Everything You Need To Know About Fermentation

If you are one of those people who gets green around the gills when associating ‘fermentation’ with their food, think bread, beer, cheese, wine, yogurt…
It’s not often that you blink an eye when offered a nice glass of wine with cheese, or even a pint of beer!
Fermentation is an important aspect of humanity and has been our way of life for centuries and counting. It is the most effective and efficient way to preserve food for long periods of time; not to mention its health benefits. This guide gives you a detailed overview of what fermentation is and how you can ferment your kimchi to match it to your liking to the T.

What is fermentation? 

Fermentation is a natural food preservation method where naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria in vegetables break down sugars into organic acids (lactic acid bacteria) under anaerobic conditions (lack of oxygen). These organic acids not only gives kimchi (and other fermented foods) its unique, mouth-watering flavor, aroma and texture, but it also helps with digestion. They are the bubbles you see in kimchi that form during the initial stages of fermentation. Although products in their raw form have health benefits, the transformation to their fermented state has added health benefits especially when they contain pre- and probiotics.

Sugars from vegetables are broken down by lactobacillus bacteria into lactic acid bacteria which is abundant in kimchi. The lactic acids are what gives the kimchi its tangy and sour flavor.

What is the difference between fermentation vs. pickling? 

Very often fermentation is confused with pickling/canning. An easy way to remember this is that in pickling and canning, vegetables are added in acids to be stored, while in fermentation vegetables produce naturally occurring acids to preserve food. So in an original kimchi, there is NO form of acidic substances like vinegar added to it because then that would be considered a pickle and not a kimchi anymore. If you are a kimchi expert, you will know the difference immediately. Unfortunately, I’ve seen literal pickled cabbages sold in the market under the name ‘kimchi’, which is so heartbreaking because that ruins the whole reputation of kimchi. Next time you want real kimchi, look out for the smell, texture and bubbles.

At what stage is kimchi the best? 

This is a question that only you and your gut can answer. Everyone has their own personalised liking for kimchi. Kimchi is an experience, that’s why it is an acquired taste. Once you’ve tasted kimchi at all its levels, you will soon become an expert in kimchi. Some people like kimchi immediately after it’s made while others enjoy kimchi at its later stage of fermentation, when it’s more sour and tangy. That’s why we provide you with the freshest kimchi to give you the chance to experiment fermentation yourself and explore what type of kimchi suits you best. 

What is the difference between pasteurized and unpasteurized kimchi?  

During the first 2 – 4 days of fermentation, naturally occurring yeasts in vegetables are switched on by highly active lactobacillus bacteria (lactic acid). The production of lactic acid increases significantly, killing off any harmful bacteria and briefly reducing the acidity of the kimchi. The initial phases of kimchi fermentation is very important exactly because of this production of lactic acid bacteria. 

The process of pasteurization exposes fermented kimchi to a sudden high temperature to kill off harmful bacteria. However, it also kills off all the beneficial bacteria (probiotics) along the way. For that reason, pasteurized kimchi is no longer an active substance, but rather a dead substance with added probiotic supplements. But what kind of probiotics are being used? How much is added? What is the expiration date of those supplements? Those are questions that still remain unanswered and ambiguous.

Unpasteurized kimchi on the other hand undergoes the natural process of fermentation with no heating. Harmful bacteria are killed off by naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria, while allowing its own culture to thrive over a long period of time. 

How can I ferment kimchi?

Fermentation is fun if you follow the procedures correctly. But more than anything, fermentation is an art that each and every one has different approaches to simply because we have different tastes. The basics of how to carry out fermentation is explained below. 

At room temperature (18℃ – 21℃) kimchi ferments quickly. It is recommended to ferment kimchi at room temperature for 1 – 3 days before placing it in the fridge to get that sour and tangy flavor. When you see bubbles forming, your kimchi is on the way to being fermented properly. 

At cooler temperatures (4℃ – 12℃) fermentation slows down. If you choose to store your kimchi in the fridge immediately, you are opting for slow fermentation. It can take at least 2 weeks for the initial stages of fermentation to start, not accounting for the stages of fermentation itself. 

Immediate or slow fermentation, in order to maintain longevity of your kimchi, it is recommended to store it in temperatures between 3℃ – 4℃. 

If you’ve received our refill bags, you can ferment it in them. But bear in mind that because there is absolutely zero oxygen, the bag will swell up. The chances of it popping is very low, but if you feel uneasy, you can transfer the kimchi to an airtight container or use our 750ml airtight jars. Make sure you press down the kimchi to remove any air pockets. The tighter the space is, the more consistent flavors you get. And finally, resist the urge to constantly open the jar because the less exposed to air it is, the more rounded flavor it will have. 

How will I know if my kimchi is fermented?

This is another question that only your experience can answer. The more you taste kimchi, the more you will get a feel of how kimchi is supposed to taste.

Tip: It’s important not to open the jar during the fermentation process to prevent exposure to oxygen. If you do, the kimchi may taste bitter or slightly off. We call that the ‘crazy stage of the kimchi’. Once you put the lid back on and leave it to ferment at room temperature for a few more days, it will go back to fermenting again to produce a more rounded taste. 

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