Fermentation is more or less synonymous with alcohol. This metabolic process was first demonstrated when a French chemist named Louis Pasteur demonstrated, that fermented beverages are created by living yeast transforming glucose into ethanol.
Because kimchi is fermented, you might think kimchi contains alcohol. And it does! However, kimchi does not contain significant amounts of alcohol. Not nearly enough to cause intoxication or alter behavior. Some kimchis that are homemade will have more alcohol than commercially canned kimchis because canned kimchis are often pasteurized, which kills bacteria that would otherwise continue fermentation -and fermentation creates the alcohol in kimchi.
How much alcohol is in your kimchi?
The amount of alcohol found in Korean kimchi after 2 days of fermentation is extremely low compared to alcoholic fermented beverages like beer and wine which typically contain 5%.
During kimjang (a Korean traditional festival in autumn), kimchi is fermented in large batches. The alcohol content in the kimchi was tested on different days. The results showed that kimchi contains a small amount of ethanol on kimchi after fermentation for 3 days. The kimchi contained 0.0007% ethanol content on the first day, 0.0008% ethanol on the second day.
What other fermented foods contain alcohol and lactic acid?
Beyond Korean cuisine, sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, pickles, yogurt, and kefir are common fermented foods and probiotics that contain alcohol. These foods use yeast or bacteria to produce ethanol as a byproduct of the fermentation process. As the yeast or bacteria used in fermentation feeds on sugars present in the food it produces ethanol as one of its waste products. This ethanol is then further broken down into acetic acid by acetobacter (the main bacterium responsible for vinegar production).
Some cultured and fermented food products contain 0.1% to 0.5% ethanol, which may vary slightly from one batch to another. Anyhow, this is still a tiny amount of alcohol: ripe fruits with plenty of sugars can have an alcohol content of over 5%!
As with all cultured and fermented foods, a small amount of naturally occurring alcohol is typically present in the finished product. Although the amount will vary slightly from batch to batch, the amount is quite small (generally 0.1% and never over 0.5%). A small ripe banana may contain 0.5% alcohol to help you understand how low the amount is.
When talking about drinks, virtually every alcoholic drink contains ingredients that were fermented at some point. Regarding probiotics, hard kombucha is the latest hype in the fermentation scene! It’s fermented for much longer than regular kombucha and can end up with an alcohol content similar to craft beer or wine!
Does the alcohol in kimchi make it halal?
This is a tricky question. Strictly speaking, any type of kimchi may contain trace amounts of alcohol, which would make it haram. However, there is a chance that your kimchi is halal and kosher at an advanced stage of fermentation for two reasons:
- At advanced stages of fermentation, the aforementioned acetobacter eliminates alcohol by converting alcohol into acetic acid (also known as vinegar!).
- Any leftover alcohol in kimchi may evaporate if you let kimchi sit in an environment with good airflow.
Ultimately it is up to you to decide whether you want to consider kimchi halal or not. But, rest be assured, it definitely won’t get you drunk!
How to make kimchi with low alcohol content
Whatever the reason may be, you can tweak your existing procedure for fermenting kimchi. By taking the following measures, you can help create a fermentation environment to promote alcohol-free kimchi:
- Avoid sugary fruits: The more sugary fruits, like Korean pear, you add to your kimchi, the higher the conversion into ethanol will be. Thus, by sticking to a low-carb, low-sugar kimchi recipe you can lay the groundwork for halal kimchi without much alcohol.
- Let your kimchi “breathe”: Ideally, you should keep your kimchi from getting too much airflow. However, when you are ready to consume it, remove your desired amount from the fermentation container. Spread it out on a plate and let it sit there for a few hours. This way, you allow any residual alcohol to evaporate.
If it tastes like alcohol, you’re eating spoiled kimchi!
If your kimchi has an alcoholic or pungent acidic smell or taste, you should proceed with caution. These are typically telltale signs that your kimchi has gone bad. Fermentation has either gone wrong due to environmental factors or progressed too much to be still edible.