Spicy and Sour Kimchi

Kimchi announces itself first by a piquant, funky aroma and then by an unforgettable flavor, one that can take some getting use to if you weren’t raised on Korean cuisine. Cool, crunchy cabbage leaves provide a little bit of relief from the otherwise spicy, sour, garlicky and pungent flavors that wallop your taste buds with each mouth-tingling bite. Kimchi can set your mouth on fire, but like other types of spicy food also has a cooling and invigorating affect on the body. Think of kamchi as a way to wake up your palate and kick-start your appetite. It’s also a way to introduce helpful probiotics to your gut, which means improved digestion and better absorption of nutrients.

Making kimchi is an art that Koreans have been practicing for centuries, so we’re not going to pretend that our version improves on the recipe. It does, however, simplify the process and make it less time-consuming, which we’re hoping will encourage many of you to try it at home. You’ll still get the probiotic benefits and the intense flavor, not to mention the satisfaction and pride that comes with creating a culinary treasure in your own kitchen.

Making kimchi involves first brining cabbage leaves and then fermenting them in a fiery mix of chili powder, garlic, ginger and fish sauce and/or salted shrimp. Kimchi’s distinctive spiciness doesn’t come from just any flavorless chili powder. You want Korean chili powder (gochu garu) which is spicy but also a bit sweet, smoky and earthy and can be found in many Asian grocery stores.  There you will also find fish sauce – most Asian countries have their own version of fish sauce, and although similar, they do not taste exactly the same. For kimchi, look for Korean fish sauce (also called anchovy sauce or aek jeot). Fermented shrimp is traditionally included in kimchi as well and gives it more of that elusive umami flavor, but in this version it is optional.

Traditional kimchi is fermented for weeks, months or even years. The fermentation process melds together the bold seasonings so that the final product has a complex flavor that cannot simply be described as spicy. It is also during the fermentation process that all the good, desirable bacteria grow. For our quick and easy version of kimchi, we recommend fermenting the cabbage at least 72 hours. After that, when the kimchi is “done” is up to your personal preference. A good rule of thumb is that if the kimchi just tastes like spicy coleslaw, we let it sit longer until a tangy, pungent flavor develops. If pungency doesn’t sound appetizing to you, think about a piece of high-quality cheese; it smells a little like gym socks, but tastes amazing. Once the kimchi tastes right to you, storing it in the fridge will slow fermentation and keep it from getting way too funky.

In Korea there are more version of kimchi than are possible to count – using a variety of different vegetables beyond cabbage, adding fruit or seafood and adjusting the seasonings is totally acceptable. Serve the kimchi in small portions alongside meat or use it as an ingredient to give recipes an added kick. There is nothing that compares to kimchi when you need to liven up any meal!


  • 3 pounds (two large heads) of Napa cabbage
  • 3/4 cup kosher salt
  • 8-10 cloves of garlic
  • one 4-inch piece of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons Korean fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped salted shrimp (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup Korean red chili powder
  • 1 daikon radish, cut into thin 2-inch strips
  • 8-10 scallions, chopped into 1-inch pieces


Cut the cabbages in half lengthwise then chop each half into 1-inch sections.

In a large bowl combine kosher salt and 8 cups of cold water and stir so that salt dissolves. Add cabbage. Let soak for 6 hours, occasionally stirring the cabbage.

Remove cabbage from water and give it a quick rinse with clean water. You don’t need to rinse all the saltiness out, as it will give the kimchi flavor. Squeeze as much water from the leaves as possible or run it through a salad spinner a few times.

Combine garlic, ginger, and fish sauce (and shrimp, if using) and honey in food processor or blender until very finely minced. Stir in chili powder.

Combine radish, green onions and cabbage with the spice mixture, mixing really well to coat all the cabbage leaves. Using your hands works best for this, but put on plastic gloves if possible or the chili powder will likely burn your hands (and anything you accidentally touch with your hands, like your eyes. Ouch!)

Divide cabbage between two 1-quart canning jars, pressing down firmly to remove any air bubbles.

Cover the surface with tight plastic wrap, using a rubber band to seal the plastic wrap around the rim of the jar. Let it sit out at around 70 degrees for 72 hours, or longer, to ferment. Store in the refrigerator, up to about 3 weeks for best flavor.

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75 thoughts on “Spicy and Sour Kimchi”

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  1. Nice. I love me some kimchi, but have never attempted making it. Looks good!

