The taste of kimchi in Hwanghae-do is not bland but not extremely spicy. Most kimchi from this region has less color since red chili flakes are not used. The typical kimchi for Hwanghae-do is called hobakji (호박지). It is made with pumpkin (bundi).
Kimchi buchimgae, a savoury Korean pancake with kimchi
  • Gyeonggi-do (Lower Midwest of Hwanghae-do)
  • Chungcheong-do (Between Gyeonggi-do and Jeolla-do): Instead of using fermented fish, people in the region rely on salt and fermentation to make savory kimchi. Chungcheong-do has the most varieties of kimchi.
  • Gangwon-do (South Korea)/Kangwon-do (North Korea) (Mideast): In Gangwon-do, kimchi is stored for longer periods. Unlike other coastal regions in Korea, kimchi in this area does not contain much salted fish.
  • Jeolla-do (Lower Southwest): Salted yellow corvina and salted butterfish are used in this region to create different seasonings for kimchi.
  • Gyeongsang-do (Lower Southeast): This region's cuisine is saltier and spicier. The most common seasoning components include myeolchijeot (멸치젓) which produce a briny and savory flavor.
  • Foreign countries: In some places of the world people sometimes make kimchi with western cabbage and many other alternative ingredients such as broccoli.[55][56]


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.[57]

Dongchimi (동치미) is largely served during winter.

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.


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.


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 () can vary, depending on the different 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.


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.[58] "Baechu kimchi" is made with salted baechu filled with thin strips of radish, parsley, pine nuts, pears, chestnuts, shredded red pepper, manna lichen (Hangul석이 버섯; RRseogi beoseot), garlic, and ginger.

Korean preference[edit]

A 2004 book about vegetable preservation said that the preference of kimchi preparation in Korean households from the most prepared type of kimchi to less prepared types of kimchi was: baechu kimchi, being the most prepared type of kimchi, then kaktugi, then dongchimi and then chonggak kimchi. The book said that baechu kimchi comprises more than seventy percent of marketed kimchi and radish kimchi comprises about twenty percent of marketed kimchi.[59]

Nutrition and health[edit]

A 2003 article in the Los Angeles Times said that South Koreans consume 18kg (40lbs) of kimchi per person annually.[60] A 2015 book cited a 2011 source that said that adult Koreans eat from 50 grams (0.11 lb) to 200 grams (0.44 lb) of kimchi a day.[61]

Some Koreans believe that kimchi helps them cope with their fast-paced lives.[37] Kimchi is made of various vegetables and contains a high concentration of dietary fiber,[62][63] while being low in calories. One serving also provides over 50% of the daily recommended amount of vitamin C and carotene. Most types of kimchi contain onions, garlic, ginger, and chili peppers, all of which are salutary. The vegetables used in kimchi also contribute to its overall nutritional value. Kimchi is rich in vitamin A, thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), calcium, and iron,[64][65] and contains lactic acid bacteria, among those the typical species Lactobacillus kimchii.[66][67][68]

During the 2003 SARS outbreak in Asia, many people believed that kimchi could protect against infection. While there was no scientific evidence to support this belief, kimchi sales rose by 40%.[69][60]

However, kimchi may also contribute to stomach cancer, which is the most common form of cancer in South Korea. In 2011, three Korean scientists reported that, "Kimchi, which is allegedly believed to have anti-carcinogenic properties, accounts for approximately 20% of sodium intake [in South Korea]. Case-control studies on the intake level of kimchi and gastric cancer risk generally showed an increased risk among subjects with high or frequent intakes of kimchi."[70]

Nutritional composition of typical kimchi[71]
Nutrients per 100 g Nutrients per 100 g
Food energy 32 kcal Moisture 88.4 g
Crude protein 2.0 g Crude lipid 0.6 g
Total sugar 1.3 g Crude fiber 1.2 g
Crude ash 0.5 g Calcium 45 mg
Phosphorus 28 mg Vitamin A 492 IU
Vitamin B1 0.03 mg Vitamin B2 0.06 mg
Niacin 2.1 mg Vitamin C 21 mg

