Fermenting Cabbage Kimchi Guide: Recipe, Tips, FAQ & Using Wild Oysters

Learn how to ferment cabbage kimchi with confidence with this guide, including tips, formula for salt-to-ingredient ratio, FAQs and recipe recommendation.

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Fermenting Cabbage Kimchi With Raw Oysters (Link to Maangchi Recipe)

When I make fermented cabbage kimchi, I modify Maagnchi’s traditional napa cabbage kimchi recipe (tongbaechu-kimchi) to add raw BC oysters that I harvest. I add 1/2 cup of raw shelled oysters, approximately 8 small ones, to a 6-pound batch of napa cabbage. This kimchi is best eaten soon after fermentation is complete.

Adding raw oysters is optional, but I enjoy the flavour and complexity that they add to the ferment.

Recipe link: Maangchi’s traditional napa cabbage kimchi recipe (tongbaechu-kimchi)

Top Tips For Fermenting Kimchi

Here are my top tips for fermenting kimchi at home:

  • You can ferment with any amount of cabbage, as long as you maintain the ingredient-to-salt % ratio. This ensures the ratio of cabbage-salt-other-ingredients are safe for fermentation. Not maintaining this salt ratio risks growth of unwanted bacteria that can make your kimchi inedible. Follow the formula below, in “How to Calculate Ingredient-to-Salt % Ratio (Formula)”
  • Clean and sanitize your work station and fermentation tools properly. Wash fresh ingredients thoroughly; no one wants dirt in their kimchi.
  • You don’t need a fermentation crock or mason jar to ferment food. You can ferment in any food safe container, if you follow basic principles (such as: limit exposure to unwanted bacteria, weigh down organics and reduce oxygen exposure, keep within temperature range).
  • Layering chili paste and cabbage leaves individually is not necessary for fermentation safety or flavour, but it is the traditional method. I consider it optional, but the process is beautiful and meditative if you have a lot of free time to enjoy it.
  • I recommend wearing gloves when handling chili paste, as it may sting sensitive skin and it can stain fabrics.

How to calculate ingredient-to-salt % ratio for fermenting kimchi (formula)

Follow these steps to find the ingredient-to-salt ratio for fermenting kimchi:

  1. Divide the amount of cabbage you have (A) by the amount of cabbage called for in the recipe (B). The result is the ratio you have increased or decreased the original recipe by.
  2. This will look like: (A)/(B) = (R)
  3. Multiply each ingredient amount in the recipe against the ratio (R) to ensure the correct amount of each ingredient, no matter how much cabbage you have to start.
  4. This will look like [ingredient amount in recipe] x (R) = actual amount of ingredient that you need

Kimchi Fermentation FAQ

korean kimchi recipe - finished fermentation ready to eat

I don’t have the exact amount of cabbage called for in the kimchi recipe. How do I calculate the salt and other ingredients based on the amount of cabbage I actually have?

It’s hard to get the exact amount of ingredients called for in a recipe – grocery store scales, cleaning and other factors can all influence how much napa cabbage is usable in a ferment. 

If you don’t have the exact amount of cabbage called for in this recipe or if you don’t want to make this much at once, don’t worry. The most important part of kimchi fermentation is getting the right ratio of raw ingredients to salt. Just calculate the ratio of ingredients to cabbage to salt based on how much cabbage you start with.

Follow the ingredient-to-salt formula (above, “How to adjust ingredient-to-salt ratio for fermenting kimchi”) to maintain the right ratio % of salt-cabbage-other-ingredient for a safe ferment. 

I don’t have any plastic gloves to make kimchi with. Is wearing gloves really that important for making kimchi at home?

You don’t need to use gloves to make kimchi at home, but you may regret not using them later!

I didn’t use gloves to spread the hot pepper paste into the cabbage leaves when I first made kimchi, and while it didn’t hurt immediately, I did feel an uncomfortable burning sensation in my hands for hours after I was finished.

I was also nervous that I would accidentally touch my face, rub my nose or eyes, or need to use the washroom and end up with a nasty hot pepper surprise.

You don’t necessarily need gloves, but you should probably use them. You can find inexpensive plastic gloves at many dollar stores and most grocery stores.

Fermenting and Fermentation Crocks

Do I have to use a fermentation crock to make kimchi at home?

No, you don’t need to use a fermentation crock to make kimchi at home. I’ve fermented kimchi in large mason jars successfully. I use a 2 L glass mason jar with the lid sitting on top, secured very loosely with the metal ring.

