Have you spent weeks crafting the perfect kimchi only to open it and find it has a bitter taste? Then, perhaps you need to ask why your kimchi has a bitter taste and what you can do about it?
Unfortunately, there is not necessarily one definitive reason why your kimchi might have a bitter taste. It can come down to a range of issues. The cabbage you have used could simply be more bitter than you’re used to. Not allowing your kimchi to ferment for long enough can also cause bitterness.
What Causes Bitter Tasting Kimchi?
There is a range of issues that can cause your kimchi to take on a bitter taste. If you have bitter-tasting kimchee then see if any of these might apply:
- Lack of Fermenting Time – One of the simplest causes could be that you have not allowed it to ferment for long enough. Even shop-bought kimchi can have an overly salty, bitter taste when first bought. When it’s kept in the fridge for just a few days you may find that the bitterness dissipates and it takes on that ultimate umami flavour.
Unfortunately, the length of time to ferment kimchi differs as the temperature of the room and the container will all impact the ferment. Kimchi, typically, is fermented for between 3 and 21 days.
- Adapting the Recipe – Some ingredients you need for making kimchi can be a little tough to get hold of in the western world, especially mooli and gochugaru. Some cheat recipes for kimchi will recommend using radishes and paprika in place of those ingredients but this will naturally impact the flavour and can make it bitter.
- Stale Ingredients – If you’re had spices or salt sitting in the cupboard for months on end then they might have become a little stale. They’re unlikely to make you ill but they can impact the taste of your kimchi, including making it somewhat bitter.
- Bitter Ingredients – If you start with bitter ingredients then you’re going to have bitter-tasting kimchi. The best thing you can do before making kimchee is to try each of your ingredients. Yes, this does mean you’ll need to eat raw cabbage, radish and spring onions but it’s well worth it.
- Iodized Salt – Many recipes advise against using table salt which is often iodized as it can cause bitterness. Instead, try using sea salt or kosher salt.
Yes, kimchi can have a sour taste. The flavour profile of kimchi is incredibly complex and, as it’s alive, it is always changing. It can have notes of sourness, bitterness, sweetness, saltiness and spiciness.
How to Fix Bitter Kimchi
If you’ve made bitter kimchi, what exactly can you do with it? Is the only option to throw it out and start again? Maybe not…
- Don’t – One of the ways you can rectify bitter kimchi is to leave it alone. Put it in the fridge for a week or two to cold ferment and then give it a try. This can be one of the easiest ways to fix it. If it’s only slightly less bitter then leave it to ferment further again.
- Cook It – You can use bitter kimchi in cooked dishes to add a subtle umami flavour. Try making kimchi fried rice or simply stir fry it with vegetables. If you’re feeling brave then you can use it with cooked potatoes, scrambled eggs and even marinate meats.
If your kimchi has an unusual taste then it can be instinctive to throw it out, thinking it has gone off. But this may not be the case. Leaving it in the fridge for an extra week or two can often allow the flavours to develop further, removing the bitterness.
Bitter Kimchi FAQs
Still got questions about bitter kimchi? Then these common FAQs might help you out:
It might sound counterintuitive but if you haven’t fermented it for long enough then it can still have a bitter taste. It needs to get beyond this point in the ferment which is why a few more days of fermentation can fix this.
If you have bought poor-quality, inauthentic kimchi then they may have cut corners which is why it may have a bitter taste. It’s unlikely to make you poorly but might not be pleasant to eat.
Kimchi is a complex dish and it has multiple levels of flavour when made and fermented correctly. This is, after all, why it’s so popular. It will be tangy, sour, spicy and salty but rarely acidic in flavour.
Yes, it should be fine to eat sour kimchi provided that you have used clean equipment to make your kimchi and have used fresh ingredients. Your main concern should be mould and whether it has gone bad. You can learn more about this here.
If you’re not used to eating fermented foods then the taste can be quite sour and tangy. It’s a flavour profile you have to get used to. If you want to enjoy the flavour as a newbie then avoid eating it near and, instead, try mixing it in with fried rice, for example.
Lewis is the founder and editor of Let’s Foodie alongside other food-related platforms including FreezeIt and SubstituteIt. He launched Let’s Foodie to provide aspiring cooks with one place to get the answers to some of the most commonly asked cooking questions.