Vitamin Contents of Common Kimchi and Average Vitamin Contents of 4 Different Kimchi During Fermentation at 3–7°C
Time (Week)
Vitamin C
49.5a 41.7 66 0.17 740 28.9
44.0 (35.4)b 41.6 (40.1) 47 (54) 0.09 (0.09) 781 (747) 25.0 (25.3)
32.0 (30.4) 70.9 (61.9) 110 (99) 0.19 (0.20) 928 (861) 27.8 (28.5)
26.6 (26.9) 79.1 (87.5) 230 (157) 0.25 (0.33) 901 (792) 23.6 (22.3)
21.0 (25.3) 62.7 (70.8) 35 (95) 0.20 (0.26) 591 (525) 16.7 (16.0)
24.2 (20.1) 53.3 (49.1) 40 (37) 0.10 (0.16) 11.16 (11.0)
aNaturally fermented baechu kimchi
bAverage levels of four different kimchis; common kimchi +3 different starter inoculated kimchis
Source: Hui et al. (2005) who cited Lee et al. (1960)[72]

General Components of Kimchi (per 100g of Edible Portion)
Components Baechu
Kaktugi Gat
Dongchimi Nabak
Calorie (kcal) 18 33 41 52 8 38 11 9
Moisture (%) 90.8 88.4 83.2 80.7 95.7 84.5 94.2 95.1
Crude protein (g) 2 1.6 3.9 3.4 0.7 3.1 0.7 0.8
Crude lipid (g) 0.5 0.3 0.9 0.8 0.1 0.6 0.1 0.1
Crude ash (g) 2.8 2.3 3.5 3.3 1.5 3.2 2 1.5
Carbohydrate (g) 3.9 7.4 8.5 11.8 2 8.6 3 2.5
Dietary fiber (g) 3 2.8 4 5.1 1.4 3.3 0.8 1.5
Source: Tamang (2015) who cited Lee (2006)[61]

Vitamin Content of Kimchi (per 100g of Edible Portion)
Vitamins Baechu
Kaktugi Gat
Dongchimi Nabak
Vitamin A (RE) 48 38 390 352 9 595 15 77
Vitamin A
(β-Carotene) (μg)
290 226 2342 2109 53 3573 88 460
Vitamin B1 (mg) 0.06 0.14 0.15 0.14 0.03 0.15 0.02 0.03
Vitamin B2 (mg) 0.06 0.05 0.14 0.14 0.02 0.29 0.02 0.06
Niacin (mg) 0.8 0.5 1.3 0.9 0.3 0.6 0.2 0.5
Vitamin C (mg) 14 19 48 19 10 28 9 10
Vitamin B6 (mg) 0.19 0.13
Folic acid (μg) 43.3 58.9 74.8
Vitamin E (mg) 0.7 0.2 1.3
Not detected: vitamin A (retinol), pantothenic acid, vitamin B12, vitamin K
Source: Tamang (2015) who cited Lee (2006)[61]

Dishes made with kimchi[edit]

Kimchi is known to be a traditional side dish as it is almost always served along with other side dishes in most Korean family households and restaurants. Kimchi can be eaten alone or with white rice, but it is also included in recipes of other traditional dishes, including porridges, soups, and rice cakes. Kimchi is also the basis for many derivative dishes such as kimchi stew (김치찌개; gimchijjigae), kimchi pancake (김치전; gimchibuchimgae), kimchi soup (김칫국; gimchiguk), and kimchi fried rice (김치볶음밥; gimchibokkeumbap). Army base stew (부대찌개; Budae-jjigae) is a popular dish made with spam, sausage, and kimchi. It originated after the Korean war with ingredients that would be scrounged from the army.