Essentially, the ring has to be loose enough that the fermenting kimchi can release its gasses, which will lift the lid as the gas fills and escapes the jar, but the ring has to be tight enough that the lid falls back to cover the jar after the gas escapes. I also use a DIY fermentation weight to reduce chances of unwanted bacterial growth. 

I’ve heard you can pack it into a container with a lid and ferment it slowly in the fridge. Some people don’t even ferment kimchi at all – you can eat it fresh right after you make it, too!

Where can I buy an affordable fermentation crock?

You can find many varieties of fermenting crocks online, though they can vary wildly in price.

However, if you live in a place with a large East Asian community, you have a good chance of being able to buy an affordable fermentation crock. Many Asian cultures have long histories with fermentation, such as Chinese pickles, Japanese miso, and obviously, Korean kimchi.

I bought my crock in a kitchen supply store that caters to Chinese restaurants in Vancouver’s Chinatown for $26. Make sure you know the traits you want in a crock before you buy one!

My crock is glazed ceramic, hefty, and reliable with a water-tight lip and solid lid. I’m very satisfied with my crock purchase, especially compared to the other option, the popular $200+ German fermenting crocks that seem to do the same thing.

How long do I leave kimchi in a fermentation crock? When do I know when kimchi is done fermenting?

Fermentation times can change depending on the storage temperature and humidity, how much kimchi you’re fermenting, and how funky you want the kimchi to taste.

Checking your ferments is a trade-off between knowing when the kimchi is finished fermenting versus exposing the fermenting ingredients to the air, which can interfere with the ferment. Some experienced fermenters are very minimal with how often they open their fermentation crocks to check their ferments, while other people are more liberal with their check-ins.

However, the easiest and most reliable way to know if your kimchi is done fermenting is to smell and taste it regularly. Don’t be scared – as long as you have the right salinity, you’ll be fine. Plus, kimchi doesn’t need to be fermented, so it’s safe to eat at any point during the fermentation stage. 

I start smelling the kimchi everyday, starting after the first full day of fermentation. I generally start tasting the kimchi after the third day of fermenting, and then every day after until I think it’s done.

I usually stop fermenting kimchi after 5-6 days in early fall. It is usually between 10-15 degrees celsius outside during this time of year. I also keep my home fairly cool when I’m actively fermenting something.

However, this timeline is based on personal preference. I prefer kimchi to be pleasantly sour, acidic, very slightly carbonated, and pungent, but still crunchy and fresh tasting. You may like your kimchi to be more or less fermented tasting – it’s up to you! 

Can I ferment kimchi anytime during the year?

Fermentation is easier during colder seasons, as fermentation is slower in cool temperatures, and allows for more predictable and controlled bacterial growth and a well-rounded flavor. Fermentation during these periods takes longer, but the results are more consistent.

Where I’m located in BC, fall, winter, and early spring are best for fermenting. I look for weather consistently between 12-17 degrees. I also don’t heat my home very much when I’m fermenting food.

However, it’s possible to ferment kimchi and other pickles during hotter seasons, as long as you can maintain a temperature controlled area for your crock to remain in until the fermentation is done. I recently upgraded my fermentation station with a modified fridge that controls temperature and humidity. 

What is the best place to put my fermentation crock after I fill it with fresh kimchi?

I keep my crock in a small, unlit coat closet, but you can keep the crock anywhere dark and consistently cool. Other common places to ferment kimchi are in basements, garages, and closets.

Fermenting kimchi can smell strong, so if you use a closet like I do, make sure to take out anything you wouldn’t want to smell like kimchi. Don’t forget to put something underneath the crock or jar to catch any liquid that may come out of the container!

If you aren’t sure whether a space is cold enough to ferment in, you can leave a glass filled with room temperature water in the space overnight, and then test the temperature with a thermometer to see how cold it is.

Why is the kimchi bubbling? Why does the fermentation crock feel a little warm?

Bubbles in kimchi are a good sign during fermentation!

Bubbles indicate that the various lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and other bacteria, yeasts, and fungi that contribute to the flavors and textures of kimchi are working to convert the sugar in the raw ingredients to lactic acid, acetic acid, ethanol, carbon dioxide, and so on.

This process of lactic acid fermentation also increases temperature, which is why the fermenting crock may feel a little warm.

Adjusting For Taste

The kimchi tastes too spicy when I taste it out of the crock. How do I make it less spicy?

When you’re tasting kimchi during fermentation, you may find it’s too spicy for you.

