What Does Kimchi Taste Like? Is Kimchi Spicy or Sour?

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish added to the UNESCO list and granted Intangible Cultural Heritage status. Kimchi has over 180 varieties and is appreciated not only in Asia but also in Europe and the USA. You can find kimchi in every Korean house – for Koreans, kimchi is more than just food, it is a product of the life and wisdom of Koreans. If you have never tried kimchi and are wondering what kimchi tastes and smells like, check out our in-depth kimchi taste guide.

What does kimchi taste like? Since kimchi is made of fermented Napa cabbage and radish, it has a sour, slightly acidic, tangy taste, just like sauerkraut. Kimchi has a complex pronounced, sour flavor that becomes even stronger if chili is added. Korean kimchi is hot, tangy, sour, and salty with a pronounced sour smell.

Read on to find out what kimchi is, what it tastes like, and what it is usually served with.

What Is Kimchi?

Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish made of fermented vegetables (Napa cabbage, radish), spices, and seasonings (salt, garlic, ginger). Kimchi can also include chili powder, onion, scallion, carrots, apple, fish sauce. Kimchi is served as is, added to rice, omelet, noodles, soup, or even pancakes.

Kimchi originates from the Chinese word “chimchae”, meaning soaked vegetables. Kimchi history dates back to over 2,000 years ago when the dish was first mentioned in writing. Now kimchi is an inalienable part of Korean cuisine, and its popularity is growing rapidly in European countries as well as in the US. Kimchi is often compared to German sauerkraut; however, their taste is not the same.

Is kimchi like sauerkraut? Korean Kimchi does taste similar to German sauerkraut as they are made of fermented cabbage. Kimchi has a more flavorful profile, ranging from slightly sweet and sour to spicy hot, tangy, and salty, while sauerkraut is never spicy. Kimchi can also include apples, carrots, and even fish sauce.

As you can see, both kimchi and sauerkraut are made of fermented cabbage. However, sauerkraut is made with finely chopped raw cabbage, while kimchi is made with Napa cabbage and radish. Kimchi has a more complex taste profile than sauerkraut because kimchi can also be made with scallions, onion, garlic, apple, carrot, fish sauce, oysters, shrimp, and anchovies, while sauerkraut is made with raw cabbage and sometimes garlic.

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Kimchi Flavor Profile

Kimchi is a unique dish thanks to its complex flavor and aroma profile. However, kimchi flavor depends on the ingredients. Traditional kimchi is made of Napa cabbage and radish, but there are over 180 kimchi varieties that include apples, carrots, seafood, and even fish sauce!

Here is a list of ingredients used to make kimchi:

Fruits: Apples, pears, persimmon

Vegetables: Napa cabbage, radish, lettuce, cucumbers, soybeans, leek

Nuts: Peanuts, pine nuts, sesame seeds

Cereal: Barley, wheat, rice

Seafood: Shrimp, oysters

Kimchi flavor also depends on the herbs and spices. As a rule, Koreans use sea salt and chili pepper to add some spiciness to the dish. However, they can also use ground chili and glutinous rice paste. Kimchi recipes also include scallions, garlic, and ginger to enhance the flavor and aroma.

Is kimchi an acquired taste? Kimchi is considered an acquired taste due to its strong sour, spicy flavor and a complex, pungent smell that not everyone will like. However, for many people, kimchi is love at first taste thanks to its juicy texture, unusual sour flavor, and health benefits. Try kimchi to see what side you’ll take!

Kimchi taste has changed a lot since it was first invented, thanks to different seasonings used to enhance the flavor and color of kimchi. Koreans started adding ginger, mustard, and garlic to make the flavor of kimchi more pronounced and saffron to give the dish a noble golden hue. In the 16th century, new spices arrived in Korea, which created new kimchi recipes with chili pepper.

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Kimchi taste also depends on the main ingredients, seasons, and regions where it is cooked. For example, the central part of Korea (Gyeonggi Province) is influenced by royal culinary traditions, so you can find finely chopped kimchi made with top-notch ingredients. At the same time, in South Jeolla Province, where there is plenty of high-quality fruit and seafood, you can find traditional kimchi made of seaweed, shrimp, persimmon, and lettuce. In the northern areas, where there is a lot of cod, you can find traditional kimchi made of cod, radish, and bean sprouts.

Why does my kimchi taste like alcohol? Kimchi, just like kombucha and kefir, may taste like alcohol as it is made of fermented cabbage. Technically, kimchi contains some alcohol due to the fermentation processes, but the alcohol content is minimal. If you notice a strong alcohol taste, kimchi could be spoilt and needs to be thrown away.