  2. I love kimchi but have never tried to make it myself. Looks like I have a new project!

  3. “Serve the kimchi in small portions alongside meat or use it as an ingredient to give recipes an added kick.” Ummmm, no. Since first trying this awesome dish a year or so ago, after first reading about it on the Paleo blogs with all the talk of pro-biotic foods, I eat this stuff by the jar! Love kimchi, this stuff is awesome. Will definitely try making my own though. The stuff I buy at the grocery store is running almost $5 a jar. Think how much more I can eat if I make it myself 🙂 Thanks Mark.

  4. Nice job with the kimchi!! I grew up on kimchi as my mom is Korean 🙂 My kimchi does not compare to hers. Just wanted to give you kudos on your kimchi – looks great and authentic. 🙂 Happy eating!

  5. I’ve done a similar version. Delicious. I eat it as a snack. Locally I couldn’t find kim chee powder, but there is jarred Japanese kim chee paste. It does have a bit of sugar in it. I upped the heat by adding Thai chili garlic sauce. Pan-Asian fusion at its finest!

    1. You have to try it! You can make different variations – my fave is cucumber kimchi. I know you love bacon, try some kimchi wrapped bacon – both foods compliment everything so why not each other 🙂 It will seriously wake up your taste buds and you can adjust the heat.

    2. Make sure you’re near a toilet when consuming kim chi…that stuff will make ya go.

  6. I don’t think the authentic kimchi receipt has sugar-just thought….

      1. Yeah, we don’t use honey in ours, but it’s a great alternative to sugar. I’m going to see if my mom has ever used honey – which I love!

  7. I recently made kimchi for the first time using the recipe in ‘Nourishing Traditions.’

    When it is gone I will try this recipe. Looks good. I am also going to look up a cucumber kimchi recipe as Estella suggested since I have a bounty of cucumbers in the refrigerator.

    1. You will love it, Sharon 🙂 I don’t soak them in salt water, I just make it fresh and ready to eat. I also don’t add fish sauce – too salty but it is tasty. 🙂

  8. YAY! I’m half Korean so grew up eating it. My mom doesn’t fix her own any longer so I just buy mine from the Korean market. So good!
    I love mine fresh… like right out of the tub they just made it in fresh lol.
    It’s also awesome once it sours too. You can make a frickin awesome stew out of it.
    Sour Kimchi, Chicken broth (or water if you want), whatever kind of meat you want, bring to a boil and voila! YUM city!

    1. I love the stew! I add kimchi to everything. My mom’s Korean and my dad’s Puerto Rican. Yeah, we ate kimchi with beans and rice growing up. 🙂 It’s a great condiment to everything and alone as a snack. Kimchi pancakes rock my world. I haven’t had any in a while…

      1. Oh god yes. I LOVE kimchi pancakes!! Well, can’t exactly have them now since they’re made from flour. Guess there could be a primal version of it but I’m too lazy to try anything.
        I snack on kimchi all the time.

        1. 😀 Haha! I know what you mean. I’m going to – I promise – experiment with making kimchi pancakes with sweet potato flour. I need my kimchi pancake fix! 🙂

  9. I made a few batches, one came out WAAAY too salty! Sea salt plus fish sauce put it over the top.

    This recipe looks scrumptious, I’ll give it a shot!

  10. I used to make a huge batch of 20 L of kimchi every week at my old restaurant. I never used honey, but I used to grate an Asian pear into the mix instead.
    THere are over 90 different variations on kimchi, and I even know of people who have whole fridges dedicated to their kimchi.
    One dish I like to make that rocks is scrambled eggs, grilled scallions, and kimchi. Awesome!

    1. Its great with eggs. I had it this morning in an omelet with smoked pepperoni–delicious!

  11. What about those who don’t tolerate nightshades (chili powder)? Do you think the fermentation process would mitigate the immmune response?

    1. You can make Kimchi without chili powder. It’s called Baek Kimchi, meaning white Kimchi in Korean, since the color of Kimchi cabbage is white without the powder. Google for Back Kimchi for the recipe.

  12. So … I suppose the shrimp won’t spoil at room temperature for three days, because of the fermentation. Even if it’s your run of the mill farmed shrimp from Thailand, are there still really no worries here?

    1. The salted shrimp from a Korean grocery store pictured in the article is already fermented.

      There’s a recipe to make Korean salted shrimp. But I do not recommend this because even Koreans who make Kimchi themselves buy salted shrimp from a store. It is not easy to make salted shrimp well. And the taste of Kimchi heavely depends on the quality of salted shrimp.

