Fermented Cabbage: Sauerkraut and Kimchi

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Two popular styles of cabbage pickles illustrate the kind of distinctiveness that can be achieved with slight variations in the fermentation process. European sauerkraut is a refreshing side dish for rich meats, and Korean kimchi is a strong accompaniment to bland rice. Sauerkraut— the word is German for “sour cabbage”— is made by fermenting finely shredded head cabbage with a small amount of salt at a cool room temperature; it’s allowed to become quite tart and develops a remarkable, almost flowery aroma thanks to some yeast growth. Kimchi is made by fermenting intact stems and leaves of Chinese cabbage together with hot peppers and garlic, and sometimes other vegetables, fruits (apple, pear, melon), and fish sauce. More salt is used, and the fermentation temperature is significantly lower, a reflection of its original production in pots partly buried in the cold earth of late autumn and winter. The result is a crunchy, pungent pickle that is noticeably less acid but saltier than sauerkraut, and may even be fizzy due to the dominance of gas-producing bacteria below about 58°F/14°C.