Kimchi, also spelled gimchi or kimchee, is a traditional Korean fermented dish made of seasoned vegetables, such as the pickled Chinese cabbage.
Kimchi is the most common Korean banchan eaten with rice along with other banchan dishes. Kimchi is also a common ingredient and cooked with other ingredients to make dishes such as kimchi stew (kimchi jjigae) and kimchi fried rice (kimchi bokkeumbap). Kimchi is also popular in Japan and parts of China.
The history of kimchi traces back to ancient times. References to kimchi can be found as early as 2600-3000 years ago. The first text-written evidence of its existence can be found in the first Chinese poetry book, ShiKyung. In this book, kimchi was referred as “Ji". The earliest form of kimchi consisted of only salted vegetables, but in the 12th century people began to include other spices to create different flavors, such as sweet and sour flavors, and colors of kimchi, such as white and orange.
Chili peppers, now a standard ingredient in kimchi, were unknown in Korea until the early 17th century. Chili peppers originated from the New World and were introduced to East Asia by western traders. This particular style of kimchi made with chili peppers and baechu, a variety of Chinese cabbage, gained popularity in the 19th century and this baechu kimchi continues to be the most common and popular form of kimchi today.
Kimchi's composition can be separated into the main vegetable ingredient and the mix of seasonings used to flavor the kimchi. While the most popular type of kimchi is the napa cabbage variety, countless different types exist, including regional and seasonal varieties. Popular variants include kkakdugi, which is a kimchi made with cubed radishes, and oh-ee so-bae-gi, which is a stuffed cucumber kimchi. Kkaennip kimchi features layers of perilla leaves marinated in soy sauce and other spices. The Kimchi Field Museum in Seoul has documented 187 historic and current varieties of kimchi. Although the most common seasonings include brine, garlic, scallions and chili pepper grind, countless varieties of seasoning and ingredients can be replaced or added depending on the type of kimchi being made. Common seasonings also include ginger, onions, salted fish or shellfish as well as fruit or fresh seafood.
Moreover, kimchi is not necessarily spicy or red. White kimchi (baekkimchi) is seasoned without the chili pepper grind and is neither red in color nor spicy. White radish kimchi (dongchimi) is another example of a popular kimchi that is not spicy. A popular dish of cold noodles in "donchimi" brine (dongchimi gooksu) is eaten widely during the summer months.