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kimchi also kimchee

noun [uncountable]

a Korean dish made from fermented cabbage or other vegetables, garlic and spices

'In one of his first assignments at General Mills, nutritionist Colby Darling faced a huge challenge: Make kimchi – the peppery, smelly, fermented cabbage that's a staple of Korean cuisine – work as a flavor for a tortilla chip.'

Star Tribune 4th June 2014

If you're partial to strong, punchy flavours, but are getting a bit fed up of livening up your food with culinary stalwarts such as brown sauce, tomato ketchup and mustard, then you might be interested to know a bit more about kimchi, the Korean pickle that's currently moving into the gastronomic spotlight.

aficionados claim that kimchi is one of the most delicious condiments ever, with an extreme flavour which packs several tastes – sweet, sour, spicy, salty, bitter – into every bite

Kimchi, which is in fact Korea's national dish, is a traditional side dish made from vegetables with a range of seasonings. Though it's often described as a pickle, the key thing about kimchi is that the vegetables are fermented rather than preserved with vinegar. This is a process which can take several days, and involves soaking the vegetables in a salt solution for several hours, rinsing them, adding spices and flavourings, and then leaving the dish at room temperature for some time so that lactic acid forms via natural sugars and gives the dish its characteristic tangy flavour. The classic main ingredient in kimchi is cabbage, but it's also often made with cucumber, radishes or other root vegetables, with the most common flavourings including garlic, chilli, ginger, spring onions, spices, and Korean fish sauce. In Korea, kimchi is the ultimate staple, served with rice or noodles as an accompaniment to every meal. It's pretty versatile too, often used in soups and pancakes, or even as a topping for pizzas and burgers.

Aficionados claim that kimchi is one of the most delicious condiments ever, with an extreme flavour which packs several tastes – sweet, sour, spicy, salty, bitter – into every bite. Unlike many other 'delicious' foods, it also happens to be very good for you, rich in vitamins A, B and C and containing lactobacillus, so-called 'healthy bacteria' (as found in other fermented foods like yoghurt) which helps with digestion. This is great news for Koreans, who eat so much of it (as much as 40 pounds (18 kg) per person per year) that they allegedly say 'kimchi' rather than 'cheese' when having their photo taken!

In the world of gastronomy, it's not uncommon for foods to start out as niche, become trendy, and eventually burst onto the scene as a mainstream ingredient. Like foods such as salsa and Greek yoghurt before it, it looks as if kimchi might also follow this familiar path to popularity.

Background – kimchi

Kimchi is a Korean word which has its roots in the ancient form of the language, starting out in the 6th century as chimchae, with the literal meaning 'soaked vegetables'. This was later modified to jimchi en route to the current form kimchi, with kimchee and gimchi as common variants in spelling.

There are very few words in popular English usage which have been adopted as loan words from Korean. Perhaps the most familiar example in contemporary English is taekwondo, a modern martial art.

Another culinary loan word which is now finding its way into English dictionaries is umami, a Japanese borrowing describing a pleasant savoury taste.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 2nd September 2014.

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