  13. That looks great! I’ve never had kimchee before, but I may try this recipe.

  14. When my Korean Aunt would make kimchi she would bury the jar in the backyard for a month to ferment. Each month she’d dig up the jar and drop a new one in. Her kimchi was amazing and she said proper kimchi was always buried. LOL I never tried it myself though.

      1. Oh that’s bringing back memories. I remember having those huge brown jars on our back porch w/ the bean paste in them.

  15. Wow, lots of hapas here! My Korean mom was visiting over the summer and I made kimchi chigae (stew) for her using Maangchi’s recipe. Just throw sour kimchi, chopped pork belly, chopped dried anchovies in a pot with a little water and boil it for 20 minutes. Easy-peasy.

    1. Love the stew! I love visiting my mom bc she makes me quite the spread of Korean dishes. She’s the best! 🙂 Kimchi pancakes rock!

  16. that is thought of as one of the origins of the phrase ‘in deep kimchi.’ soldiers in the korean conflict stepping in buried jars.

  17. Sounds like a really awesome recipe… and reminds me of sauerkraut, since they’re both based on fermented cabbage. Now I kind of want to try making both at home….

  18. Wow. Impressive! Kimchi is one thing my non-Primal husband loves but I do not. Perhaps I’ll try making this recipe…for him. I tried a bite of kimchi once and it’s the only food I’ve never been able to actually swallow.

    1. Dawn, I would try making fresh kimchi – i don’t add fish sauce and I cut up veggies and mix in the rest of the goodies above. Cucumber and carrots are great!

    2. You may want to try fresh kimchi.
      My husband doesn’t like kimchi once it sours, but if it still has that fresh taste to it, he’ll eat it.

  19. We make our own kim chi using Maangchi’s recipe which is nice because there’s a video to run you through all the steps.

    It’s great with eggs, plain meat, and right out of the jar (just make sure you don’t double dip!)

    1. I use a variation on maangchi’s recipes to primalize it ad well. Just substitude the sugar and sweet rice paste she uses with some blue berries and plain yogurt. Better than any store bought. And even my moms I think…her cucumber kimchi is even easier to make and tastes great, just omit the sugar.

  20. I’m curious – why use plastic wrap and rubber band to cover the jar and not the jar’s lid and ring like with canning?

    1. You can use the jar’s lid.

      However, you need to be very careful when you open the lid after Kimchi is done, because there is pressured air built up inside the jar due to fermentation.

      It does not look pretty at all. A Kimchi jar explodes like when a warm beer can is opened ^^

        1. Tight it, but when you open it first time, position the jar in your kitchen sink and open it there carefully because the pressured air and juice can spill over.

    2. It isn’t “canned” with a boiling water bath, so it doesn’t need the rubber gasket and lid.

      1. I understand it isn’t canned – I was curious regarding plastic wrap/rubberband rather than the lid and screw cap.

        1. It’s to keep the lids from exploding off the jar. A regular lid with screw cap can be used but it has to be put on loosely, at least until it gets put in the refrigerator.

  21. leaving it outside at room temperature speed up the fermentation. 72 hours would make it pretty sour. we prefer it about 24 hours then put in refrigerator. Special kimchi refrigerator keeps the temperature right around 32-33 which still does not freeze due to salt, but it stops fermentation, which will maintain the taste to your liking. normal fridge will allow very slow fermentation.

    you can make kimchi with just about any vegetables especially those in the cabbage family. napa cabbage is 20th century introduction, so go ahead and experiment.

  22. It did take me a little while to get used to the taste of kimchi but now I love it. I just made up a little over 3 gallons this weekend. I’m using a little different method though, including whey into the mix to lactoferment it.

  23. I love kimchi! If you go to a more traditional Korean restaurant, you’ll be served small dishes of 4-6 different kinds of kimchi, all using different seasonal vegetables with completely different flavor profiles. I wish I knew more about making it!

  24. Homemade Legal Opium Tea Recipe!
    Yep. A primal drug concoction. I’ve been busy. It doesn’t actually get you high. More of a mood-food. Most of us have had a relaxing cup of chamomile at some point? This is just a bit stronger. I wouldn’t consider it any more drastic than a couple cups of coffee. A couple cups of this tea is like popping a Vicodin or something.
    What you do is go to a bulk food section, get a bag of poppy seeds (about a pound per person for a light buzz) and then put them in a big pot and boil them for around a couple hours. Boil the water down, add more, repeat. That’s all. You drink the resulting tea, which doesn’t taste that great but is bearable, and can eat the seeds if you want. It will help you loosen up, feel happy or at least light hearted. It’s really not that noticeable. It doesn’t inebriate you. I had some today and then went about my business biking around town and talking on the phone to a government worker because I had to make an appointment to hopefully get welfare.