It’s common to only taste-test from the top part of the crock, which has the largest concentration of pepper paste. This can make the kimchi seem much spicer than it actually is underneath. Try tasting below the initial layer of pepper paste to evaluate the spice level of your kimchi.

After fermentation, you may find that the kimchi is still too spicy. If that is the case, you can add slices of raw daikon or other suitable vegetables to dilute the pepper paste after the fermentation process is done, when you store the kimchi in the refrigerator.

The kimchi tastes too salty. How do I make it less salty?

The amount of salt is specific to the amount of raw vegetables in the recipe. You need to maintain ideal salinity during fermentation to create the correct environment for the lactic acid and other good bacteria, yeasts, and fungi to flourish, and to prevent the growth of bad bacteria (such as botulism). It’s important to maintain the recipe ratios when you ferment kimchi.

However, if the kimchi still tastes too salty after you’re finished fermenting it, there is a solution. You can add slices of raw daikon or other suitable vegetables to dilute the amount of salt when you store the kimchi in the refrigerator. Do not dilute the kimchi during the fermentation process.

Kimchi Storage

How do I store the kimchi when it’s finished fermenting?

You can store kimchi in the refrigerator in containers with tight fitting lids, such as mason jars or tupperware.

Pack kimchi down tightly and fill containers up to the lid, if possible, to reduce the amount of exposure it has to air. This will keep the kimchi fresh for longer.

How long does fermented kimchi stay good for? When does kimchi go bad?

Kimchi becomes more sour and fermented tasting the longer you leave it in the fridge. Older kimchi is strong tasting and is great in Korean soups, like kimchi jigae and soon dubu jigae. If you use raw oysters like I do, I recommend eating kimchi within the first few weeks of fermentation. 

I’m not a food safety scientist. Always use your best judgement when eating DIY fermented foods.

fermented Korean kimchi recipe - kimchi and elk example

Recipes Using Homemade Kimchi

Kimchi is great in traditional Korean dishes and in all sorts of other recipes and meals.

My favorite ways to eat kimchi:

  • Kimchi, cheddar, and leek omelette 
  • Asian-inspired salads with wild game meat, kimchi, and quick pickled daikon
  • Korean kimchi jigae with crispy pulled elk (pictured above)
  • Soondubu jigae
  • Kimchi and salmon pancakes

Note: These are the opinions and anecdotes of The Homesteading Huntress. I am not a food scientist or certified safety expert. I always eat the fermented foods I make before I share fermentation processes and my own experiences. Please take the time to research fermentation before you experiment.

My Experience Fermenting Kimchi

Making a fermented Korean kimchi recipe always seemed like a pickling rite of passage to me. As someone new to fermenting pickles (and frankly, eating “real” fermented pickles at all), making kimchi was intimidating.

However, I was determined to make kimchi at home. I tried to alleviate my nervousness by devoting a ton of time to researching how to do it properly. However, I ended up with a lot of questions, even as I learned more about the process.

Some of my kimchi-related questions included:

  • There are so many different cabbage kimchi recipes online! How do I know which recipe will taste authentic and delicious, and more importantly, not make me sick? [Answer: Try different recipes out until you find one you like!]
  • Korean kimchi has so many ingredients! Do you really need to have every ingredient exactly as the recipe calls for it? When (and what) can I substitute? [Answer: It’s your kimchi and adjust as you need to, but make sure to maintain the cabbage-to-salt % ratio for a successful ferment]
  • The amount of salt is measured in volume (not weight) in all these online recipes! That goes against every fermentation rule and recipe I’ve ever trusted. Is it safe to make kimchi at home without knowing exactly how much salt to use? [Answer: The safest way to ferment is to use weight, not volume, to maintain the necessary ingredient-to-cabbage % salt ratio]
  • Do you really have to pack the pepper paste into each cabbage leaf individually? Does the packing process affect the flavor of kimchi at all, or is it just tradition? [Answer: In my opinion, this is traditional, but not necessary for flavour or fermentation]
  • Can you really ferment raw oysters at room temperature for several days without getting botulism? Isn’t that… crazy? [Answer: I’ve seen raw oysters listed as ingredients in traditional kimchi and I make this recipe a lot, but please only do what makes you feel safe!]

I had so many questions that I got tired of thinking about it and just got started. Over the years, I’ve massaged many pounds of cabbage, fermented several batches of kimchi, and spent way too much time reading about the subject. After all that, I finally feel like I can confidently write a blog post about this subject.

