If you love kimchi but are vegan or vegetarian and would like an option that doesn’t include animal products, this article is just what you’ve been looking for.
What is kimchi?
Kimchi is a Korean spicy, fermented vegetable dish that typically can include cabbage, turnip and cucumber. What makes traditional kimchi not vegan is the addition of shrimp, anchovy paste and/or oysters.
Gochugaru is Korean red pepper flakes and is what makes kimchi spicy. It also adds a nice almost smoky flavor to the dish which I love.
Kimchi is typically served alongside a meal, but can also be part of a main dish such as kimchi jjigae or kimchi fried rice. There are so many traditional dishes that include kimchi, as well as creative ways you can incorporate kimchi into fusion dishes like kimchi tacos.
What does kimchi taste like?
Kimchi is spicy, salty with a rather sour taste from fermentation. It also has an umami (savory) taste due to the added shrimp paste. This umami flavor can be replicated with other ingredients like seaweed, mushroom, MSG or miso.
The texture is similar to lightly steamed cabbage. It’s soft with a nice crunch at the seams and each bite is full of flavor. You can also “kimchi” a variety of vegetables other than cabbage using the same method.
Where does kimchi originate?
The origins of kimchi go back thousands of years. Kimchi was used as a way to ferment and store vegetables during the cold winters. This helped to prevent starvation as well as vitamin C deficiency or scurvy.
To stay good throughout the winter, kimchi was stored underground in jars. The red pepper used in the making of kimchi played a role in deterring the growth of harmful microorganisms as well as promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Since then, it has played a huge role in Korean cuisine. You can’t have Korean food without a side of kimchi. You can find kimchi at any Korean restaurant as well as in many chain grocery stores, but especially Asian grocery stores.
Health benefits of kimchi
Kimchi not only tastes great, it also has a variety of health benefits. Firstly, it’s a fermented food, meaning it contains “good bacteria” which can be beneficial for our gut health and overall health.
Fermented foods have health benefits compared to non-fermented foods including improved antioxidant activity, changes in vitamin content, antidiabetic properties, FODMAP reduction and changes in fatty acid profile.
Kimchi specifically has many health benefits. There are studies to suggest kimchi can reduce cholesterol levels, improve obesity and improve insulin resistance. While there still needs to be more research to support these claims, the current body of research shows beneficial effects.
Kimchi is a rather nutrient dense food. One cup of kimchi contains about 30 calories, 3 grams of protein, 4 grams of carbs and less than 1 gram of fat.
It’s a good source of vitamin B6, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, manganese and potassium. It also contains around 1-2 grams of fiber.
Nutrients may vary depending on the type of vegetable you use, but in general kimchi is very nutrient dense and very low in calories.
What makes regular kimchi not vegan?
Most popular kimchi brands are prepared with shrimp paste and can include fish sauce. This is what gives kimchi its umami taste.
If you are on a plant-based diet, it’s important to read ingredient lists. It’s very easy to pick up some kimchi assuming it’s vegan and even consume it without knowing it contains animal products.
The best vegan kimchi brands
There aren’t too many brands of kimchi that offer vegan options, but luckily there are several options online to purchase. These vegan-friendly kimchi brands make delicious, animal-free kimchi for you to enjoy. The below links are affiliate links, which I do make a small commission from.
Bibigo is my go to kimchi brand and in my opinion, they make the best kimchi out of all the store bought brands. The vegan version of this kimchi is a little difficult to find, so you may need to order it online or go to your local asian grocery store.
This kimchi is popular for its “natural ingredients”. While personally I’m not a huge fan of the term “natural” in food marketing (it doesn’t have any set definitions or regulations), this kimchi is a great vegan option and pretty affordable as well.
This vegan kimchi is the best seller on Amazon. Personally, I love the design on the front and I also think that kimchi tastes better out of a bag. That is of course a personal preference though. But considering how popular this brand is, I may be on to something.
#4: Wildbrine Kimchi
Wildbrine has a lot of great fermented products including this yummy vegan kimchi. This brand uses sea vegetables to mimic the taste of shrimp paste and add a umami flavor. It also adds some sesame seeds, which I personally love.
I love the branding on this kimchi. It’s not only vegan, there’s also no sugar added. You can purchase this vegan kimchi in mild or hot, depending on your spiciness preference. Either way, this is a tasty vegan option.
If you are looking to purchase vegan kimchi in bulk, this brand is the way to go. This one bag contains 56 one ounce servings of kimchi. There is also an option to buy a spicy vegan or regular vegan version.
Where to buy vegan kimchi
You can buy kimchi at your local grocery store (like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or Sprouts) or at various asian supermarkets. If you are unable to find any vegan kimchi in any of these places, you can also purchase kimchi online on Amazon or online grocers like Misfits Market, Thrive Market and large grocery store chains.
How to make your own vegan kimchi
You can also make your own vegan kimchi at home. Often this vegan version of kimchi turns out better than store bought kimchi, but it’s also a tad labor intensive and requires getting some ingredients not available at normal grocery stores.
This recipe is adapted from Maangchi’s Vegan Kimchi (my favorite recipe):
- 3 pounds napa cabbage
- 4 tablespoons kosher or sea salt
- 2 tablespoons glutinous rice flour
- 1 cup vegetable stock
- 1 tablespoon cane sugar
- 8 cloves of garlic
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 1 onion
- 1 cup gochugaru (Korean red pepper powder)
- 6 ounces Korean radish
- 4 stalks green onion (spring onions)
- 2 ounces sliced carrots
- ¼ cup sesame seeds (optional)
To make the kimchi paste, first cut the cabbage, then combine with salt and 1 cup water. Let sit for 2 hours, tossing the cabbage occasionally. To make the kimchi paste, combine the rice flour and vegetable stock over medium heat. Once simmering, add sugar, stir and remove from heat. Add ginger and garlic to the mixture and pulse together in a food processor. Mix in gochugaru.
Rinse the cabbage and add to a large bowl along with the remaining vegetables and paste. Mix together with gloved hands. Transfer to glass jars or an airtight container. Make sure the kimchi is packed down and no air can enter.
Leave at room temperature for 1-2 days or refrigerate for 2 weeks to complete the fermentation process. Then enjoy!