Does Kimchi Have Sugar? Is It a Concern?

Yes. Kimchi contains sugar, but less than most other fermented foods. The probiotics actually consume sugar during fermentation. Nonetheless, it is likely that your store-bought kimchi has sugar.

Sugar is a key ingredient in kimchi due to its role in kimchi fermentation. When making kimchi at home, you must take this into consideration. Sugar speeds up the kimchi fermentation process, giving kimchi a complex taste and soft texture. So, recipes for kimchi that do not use sugar, maple syrup or honey may not yield authentic tasting kimchi. Kimchi without sugar tends to lack flavor and tastes bland. It’s also more susceptible to spoilage.

How much sugar is in kimchi?

You typically make kimchi with 1 part salt to 5 parts water and 2-3 tablespoons of sugar. This will yield around 4 quarts of kimchi. This may seem like a lot of sugar for a savory, salty dish. But please note, that the sugar content decreases over time. An experiment showed that the reducing sugar content changed from 23-28mg/g right after the kimchi was prepared, to 16 mg/g on day 14 of fermentation!

The sweetness and sugar content depends on the type of kimchi

Nakji kimchi (octopus kimchi), for example, typically tastes less sweet than chonggak kimchi (Ponytail radish kimchi).  This is because kimchi fermentation changes the taste of kimchi entirely. There are many factors at play. Different kimchi types all :

  • Require a different length of fermentation. The longer the kimchi ferments, the less sweet it will become.
  • Use different fruits, vegetables, and seasonings that greatly vary in sugar content.

The most common types of kimchi only have around 2 grams of sugar per service.

Is kimchi suitable for diabetics?

Kimchi is a low carbohydrate food. Well-aged, fermented kimchi in its form contains very little sugar. This makes kimchi relatively safe for diabetics. Kimchi’s salt content is more of a concern. So if you happen to be affected by hypertension, please watch your salt intake when eating kimchi.

What role does sugar play in kimchi fermentation?

Sugar is a byproduct of kimchi fermentation. It is also one of the key contributors that make kimchi so tasty.  Sugar is consumed by lactobacillus bacteria which are essential for fermentation. The bacteria eat reducing sugars and decompose them into alcohol, CO2, or (in the case of kimchi) lactic acid. The lactic acid is then used to produce several components. These components seamlessly balance each other, thus creating kimchi’s uniquely sophisticated flavor.

Adding more sugar will increase the rate of fermentation. Your kimchi will be ready to eat much sooner. Unfortunately, this will also reduce the shelf life of your kimchi.

Can you make sugar-free kimchi?

Are you looking for kimchi that has no sugar or less sugar than your store-bought kimchi? There are Korean restaurants that offer such options. You can also make kimchi at home with ingredients like vinegar and maple syrup. However, if you want to reap all the culinary benefits, we recommend making kimchi with regular amounts of salt and sugar. These two ingredients play crucial roles during fermentation.

Can you add sugar to kimchi to sweeten it?

If you are preparing a batch of kimchi and are adding additional sugar, you may be surprised at the result. After fermentation, there is no hint of sugar anymore. If you add sugar or any other sweetener during fermentation, your kimchi will be more bubbly and sour. This is because all the sugar will have been digested by the bacteria. Therefore, you can only sweeten your kimchi by adding sugar right before serving it.


Kimchi is delicious, versatile food that can (and should!) be enjoyed by most people. Whether you’re diabetic or not! The fermentation process benefits from sugar, and while there are some sugars in kimchi, they don’t contain much of it. As long as diabetics monitor their portion sizes carefully, this beloved Korean staple should fit nicely into their diet plans.

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