While you’re probably familiar with the most common version, paechu kimchi, made with napa cabbage, there are actually over 100 different varieties of this classic dish, ranging from kkakdugi (cubed radish) to oi sobagi (cucumber) and gat (mustard leaf).

History of kimchi

According to records, kimchi dates back as far as the Three Kingdoms of Korea (37 BCE–7 CE). However, kimchi didn’t get its signature red color until around the 16th century.

The variety of kimchi

In Korea, each region has developed its own take on the fermented side dish. Jeonju, the food capital of Korea, makes kimchi stronger than other variations by adding fish sauce. Korea’s southeastern province of Jeollanam-do seasons its kimchi with yellow Corvina and butterfish. The midwest region of Hwanghae-do doesn’t use red pepper flakes, while the southern regions boast the spiciest varieties of all. Even North Korea has its own take on the dish, it is generally less spicy, less red and stored for longer periods of time.

When to eat kimchi

While traditional baechu kimchi is eaten year-round, the appearance of certain kimchis depends on season and occasion. Pa kimchi (green onions) is served up during the spring, oi sobagi (cucumber) in the summer and dongchimi (radish water) during colder months. Bossam kimchi (wrapped) is saved for special occasions.

Why is it so popular?

It’s healthy as heck. The superfood is linked with weight loss, healthy skin, and strong digestive health. Chock-full of good probiotics, vitamins A, B, and C, and antioxidants, it’s been named one of the world’s healthiest foods.

What does it mean in Korea?

Kimchi’s a way of life in Korea—the figures prove it—1.5 billion tons of kimchi are consumed in this Asian country each year. Kimchi recipes are passed down through generations, and most Korean families have a separate, temperature-controlled refrigerator just for their kimchi. The staple is not only eaten solo but found in countless Korean dishes including kimchi buchimgae (scallion pancake), ramen, kimbap (seaweed, rice roll), mackerel pike stew, dumplings, and fried rice.

Come November, the entire country begins pickling season, preparing the brine for kimchi fermentation. It’s a tradition that landed them on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List and one that’s celebrated with countless festivals, such as the Seoul Kimchi Making & Sharing Festival.