The Many Flavors of Kimchi

Kimchi in a black bowl is placed on top of a burlap table covering near silver metal chopsticks

Kimchi isn’t just a staple of Korean cuisine, it’s a way of life—which explains why Koreans consume more than 2 billion tons of this delicacy each year.

The spicy food, served at all three meals, is made from salted, fermented vegetables, such as cabbage and radishes, and a combination of garlic, ginger, chili peppers, and fish sauce.

Each region of the country has its own version of kimchi, and there are more than 200 different varieties. Among them are kkakdugi (cubed radish), pa kimchi (spicy green onion), and oi sobagi (cucumber).

Part of Korean cuisine for thousands of years, kimchi dates to the Three Kingdoms period (57 BCE to the 668 century CE). During that time Koreans used fermentation to preserve food and maintain an ample food supply for the long winters.

Originally kimchi was made from radishes, but when cabbage arrived in the country, it was also preserved and prepared the same way. Once chili peppers were introduced in the 16th century, they were added to the fermented cabbage, giving kimchi its kick—and its red color.

Kimchi is so important to Korean culture that the process of making it, "gimjang," is registered on the list of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. To commemorate that and help an increasingly large single population in South Korea preserve this culinary tradition, the Seoul Kimchi Festival was launched in 2014. Thousands of people gather each fall at Seoul Plaza to participate in a variety of kimchi-making activities.

In part because of its health benefits, kimchi’s popularity has spread worldwide. Considered a superfood, kimchi is full of good probiotics and vitamins A, B, and C. Its influence on global cuisine has resulted in kimchi pasta, fries, and— yes—even kimchi ice cream.