South Korea consumes 1.85 million metric tons of kimchi annually, or nearly 80 pounds a person. It imports a significant fraction of that, mostly from China, and runs a $47.3 million kimchi trade deficit.[73]

Recent history[edit]

1996 Japanese kimchi dispute[edit]

In 1996, Korea protested against Japanese commercial production of kimchi arguing that the Japanese-produced product (kimuchi) was different from kimchi (in particular, Japanese kimuchi was not fermented so it was salted but sweet cabbage). Korea lobbied for an international standard from the Codex Alimentarius, an organization associated with the World Health Organization that defines voluntary standards for food preparation for international trade purposes.[60][74] In 2001, the Codex Alimentarius published a voluntary standard defining kimchi as "a fermented food that uses salted napa cabbages as its main ingredient mixed with seasonings, and goes through a lactic acid production process at a low temperature", but which neither specified a minimum amount of fermentation nor forbade the use of any additives.[75]

1998 to 2007 motherland tours[edit]

South Korea developed programs for adult Korean adoptees to return to South Korea and learn about what it means to be Korean. One of these programs was learning how to make kimchi.[76]

2010 kimchi ingredient price crisis[edit]

Due to heavy rainfall shortening the harvesting time for cabbage and other main ingredients for kimchi in 2010, the price of kimchi ingredients and kimchi itself rose greatly. Korean and international newspapers described the rise in prices as a national crisis.[77] Some restaurants stopped offering kimchi as a free side dish, which The New York Times compared to an American hamburger restaurant no longer offering free ketchup.[58] In response to the kimchi price crisis, the South Korean government announced the temporary reduction of tariffs on imported cabbage to coincide with the Kimjang season.[78]

2012 effective ban of Korean kimchi exports to China[edit]

Since 2012, the Chinese government has effectively banned Korean kimchi exports to China through government regulations. Ignoring the standards of Kimchi outlined by the Codex Alimentarius, China defined kimchi as a derivative of one of its own cuisines, called pao cai.[79] However, due to significantly different preparation techniques from pao cai, kimchi has significantly more lactic acid bacteria through its fermentation process, which exceeds China's regulations.[80] Since 2012, commercial exports of Korean kimchi to China has reached zero, the only minor amounts of exports accounting for Korean kimchi exhibition events held in China.[79]

Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity[edit]

Kimchi-related items have been inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by both South and North Korea. This makes kimchi the second intangible heritage that was submitted by two different countries, the other one being the folk song "Arirang" which was also submitted by both the Koreas.[81]

Submitted by South Korea (inscribed 2013)[edit]

Kimjang, the tradition of making and sharing of kimchi that usually takes place in late autumn, was added to the list as "Kimjang, making and sharing kimchi in the Republic of Korea". The practice of Kimjang reaffirms Korean identity and strengthens family cooperation. Kimjang is also an important reminder for many Koreans that human communities need to live in harmony with nature.[82]

Submitted by North Korea (inscribed 2015)[edit]

North Korean kimchi-making was inscribed on the list in December 2015[81] as "Tradition of kimchi-making in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea".[83] North Korean kimchi tends to be less spicy and red than South Korean kimchi.[84]

2014 kimchi-making class for Vietnamese brides[edit]

A 2014 article in Tuổi Trẻ said that around 40 Vietnamese brides who had already married or who were going to marry Korean men spent two hours in a class in 2014 to make kimchi and kimbap at the Kim & Kim Company’s factory in the Tân Bình Industrial Zone of Ho Chi Minh City. The event was arranged by the Kim & Kim Company and the Korean Language Education Center in Ho Chi Minh City. The class is a free class that has been taught to 30 to 35 women once a month. Han Ji-sook, the director of the Korean Language Education Center in Ho Chi Minh City, said, "Kimchi is important for Korean people, so anyone who visits the country will experience kimchi or kimchi-making. Especially for the wives of Korean men, it's important to know how to make kimchi." Kim Tae-kon, director of the Kim & Kim Company, said, "All of these Vietnamese women who are going to live in Korea must eat kimchi every day, three meals a day. I'm pleased to give them the chance to learn how to make kimchi."[85]

Boycott in China[edit]

A 2017 article in The New York Times said that anti-Korean sentiment in China has risen after South Korea's acceptance of the deployment of THAAD in South Korea, Government-run Chinese news media has encouraged the boycott of South Korean goods, and Chinese nationalists have vowed to not eat kimchi.[86]


See also[edit]


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