The Origins of Kimchi


Kimchi is delicious and easy to make!

As Korea’s national dish, Kimchi is one of Korea’s most iconic foods, but how did this healthy and delicious fermented dish originate? Let’s take a journey through time to find out.

Necessary Survival

Korea is part of northeast Asian, and the winters can be quite brutal. As the land is mountainous with few fertile plains, food preservation is incredibly important. Early Koreans ate salted vegetables in order to aid in the digestion of grains, as grains back then consisted only of barley and millet. Preservation become a sort of art that was not only limited to pickles, but all sorts of vegetables.

The Three Kingdoms (57 B.C.E. – 668 C.E.)

Although early Koreans were quite good at making fermented foods, the earliest kimchis were much different than how they are today. There wasn’t any red pepper, as it had not yet been imported from the Americas. Cabbage was not often used, and most kimchis were radishes dipped in paste or salted in brine.

Koryeo Period (918 – 1392)

As new vegetables were brought into Korea, preservation methods diversified to pine mushrooms, large radishes, cucumbers, leeks, Indian mustard leaf, bamboo shoots, and the famous Chinese cabbage. The poet Lee Kyu-bo wrote the earliest known record about kimchi during this time: “Preserved in soybean paste, kimchi tastes good in the summer. Whereas kimchi pickled in brine is served as a good side dish during the winter. When the root of the Chinese cabbage grows larger in the ground, it tastes like a pear, especially after the first frost in the autumn harvest season.”

Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910)

Kimchi continued to rapidly expand during Korea’s most stable dynasty. It was also around this time that chile peppers and sweet potatoes were introduced to the art of kimchi, totally changing the fermentation methods and appearance of the dish. Clever cooks aldo began adding animal proteins such as pheasant and fermented fish. The kimchi most people are familiar with, called Tongbaechu kimchi, was invented after 1800 C.E., and quickly became the most popular style. There were 92 different types of kimchi by 1827. Today, there are over 200.

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