That said, kimchi could have a subtle flavor of alcohol, but it should not be pronounced and pungent. Kimchi should taste sour, salty, and sometimes spicy, but never bitter or like alcohol!

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Is Kimchi Sweet, Sour, Or Spicy?

Is kimchi spicy or sour? Traditional Korean kimchi is very sour and salty, but if you add garlic and chili, kimchi also acquires an eye-watering hot and spicy taste. Since kimchi is a side dish and is served with other foods (mashed potatoes, steaks, fish, or added to soups), it does not taste too sour or spicy.

Does kimchi taste sweet? Traditional kimchi has only a subtle sweet flavor – it is more spicy and sour than sweet. However, some kimchi recipes include carrots and apples, so kimchi acquires a sweeter flavor while also being sour, spicy, and tangy. Kimchi should never taste too sweet.

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Since kimchi has over 180 varieties, they all taste different. Let’s look at some of the most popular kimchi recipes and see what they are made with:

  • Baechu-kimchi – made with Napa cabbage, red pepper, garden cress, and fermented shrimp
  • Kkakdugi – made with diced Korean radish
  • Oi Sobagi – made with stuffed cucumbers, scallions, fermented shrimp, garlic, ginger, and chili powder
  • Yuja Tongchim – made with watermelon, pear, ginger, and radish

How to Eat Kimchi? What Goes Well With Kimchi?

Even though kimchi is a side dish, it can be eaten as is. Kimchi can also be added to dumplings, rice, spaghetti, noodles, stewed with pork or beef and tofu, or even added to pizza or omelet! Kimchi is used to make pancakes, soups (Udon), hot and cold vegetable salads, or turned into a sauce.

What tastes good with kimchi? Kimchi goes well with mashed potatoes, steaks, meat and vegetable stews, fried rice, noodles, pasta, hot and cold vegetable salads, fried, grilled or baked fish, shrimp, omelet, French fries. Kimchi is often added to soups, pizza, hot dogs, burgers, pork chop, Mac and cheese, and dumplings.

Kimchi tastes good as is and can be eaten cold and hot. Kimchi can be eaten straight from the jar or added to dumplings, Korean potato pancakes, or soups, for example, Udon. Kimchi is often served with fried rice or vegetable and meat stew. Juicy crunchy kimchi improves digestion and creates a balance when eaten with heavy fatty foods like French fries or pork chops. Kimchi is often added to pizza, sandwiches, and hot dogs – kimchi goes well with bread, sausage, meat, and even cheese.

Kimchi also goes well with seafood and is often served with grilled, fried, or baked fish (salmon, cod, grouper, tilapia, tuna). Kimchi goes well with shrimp and oysters. Kimchi also goes well with meat and poultry, whether it is baked, fried, or boiled. Juicy kimchi spices up the flavor of other ingredients and improves digestion.

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Kimchi Taste FAQ

What Does Kimchi Taste And Smell Like?

Kimchi has a pronounced mouth-puckeringly sour, salty, and spicy taste that makes your eyes watery and an overpowering pungent aroma. While kimchi is one of the favorite dishes among Asians, it is an acquired taste for most westerners who are not used to the sharp and intense aroma.

What Is Kimchi Similar To?

Korean kimchi is most similar to German sauerkraut since the two dishes are made of fermented cabbage. However, in terms of the preparation method, kimchi is also similar to kombucha, kefir, yogurt, and tempeh since all these foods are made of fermented ingredients and have a sour taste.

Is Kimchi Good Taste?

Kimchi is considered an acquired taste due to its unusual flavor profile (kimchi is spicy, sour, and tangy). While some people fall in love with kimchi after first taste, some can’t stand the pungent, overpowering aroma and a mouth-puckeringly sour, salty flavor of the Korean kimchi.

Is Kimchi Like Sauerkraut?

Korean Kimchi tastes similar to German sauerkraut as they are made of fermented cabbage. Kimchi has a more flavorful profile, ranging from slightly sweet and sour to spicy hot, tangy, and salty, while sauerkraut is never spicy. Kimchi can also include apples, carrots, and even fish sauce.

Is Kimchi Cold or Hot?

Kimchi tastes good, both cold and hot. Cold kimchi can be eaten straight from the jar or added to salads, while hot kimchi can be added to pizza, soup, meat and vegetable stews, fried rice, noodles, mashed potatoes, steaks, and dumplings.

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