This Maangchi kimchi recipe is excellent (in my opinion). I’ve eaten this homemade kimchi many times myself since I started fermenting it and I’ve fed it to many people that I love. It tastes complicated and interesting, and is layered with so many bold and subtle flavors – sour, salty, pungent, spicy, and so much more. 

I hope to explain what I’ve learned about making cabbage kimchi in this blog post, tips about fermenting kimchi, and kimchi fermenting FAQs.

I hope this information will help you to make homemade kimchi with confidence!

How To Make Fermented Korean Kimchi (Kimchi Fermentation Process)

There are several steps required to make Korean kimchi using natural fermentation methods:

  1. Brine cabbage with salt
  2. Prepare rice slurry
  3. Make pepper paste
  4. Pack kimchi
  5. Ferment kimchi
  6. Safely storing fermented kimchi

Step 1: Brine cabbage with salt

making traditional kimchi packing cabbage with salt

  1. Slice all the medium-sized napa cabbages in half (vertically). Start by slicing the base of the cabbage in a 2″ cut upwards, and then gently pull each half of the cabbage apart to separate. If the napa cabbages are very large, you can cut them into quarters to help the salt penetrate the cabbages in a reasonable amount of time.
  2. Gently wash cabbage in water and shake dry.
  3. Sprinkle salt between each cabbage leaf, lifting leaves and concentrating the salt in the cabbage bases and stems where they are thicker. Use the exact amount of salt called for the amount of cabbage you have – no more and no less. This ratio of salt to vegetable is important to maintain throughout the fermentation process to create an environment that will promote the growth of kimchi-friendly bacterias.
  4. Let cabbages rest for 2 hours in large container. The cabbages will release liquid, which will combine with the salt to create a brine. Massage, turn, and re-stack the cabbage every 30 minutes to ensure that the cabbages are equally and thoroughly brined. During this rest time, you can do the next few steps of the kimchi making process.
  5. After 2 hours, the cabbage should be soft and a little translucent. Separate each cabbage half into quarters and rinse under cold water, straining to drain.
  6. There should be a significant amount of liquid brine at the bottom of the container. Reserve the leftover brine for “Step 4: Pack kimchi”.

massaging salted cabbage for homemade kimchi ferment

Step 2: Prepare rice slurry

making slurry for homemade korean kimchi fermentation

  1. Pour water and rice flour in a saucepan and mix to incorporate. Turn the stove element on medium heat for 10 minutes and allow the slurry to cook, stirring occasionally.
  2. After 10 minutes, the rice slurry will start to bubble. Add sugar and cook for another minute, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved.
  3. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. You can transfer the slurry to another container to decrease cooling time.

Step 3: Make kimchi pepper paste

raw oyster korean kimchi recipe pepper paste

  1. Put garlic, ginger, onion, fish sauce, and salted shrimp into a food processor. Process ingredients until the ginger and garlic are fully broken down. Add gochugaru (hot pepper flakes) and cooled rice slurry and process until it is an evenly mixed red paste.
    1. If your food processor isn’t big enough, you can mix the processed garlic-ginger-onion paste with the hot pepper flakes and rice slurry in a separate container.
    2. If you don’t have a food processor, you can mince the ingredients and combine by hand.
  2. Combine pepper paste with sliced radish, carrots (optional – I’m allergic to carrots, but carrots are traditionally added to Korean cabbage kimchi), green onion, Asian chives, and raw oysters. Put plastic gloves on and mix ingredients with your hands until combined.

Step 4: Pack kimchi

packing cabbage with kimchi paste for fermenting 2 packing cabbage with kimchi paste for fermenting 3

