Kimchi representsKorea’s best known food. Koreans serve kimchi at almost every meal, and few Koreans can last more than a few days before cravings get the better of them. During the 1988 Summer Olympic Games, thousands of foreigners were introduced to it for the first time. Despite a reputation for being spicy, most people usually develop a taste for it, and many foreigners also find themselves missing it after returning to their home country.
Many Koreans at the time of Si-Kyong lived in the Manchurian region, and it is believed that they made kimchi to preserve the vitamins and minerals in vegetables for the long, cold winters in Manchuria.
Three Kingdoms Period: Spreading of pickled food
The first record found regarding kimchi is during the Three kingdom period (57 B.C. – 668 A.D.). The record is written as follows: “The Kogureou People are good at making brewing dreg, malt, bran, and pickling.” This implies that fermented food was widely used in every day lives. However, no writings of this period mention seasonings or ingredients.
Koryo Dynasty: The appearance of kimchi seasoned with ingredients
Kimchi existed by the latter part of the Koryo period (918 – 1392). Various regions developed their own recipes using different spices according to local tastes. Salt, garlic, and fermented fish paste made up the most common spices and garnishes.
Chosun Dynasty: The introduction of red chili peppers
The 1700s saw the introduction of red chili peppers to Korea. Red peppers and ground pepper powder quickly became popular ingredients. People began to experiment with new spices and vegetables from other countries. In the cold northern area, saltless kimchi contained a little bit of powdered red pepper and salted fish. In the warmer southern area, people used more powdered red pepper and salt.
Kimchi continues to be an important part of Korean meals, especially in these days of healthier eating habits. The nutritional value of kimchi has been studied and found to be bursting in vitamins and minerals. As more people around the world turn to healthier eating habits, kimchi finds it way onto more and more tables internationally.
Kimchi is healthy food
Koreans eat so much of this super-spicy condiment (40 pounds of it per person each year) that natives say “kimchi” instead of “cheese” when getting their pictures taken. The reddish fermented cabbage (and sometimes radish) dish—made with a mix of garlic, salt, vinegar, chile peppers, and other spices—is served at every meal, either alone or mixed with rice or noodles. And it’s part of a high-fiber, low-fat diet that has kept obesity at bay in Korea. Kimchi also is used in everything from soups to pancakes, and as a topping on pizza and burgers.
Why you should try it? Kimchi (or kimchee) is loaded with vitamins A, B, and C, but its biggest benefit may be in its “healthy bacteria” called lactobacilli, found in fermented foods like kimchi and yogurt. This good bacteria helps with digestion, plus it seems to help stop and even prevent yeast infections, according to a recent study. And more good news: Some studies show fermented cabbage has compounds that may prevent the growth of cancer.
What to do with it: There’s no need to make your own; just pick it up in the refrigerated section of your grocery store or an Asian market for around $4 per 32-ounce jar (Sunja’s is one popular brand). You can wake up your morning by scrambling eggs with kimchi, diced tomatoes, and mushrooms. Use it as a wrap filling or to top a baked potato. Or try Spicy Beef and Kimchi Stew, which won our test kitchen’s top rating.