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korean kimchi made with napa cabage

Kimchi Ingredients Explained: How to Make Kimchi the Traditional Way

Kimchi Ingredients Explained: How to Make Kimchi the Traditional Way

korean kimchi made with green onion
(Korean Kimchi made with green onion)

Kimchi, a staple in Korean cuisine, is more than just a dish; it represents a cultural heritage passed down through generations. The process of making kimchi, known as 김장 (gimjang), is a time-honored tradition that brings families and communities together. In this blog, we'll explore the cultural aspects of 김장, the four crucial ingredients for authentic kimchi, and tips for selecting quality ingredients to ensure your kimchi is both delicious and true to its roots.

(process of mixing cabage with kimchi seasoning)

The Cultural Tradition of 김장 (Gimjang)

김장 is an annual event where families prepare large quantities of kimchi to last through the winter. Traditionally held in late autumn, this communal activity involves gathering with family and friends to share the labor-intensive process of making kimchi. It's a time of bonding, sharing stories, and passing down recipes, making 김장 a deeply cherished part of Korean culture. Learn more about the cultural significance of 김장 here.

Koreans have created many different kinds of kimchi using a variety of vegetables, such as radish and green onion, showcasing the diversity and adaptability of this dish. Kimchi is not only a culinary delight but also a powerhouse of health benefits, rich in probiotics that promote gut health. Explore the health benefits of kimchi and its probiotics here.

김장 is almost a celebratory event, and it often includes sharing a meal of 수육 (braised Korean pork belly) with neighbors and families, further strengthening community bonds. Before the advent of refrigeration, kimchi-making was a vital method of preserving vegetables for the winter months. 김장 fosters a sense of community and cooperation, with everyone contributing to the preparation and sharing the final product. The rituals and recipes of 김장 are passed down through generations, preserving Korean culinary heritage.

The Four Crucial Ingredients for Authentic Kimchi

To make authentic kimchi at home, you'll need four key ingredients: napa cabbage, Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru), 새우젓 (saewujeot, salted shrimp), and 멸치액젓 (anchovy sauce). Each of these ingredients plays a crucial role in achieving the perfect balance of flavors and textures.

(Korean napa cabbage grown on highland, 고랭지 배추)

1. Napa Cabbage

Traditionally, the most preferred napa cabbage is 고랭지 배추 (gorengji cabbage), which means it has grown on highlands with an altitude of 1968 feet. Cabbages thrive well in cool weather, and those grown on mountains, avoiding the heat during hot weather, develop a firmer and sweeter texture. This gives kimchi its refreshing texture and flavor. When selecting napa cabbage, look for:

  • Freshness: Choose cabbages with bright green leaves and firm stems.
  • Size: Medium to large-sized cabbages are best for 김장.
  • Weight: Heavier cabbages indicate more densely packed leaves, which are preferable for making kimchi. For tips on selecting the best napa cabbage, visit this guide.

(Korean red pepper flake)

2. Korean Red Pepper Flakes (Gochugaru)

Gochugaru is surprisingly very expensive! It is truly the most versatile and most used ingredient in almost every Korean dish. To truly make quality gochugaru the traditional way, one must stand by the peppers while they are drying out in the sun, taking care of them all the time. Many brands mix gochugaru with other lower quality red pepper flakes from other parts of the world, and it's really hard to tell the difference even with trained eyes. However, you can definitely tell the difference when you taste it because the lower quality pepper flakes give a bitter, muddy, and unpleasant spicy flavor. When selecting gochugaru:

  • Color: Look for bright red flakes, which indicate freshness.
  • Texture: Medium-coarse flakes are ideal for kimchi, offering a good balance of heat and texture.
  • Origin: Gochugaru sourced from Korea is often preferred for its authentic flavor profile. Understand more about the production and importance of gochugaru here.

한국산 새우추젓 고급 korean salted shrimp 미국 주문(Korean salted shrimp)

3. 새우젓 (Saewujeot, Salted Shrimp)

새우젓 is one of the key ingredients in kimchi for its refreshing taste. Quality salted shrimp (새우젓) during the cabbage's fermentation really brings out the crisp and refreshing taste. Seemingly made with very simple ingredients, just shrimp and salt, salted shrimp can have many tiers of quality. Different sizes of shrimp, sourced locations, and the type of salt used are very crucial for the quality of the salted shrimp. 새우추젓 (salted opossum shrimp), which is caught during the fall season, are plump and hold healthy nutrients. They are harvested right during the kimchi season, making them ideal for kimchi preparation. Additionally, using quality Korean sea salt gives it a clean and crisp taste. When choosing saewujeot:

  • Freshness: Ensure the shrimp are fresh and properly fermented.
  • Quality: High-quality saewujeot will have a clean, salty taste without any off odors.
  • Origin: Look for saewujeot sourced from reputable Korean producers to ensure authenticity. Get insights into choosing quality saewujeot here.

korean anchovy sauce with sea salt(Korean anchovy sauce)

4. 멸치액젓 (Anchovy Sauce)

멸치액젓 (anchovy sauce) is responsible for kimchi's deep umami taste. Good quality anchovy sauce is only made with anchovy and sea salt. If you see other ingredients on the list, it has been diluted with other components to make up for the missing taste. Anchovy sauce is a crucial ingredient that enhances the savory and complex flavors of kimchi. Here’s what to look for when selecting anchovy sauce:

  • Ingredients: Look for only anchovy and salt on the list. High-quality 멸치액젓 is made from plump anchovies caught in the spring. This ensures a deep, rich flavor and aroma that contributes significantly to the taste of kimchi.
  • Origin: Anchovy sauce made from domestically sourced anchovies is often more savory and delicious. Therefore, it’s beneficial to check the origin and choose anchovy sauce made from local Korean anchovies.
  • Quality: When selecting anchovy sauce, always check the expiration date to ensure you are choosing a fresh product. Freshness is key to achieving the best flavor in your kimchi. Learn about the nuances of selecting the best anchovy sauce here.


Making kimchi through the tradition of 김장 is a beautiful way to connect with Korean culture and culinary heritage. By selecting quality ingredients and understanding their importance, you can create delicious, authentic kimchi at home. Happy 김장!

For more quality ingredients and premium Korean food, visit Kevin's Choices. Enjoy making your own kimchi with the best ingredients available from our Korean food online grocery.

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