  1. Using gloves, lift and separate each cabbage leaf to spread kimchi paste throughout the brined cabbage quarters. Try to include the raw vegetable and oyster components between cabbage leaves. When every leaf is covered in a thin layer of paste, wrap the cabbage quarter into a bundle and pack it tightly into the fermentation crock or other fermentation container. Repeat with all cabbage quarters, packing each cabbage bundle tightly into the fermenting container side by side. Press packed bundles down regularly to ensure there are no air pockets or empty spaces in the container. Pack raw vegetable and oyster ingredients between cabbage bundles to incorporate evenly in the fermentation container. [Updated 2020: This layering is traditional, but not mandatory. You can just cut the cabbage and mix all ingredients together at once instead.]
  2. When all the cabbage is packed into the container, there should be some kimchi paste remaining. Spread the remaining kimchi paste on top, pushing any cabbage, other raw vegetable, and oyster ingredients under this layer of pepper paste. This will reduce the amount of exposure they have to oxygen and help create an environment that will be helpful for fermentation.
  3. The packed kimchi should be close to the top of the fermentation container. If you do not have enough kimchi to fill your container, you have two choices:
    1. Option 1 – You can add a plastic food-safe bag filled with the leftover brine to the kimchi container to reduce oxygen in the container. To do this, open a sealable plastic bag and spread it on top of the kimchi. Carefully pour in the reserved cabbage brine until the bag fills the empty space of your fermentation container. Carefully seal the bag to prevent spillage. korean kimchi recipe fermentation process
    2. Option 2 – You can unpack some of the kimchi and add food-safe objects to fill the empty space of the fermentation crock. Pack the kimchi back around these objects so that the kimchi reaches the top of the container. There are many options for food-safe options that you can use, such as sanitized and non-porous rocks or sanitized ceramic weights.
  4. Cover the fermentation container and place on top of a baking sheet with a lid, or equivalent. Kimchi will bubble and release gas and liquids when fermenting, so this will help with future cleanup.
    • Ceramic fermentation crocks use water seals between the crock and lid. Pour remaining brine into the water seal and place the lid carefully on top to cover.
    • Mason jars can be covered by placing the metal seal on top. Loosely tighten the metal ring until the seal is secure but not tight. This should allow gases to escape the jar when necessary, without knocking the metal seal off the jar entirely.

Step 5: Ferment kimchi

fermenting homemade korean kimchi aging time

  1. Ferment the kimchi by storing the fermentation container in a dark, cool, and undisturbed place. Kimchi takes approximately 1-2 days to start fermenting, depending on the temperature and humidity of where it is.
    • My kimchi is fermented in a hallway closet. I recommend removing anything that you wouldn’t want to smell like kimchi from the area before you start fermenting. The smell of fermenting kimchi is very noticeable and pungent!
  2. After fermentation begins, check on the kimchi regularly. Using a clean utensil, taste the kimchi until it tastes ready to you.
    • How regularly you check on the kimchi depends on your experience with fermentation and the environment you’re fermenting in. Personally, in the early fall, I taste the kimchi after the third day of fermentation, and then every day after until it’s done. I usually stop fermenting after 5-7 days.

Step 5: Safely storing fermented kimchi

  1. Store fermented kimchi in a covered container in the fridge and use as desired. I store finished kimchi in large glass mason jars, but any food safe container with a sealed lid is fine.
  2. Refrigeration slows the fermentation process down significantly. However, kimchi will continue to age in the fridge, becoming increasingly sour over time. Kimchi is traditionally eaten at many stages, from fresh to very aged. Don’t eat the kimchi if it’s moldy or looks/smells bad.

Brief Cultural Context on Kimchi

Kimchi is a traditional Korean fermented food that has a long history. There are many kimchi varieties and recipes made with different vegetable and ingredient combinations. Tongbaechu-kimchi (napa cabbage kimchi) is likely the most common type of kimchi known worldwide, but there is much more to appreciate about the food tradition.

I’m not a kimchi expert (just an admirer), but here are some resources about kimchi that have helped me appreciate it better:

This post was originally published in 2017-2018 and updated in September 2020. 

Posted by Arielle

Arielle is a passionate urban homesteader and hunter located in Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia.

  1. Brian Gillespie January 27, 2020 at 8:52 am

    Also I didn’t see a value for the amount of ginger to add so I left it out entirely. Idk of I missed it or if it was an oversight in the ingredients.

    Reply

  2. Is it possible, once the fermentation is done after a month to actually pressure can Kim Chi, especially white Kim Chi, for long term storage. That is where I am stuck. We have a small home and want to put up the kimchi for longer storage.

    Reply

    1. I wouldn’t recommend pressure cooking kimchi, as you would lose all of the probiotic benefits of the fermented food, and the kimchi would be much less flavourful and crunchy (as pressure canning it would cook it at a very hot, very high temperature). If storage is an issue, you can always reduce the quantity of kimchi that you make, as long as you maintain the ingredient-to-salt ratio. Kimchi can be prepared and fermented in almost any quantity. You can make kimchi in a 250-mL jar, if you’d like to. I hope that’s helpful!

      Reply

  3. May i know, other than daikon, what other vegetables is suitable for my overly salted kimchi? Can i add more napa cabbage instead?

    Reply

    1. Hi! Napa cabbage would be fine to add if your kimchi is too salty, as long as you add it after fermentation is complete. The cabbage will soften in time when exposed to the salted kimchi mixture. I hope that helps!

      Reply

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