3,000 Year History of Kimchi
It is presumed that Koreans ate kimchi as early as the Three Kingdoms Period and that at first it was not much different from pickled vegetables of China and Japan. Since red pepper was added around the mid-1700s, kimchi has become Korea’s distinct food. Many large earthenware pots have been found during the excavation of sites of Mireuk Temple in Iksan and Hwangryong Temple in Gyeongju, and historians presume that they contained soy sauce or kimchi. The history of the Three Kingdoms also records that the people of Goguryeo were good at making fermented food. However, it is certain that ancient kimchi was vastly different from today’s.
Mid-Goryo records state that “‘jangajji,’ slices of radish dried and seasoned with soy, are made by pickling radish in soy sauce and “yeomji” is made by pickling radish in salt water.” Korea imported red pepper in the late-16th century but the record of the modern type, where the imported red pepper is actually added, is found in Revised Farm Management, published in 1766. The book lists the varieties of kimchi – “chonggak,” “oisobagi,” “dongchimi,” cabbage, abalone, oyster, “yongin oiji,” etc. – already being made around that time. However, given that large-sized cabbage kimchi arrived in Korea around 1850, we presume the cabbage kimchi before then was just seasoned cabbage leaves.
The Sixteen Treatisese Written in Retirement published in 1872 mentions “seokbakji,” the kimchi added with salted fish. Kimchi has different ingredients depending on areas and seasons, and has numerous varieties according to ingredients, ratio of mixture and method of ripening. Since each family makes kimchi in their own traditional method, it has great diversity depending on skill and changes in food culture.
According to a survey in 2000, there are 336 types of kimchi. At least fifty kinds of food using it have been identified. There are about 30 vegetables used as main ingredients, to which supplements are added to provide distinctiveness. Fruits are used to increase taste and grains or sweets (mainly sugar) are used to promote lactic acid fermentation – mainly in summer. Meat and fish are used to supplement protein and amino acids. The distinct taste of kimchi is heavily influenced by the seasoning and spices added and, in particular, the red pepper, garlic and ginger which are found in virtually all types.
Kimchi, One of the Healthiest Foods in the World.
‘ Health‘ magazine named kimchi in its list of top five “World’s Healthiest Foods” for being rich in vitamins, aiding digestion, and even possibly reducing cancer growth.
Kimchi is valued as an excellent food in nutritional value. Organic acids, including lactic acid, produced from fermentation promote the metabolism of mineral ingredients such as kalium or iron in the body, and some necessary vitamins are produced by lactic acid bacteria during fermentation.
Secondly, kimchi allows us to take in many nutrients found in the vegetables and seasonings. For example, rich dietary fiber and diverse vitamins are taken in from vegetables, and minerals such as amino acids or kalium are included in the salted fish. Also, since it is low in fat and carbohydrates, kimchi is a low-calorie selection.
Thirdly, kimchi has several functions and physiological vitalities as a lactic acid fermentation food using vegetables. For example, several above-mentioned ingredients and lactic acids existing in kimchi prevent constipation and diseases such as enteritis and colonitis thanks to the rich amount of fiber in the vegetables, and have the effect of suppressing cancer and boosting the immune system.
Lastly, the nutritional value of kimchi can be found in the appetite its taste promotes. When kimchi was an important side dish in meals, supplementary ingredients and spices were used in abundance.
Kimchi has been part of Korea’s cultural heritage representing our food culture.
It is a highly sophisticated and healthy food. Designated as an official food in all Olympic Games since the Seoul Olympic Games in ’88, in the France World Cup in ’98 and the Japan-Korea World Cup in ’02, kimchi has been loved by people all over the world.
Also, it was developed as space food for the first Korean astronaut’s flight in April 2008.
Kimchi is expected to be a “required” official food in future international sports events, and globalization of kimchi is forecasted to accelerate.