By Bernard Rowan

I don’t know about you, but I’m having a problem with kimchi. It’s too hot these days. That is, its heat is off-putting. I’m speaking about the kimchi I buy at Korean and other Asian stores in Chicago. I’ve not completed an empirical study of kimchi across the globe. This wonder food now finds its way to many corners of the globe, not just America. However, it’s too hot these days.

When I first started eating kimchi, I knew nothing about it. I thought it tasted peculiar, but the taste and flavors grew on me. I figured out how to eat it with other foods. I found that kimchi agreed with me better when it was consumed with vegetables, rice or meats – not as a separate side dish. While of course one can eat kimchi all on its own, and I do that, it’s not really the idea. I had the same tendency as a child – to eat my side dishes on their own.

However, for the last five years, at least half the time I buy kimchi, there is too much chili infused into it, or it’s too salty. I don’t think it’s random or a figment of my taste buds either. As the United States has grown in its worship of “full-flavored dishes,” there’s too much salt everywhere and too much chili. Yes, this is a matter of taste and preference, but salt and heat shouldn’t constitute the recipe for “hot flavor." In the same way that many think adding sriracha is just the apex of pumping up the flavor, I fear some kimchi producers have taken shortcuts in producing an important and valuable side dish.

I did some reading online to find mention of my experience, but to no avail. The most I found were exhortations to use less spicy kimchi or to take to mul kimchi (water kimchi) or baek kimchi (white kimchi). A few websites suggested to add sugar or some other ingredients to dilute the chili or salty notes. This also is not a good idea, as salt and sugar add up to high blood pressure and diabetes, if that’s the name of the palliative.

Makers of kimchi for sale and distribution are using too much salt or chili and/or too much fermentation time. As a result, when the food gets to my mouth, and it wouldn’t be just mine, it’s too hot. I don’t think it’s a good thing.

The other week, my wife purchased some homemade kimchi, and the taste was much better. It touches my memory of the first times I enjoyed kimchi in Korea. Perhaps it’s trite to say, but the less processed and the fresher the kimchi, the better the taste. I do think the amount of chili matters, and I do see less of other leavening ingredients, including pear and radishes, in store-bought kimchi. Too much brining of the cabbage or main constituents makes kimchi overly salty, and too much fermentation (which may extend to transportation times, including internationally), will increase the chili piquancy.

I’m afraid this column can’t proffer any definite conclusions on the current state of kimchi. I’ll leave it to a plea. Please work to make sure the “taste of the hand” is in kimchi. The taste of the mass-produced machines isn’t good enough. Purveyors of kimchi should charge more but make sure to have fresh kimchi that is not overly brined or overly fermented. Also, apropos of many columns I read – and good advice for myself – we can learn to make kimchi for ourselves. There are many recipes on the internet, and the process isn’t overly complicated. There’s still a lot of reason to say that kimchi made at home often can taste better. It also can be even healthier for our bodies.

Bernard Rowan (browan10@yahoo.com) is associate provost for contract administration and academic services and professor of political science at Chicago State University. He is a past fellow of the Korea Foundation and former visiting professor at Hanyang University.

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Hot kimchi

20 0
14.01.2024
By Bernard Rowan

I don’t know about you, but I’m having a problem with kimchi. It’s too hot these days. That is, its heat is off-putting. I’m speaking about the kimchi I buy at Korean and other Asian stores in Chicago. I’ve not completed an empirical study of kimchi across the globe. This wonder food now finds its way to many corners of the globe, not just America. However, it’s too hot these days.

When I first started eating kimchi, I knew nothing about it. I thought it tasted peculiar, but the taste and flavors grew on me. I figured out how to eat it with other foods. I found that kimchi agreed with me better when it was consumed with vegetables, rice or meats – not as a separate side dish. While of course one can eat kimchi all on its own, and I do that, it’s not really the idea. I had the same tendency as a child – to eat my side dishes on their own.

However, for the last five years, at least half the........

© The Korea Times


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