    1. And if you consume a bunch of cumin with it, all the merrier. Cumin lowers opiate tolerance and increases the subjective high. Thanks Mark for that snippet of information. 🙂
      I’m a bit of a slave to my vices but with knowledge comes better options. This tea also helps my friend out who is addicted to opiates. He can drink it instead of taking tons of pharms to ward off or lessen withdrawal symptoms.

      1. Anyone who attempts the poppy seed tea should be very cautious; there have been deaths from this tea. Granted they drank a lot of it and had very strong seeds. I have a friend who tried this a couple years back with a commonly available poppy seed. He used two 8 oz. bags with some lemon juice I think it was, and he said he was pretty much out of it for two days afterward. Opiates are very addictive so usually the advice is not to consume such tea two days in a row.

        1. Lemon juice would be good to add. My friend told me the pH should be somewhere around 6.5.

      2. I read that the active compounds in the poppy seeds are liable to degredation if their temperature reaches over 70 degrees C so it might be best to let this tea simmer lightly for a long time.

  25. I love kimchi but I’ve developed an allergic reaction to hot peppers…is there such a thing as kimchee minus the hot peppers????

    1. I skipped the hot peppers in mine, not sure how it will turn out, but I used a little extra ginger. Peppers are in the nightshade family so some people have sensitivity to them.

  26. I always want to try these recipes but they’re way too complicated for me right now. For now I’ll stick to putting a big piece of meat and some veggies in a crock pot and leaving it for a few hours =)

  27. yay!! I’m a Korean and I can’t be more excited to see a Korean recipe in Mark’s site!

  28. One thing that is delicious that my Korean mother taught me is stir-frying kimchi in pig fat. We usually cook a large batch of pork belly (sam gyup sal) and let the kimchi brown in the fat afterwards. It’s so delicious!

  29. Thank you for the excellent post on kimchi. I have always loved kimchi, as well as most pickled vegetables. Allen.

  30. I just made this for the first time yesterday and it has been fermenting for about 30 hours. I must not have left enough room because the liquid, not just the gas seems to have expanded and my saran wrap looks like a huge blister. Does anybody know how/why the liquid increases, I can understand how it makes gas but not how it makes liquid. Thanks for any help.

    1. The liquid doesn’t actually increase, although you do get some liquid coming out of the veg. What happens is that the gas expands and pushes the cabbage, radish, veggies etc upwards, creating gaps lower in the jar.

      I’ve got some fermenting now in a Pickl-It jar and have had to put it in a larger jar due to the expansion. House smells like kimchi. 🙂

  31. 4 soft poached eggs (runny yolks) mixed into about two cups of Kimchi is divine! It’s my favourite meal at the moment 🙂

  32. My mom uses some clam juice in her kimchi. Never tried it with shrimp. She ferments hers for a week on the counter but saves a few servings of fresh for me. I prefer the crunch of fresher kimchi. That stuff can really stink up the house…and all the garlic of Korean kimchi will come out if your pores for a couple of days. The hubby won’t come near me til it’s out of my system, he also hates Asian food. Totally worth it, tho!

    My favorite is radish kimchi made with the big Asian radishes. Mmm, I’m going to ask her to make both for me next time I see her. It really goes with everything…eggs, American style BBQ

  33. Hi Mark~My experience with Kimchi, and all ferments, is that they need an anaerobic, no oxygen, environment. I’ve used all kinds of vessels, but found the fido jar with an airlock works the best. They are selling them on the internet now. Keeps all the bad bugs out, and the good ones in. Sure wish I could find an organic source of Korean Chili Peppers now :0)

  34. Has anyone ever kept kimchi for two years? I am going on that and it still smells and tastes fine.

  35. Just made my 2nd batch. For some reason my garlic, ginger, and fish sauce blend is not liquid like in the photo.

    What to make of the warning to limit the amount of Kimchi eaten in a week, in order to minimize the risk of stomach cancer? Stomach cancer rates are high in parts of Asia, especially Korea and where pickled food are eaten in large quantities – “food that contain N-nitroso compounds, which are likely carcinogens.” “likely”… not to worry, right?

  36. I’ve not made it myself but my local organic health food store sells some by a company just south of the border in possibly the organic capital of Australia. (Byron). I have some of this on my slow cooked lamb and it is delish. It smells funky but tastes great.