Kimchi 101

Can I leave unopened kimchi at room temperature?

As a living probiotic food, kimchi is constantly trying to escape from its jar! Kimchi should be stored in the fridge as chilling is the only thing that keeps its level of fermentation (i.e. the activity of those happy little probiotics) slowed down. If you leave kimchi outside of the fridge, over time it will become over-fermented and won't taste so great anymore.

What are the health benefits of eating kimchi?

People have known about the health benefits of eating kimchi for thousands of years. The living probiotic lactobacillus in kimchi are healthy bacteria that are good for your gut. Gut health is directly linked to immunity as most of the body’s immune function occurs within the digestive tract. Balancing good and bad bacteria also suppresses inflammation in the body, which has been linked to many chronic illnesses and to overall wellbeing. As a vegetable-based preparation, kimchi is also high in vitamins (especially Vitamin C, as lactobacillus actually creates Vitamin C!) and low in calories.

Why are the pieces in your Reserve Napa Cabbage kimchi products so long?

It is our intention with our Reserve Napa Cabbage Kimchi to offer the most authentic, hand crafted version of kimchi, and these lengths allow for less bruising of the vegetable and for the development of the fullest possible fermented flavor. When the cuts are long, the leaves can also be carefully folded before being layered into the fermentation jar, resulting in deeper and more even fermentation. We recommend using kitchen scissors at the table to cut the long strips of kimchi to your liking.

Why is the kimchi so sour tasting?

Kimchi will always have a high level of acidity. This is caused by gut-healthy bacteria in the kimchi, which create acid during their lifetime, lowering the pH of the kimchi and preserving it naturally. If the kimchi was not acidic (read: sour) it would go bad! Generally, when the taste of kimchi is described as more sour than usual, it is possible that the level of fermentation has exceeded that which someone has previously experienced - but it does not mean that the kimchi is faulty or that it has gone bad.

When I opened my jar of kimchi it overflowed all over the place! Is it still safe to eat?

All of our kimchi products are living foods. Kimchi is raw/unpasteurized to preserve the gut-health-boosting bacteria within, which continue to actively ferment inside the jar. Sometimes, you may open a jar of kimchi and no explosion will occur. Other times, the kimchi may pop and overflow similarly to a bottle of champagne. Either way, your kimchi is still safe to eat.

My kimchi did not make a popping noise or overflow when I opened it. Is it still safe to eat? Are the probiotics inside still active?

It is perfectly normal for some jars of kimchi to bubble and pop profusely and for others to not. No pop or overflow when opening a jar does not mean that the kimchi does not contain legions of gut-health-boosting bacteria - trust us it does! This has to do with many factors, including seasonality of the vegetables, and variations in packing.

The lid of my jar of kimchi is bulging - is it safe to eat?

Yes, even if the lid on a jar of our kimchi is raised, we can assure you that the product is safe to eat. Bulging is caused by off-gassing from healthy fermentation bacteria that causes a build-up of pressure under the lid. It is actually the desired result with kimchi for there to be active good-for-you bacteria present and active inside the jar. The amount of off-gassing is variable from jar to jar, but sometimes the pressure build up can cause bulging or even distortion of the jar lid. 

Why does your kimchi not have as much liquid in it as some other brands?

The reason why our kimchi has less liquid in it is because at Mother-in-Law's we ferment our kimchi in a temperature-controlled room (a kimchi cave as we call it) before putting it into its final jar packaging. This is a time-honored process that results in the signature depth of flavor of Mother-in-Law's products. Because of this process, moisture wicks away from the vegetables before jarring - so you end up with less water actually making it into the jar and a more robustly flavored kimchi.

Why is kimchi not completely covered in liquid? I thought that fermented foods needed to be submerged in liquid.

Kimchi is a true fermented food in which good bacteria (aka probiotics) are thriving. These good bacteria prevent bad bacteria from growing as they release acid during their lifetime, reducing the pH of the kimchi to levels that bad bacteria cannot live in. This is why kimchi is acidic, and that acidity is what makes kimchi a long lasting food. 

There is often confusion between fermented and canned/pickled/preserved foods. Modern canning and preserving techniques, such as making bread and butter pickles, is not fermentation. There is no good bacteria living in modern pickle brine lowering the pH of the pickles by creating acid. Acidity is instead artificially introduced using vinegar. Because there is no good bacteria living inside a jar of common pickles, when these pickles are prepared they need to be completely immersed in a salty, acidic brine that kills bacteria, allowing the pickles to be stored longterm on the shelf at room temperature.

What is the shelf life of Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi? How long will it last in the refrigerator?

Kimchi is a living probiotic food, and will continue to change as it ferments over time. Temperature and exposure to oxygen are the two factors that most greatly impact the progression of fermentation and thus the longevity of kimchi. As the kimchi matures, it will take on earthy, tangy notes while the heat of the chiles mellows out. Your kimchi will continue to age if kept cool in the refrigerator and away from oxygen, remaining delicious for up to 12 months or even longer.

How should I eat kimchi?

In Korea, kimchi is traditionally served among an array of side dishes at virtually every meal. But kimchi is more than just a side dish – its versatility also makes it an invaluable and flavorful ingredient in all kinds of cooking. Saute alongside pork chops, flank steak tacos, or scrambled eggs; add to stews, ramen, or grilled cheese sandwiches. Visit our Recipes page for ideas on how to incorporate kimchi into delicious everyday meals.

For more information on kimchi, please check out The Kimchi Cookbook.