Google tells me you’re looking for how long to ferment kimchi. Well, you’re in luck… I’ve got the answer.
Five years ago I never thought I’d be asking myself how long to ferment kimchi. I consider myself an adventurous eater, but Korean food was something I’d never connected with.
I’m not sure why. I think it was mostly the totally different textures in this type of cooking. I’d been to countless Korean restaurants, and everything just seemed so… different.
Kimchi in particular was tough for me, as it carried a bunch of flavors and smells I wasn’t used to.
And as one with a sensitive stomach — thanks Ulcerative Colitis — I was always a little worried that it would upset my stomach even though everyone said it was safe to eat.
While I didn’t mind cabbage, I generally limited my cabbage intake to either my Russian beef and cabbage stew, or the occasional stuffed cabbage roll.
Why kimchi is important
Then I had several dieticians and naturopaths recommend I eat kimchi — aka, fermented cabbage — regularly to help with digestion. Along with other foods like sauerkraut, kimchi is very good for your digestion.
This is because kimchi is fermented, which provides all sorts of lactic acid and probiotic goodness to your gut and can help when you have low stomach acid or suffer from indigestion. Basically, it can add back some of positive digestive compounds that some people are missing. If you learn how long to ferment kimchi, you can actually increase its probiotic properties.
As a professional foodie at large, I don’t consider myself a picky eater. In fact, picky eaters drive me nuts — so I doubly hate it when I realize that I’m avoiding an entire swath of the culinary world for no good reason.
Over the years I’d tried to expose myself to more Korean foods, and while I was getting used to them, I still wasn’t enjoying them all that much. At least I was trying, though.
Then I found a new roommate to share my apartment in Chicago. She was a smart, hilarious woman named Eun-ji. Having a Korean roommate meant fermented cabbage suddenly became a part of my everyday life.
Kimchi was a big part of Eun-ji’s diet and she knows how long to ferment kimchi, so it was always around. When I walk in the door, and especially when I open the fridge, I was met with the aroma of garlic and spice.
I’ll be honest. It was kind of amazing. The new smells made hungry constantly.
Apparently a lot of Americans don’t like the smell of kimchi (or fish sauce, for that matter), and there’s a fair number of Koreans living in America that kibosh the stuff altogether to keep their American roommates from freaking out.
In fact, in Korea, they sell specialized kimchi refrigerators to keep the smell contained. Eun-ji mentioned that even some younger-generation Koreans weren’t fond of the smell.
Shortly after moving in, Eun-ji told me a story about how she was talking to her mom, Kwon-hee, on the phone, and she said to get rid of the kimchi in the fridge, because the smell would obviously upset me. LOL!
Eun-ji and I became friends, so we were constantly sharing food. Over the period of a few months, I got more and more into eating kimchi — like straight out of the jar. I also noticed that when I ate something with kimchi in it, my stomach was the picture of perfection for the next 24-hours. Nice!
Finally, it got to the point that I was putting kimchi in everything, especially when it came to breakfast. I was eating it plain, mixed into eggs, and in my very favorite Korean dish ever, the kimchi pancake.
As an American girl who was raised on the sweeter side of breakfast, who knew I could enjoy something so savory for my first meal of the day?
(Seriously, if you’ve been out drinking for the night, a spicy 3am kimchi pancake is the best thing in the world.)
Then one day I bought my own jar of kimchi. I brought it home and sat there staring at the glass jar, with the lid bulging from the pressure inside. I had no idea how long to ferment kimchi, or what to expect when I opened the jar for the first time.
Honestly, I was a little concerned about opening it. The jar looked like it was about to pop open. I poked at it until Eun-ji came home, because I didn’t know what to do with it next.
The simple art of fermenting kimchi
According to Eun-ji, the key to getting kimchi to its signature sour flavor is to let it ferment a little more after you bring it home.
All you need to do it open the jar, set the lid loosely back on top, and then let the jar sit out on the counter for the rest of the day. Or rather in the sink, as the content of the jar can bubble out during fermentation, making a mess. For this reason I recommend putting it on a baking sheet to contain anything that may fizz out.
Note: Taking the lid off your jar of kimchi before letting it sit out is really important, as I learned the hard way.
Since kimchi is stored in the refrigerator section of the grocery store, the fermentation process has been slowed down by the cold. Fermentation starts again when you let the jar sit out at room temperature, creating pressure in the jar.
If you let your kimchi sit out without taking off the lid, when you do open the jar you’ll discover you’ve been fermenting a high-velocity kimchi volcano. Eun-ji cautioned that if enough pressure builds up the jar will actually explode.
So do yourself a favor and loosen the lid, mmmkay?
All that said, you don’t have to ferment your kimchi at all, if you prefer the fresher flavor of raw kimchi.
In fact, she says her dad prefers it this way, so they keep a separate jar of raw kimchi in the refrigerator for him.
So, how long to ferment kimchi, anyways?
When learning how to ferment kimchi, the amount of fermentation time can vary depending on a few factors:
- How fermented was your kimchi when you brought it home? Open the jar and check it out. Does it smell sour? Does the contents of the jar bubble when you jostle it?
- If it smells sour or looks bubbly, you’ve already got some fermentation going. You probably don’t need to let it sit at room temp for more than a few hours (unless you like it really sour).
- If it just smells like seasoned cabbage and doesn’t bubble at all, you’ll probably want to let it sit out for most of the day to get a more satisfying sour flavor.
- How warm is the ambient temperature? Kimchi, like anything else, will ferment faster in a warm environment. So if it’s summertime in Chicago, your kimchi will ferment a lot faster than it will during January in Vermont.
- Your own personal preferences are a big factor. If you like your kimchi recipe super sour, then let it ferment longer. If you like it more mild, limit the fermentation time to just a couple of hours.
- You stop the extra fermentation of your kimchi when you put it in the fridge. Easy peasy!
The key to knowing how long to ferment kimchi is all based on your personal preference. How do you know when your kimchi has fermented long enough? Smell it and taste it. If you’re happy with the flavor, close the lid and put it back in the fridge.
Happy fermenting! I found this handy kimchi taste test if you’re curious about trying kimchi but don’t know which brand to pick up. As always, buy one that doesn’t have any weird preservatives in it. All natural is better.
The one I have here contains only Napa cabbage, garlic, onion, spices, salt and a tiny bit of sugar to help the fermentation along (less than a gram per 1/4 cup serving). That’s all you need!
Making Kimchi: How Long to Ferment Kimchi
- 1 jar kimchi
- Remove the lid from the jar (set a paper towel over the lid first, in case the kimchi bubbles out).
- Set the lid loosely on top of the jar so air can escape
- Set the jar of kimchi on a baking sheet or in the sink, in case it bubbles over while fermenting.
- Let the jar sit at room temperature anywhere from 2 to 8 hours, depending on how sour you want it. Every few hours, smell and taste the kimchi.
- When it's at a level of sourness you like, tighten the lid and place the jar in the refrigerator.
This content was originally posted on FearlessFresh.com.