Yes. Most kimchi is spicy. But it is difficult to generalize the taste of kimchi, as there are over 400 different types of kimchis. Kimchi can range from very mild to searing spicy. The spiciness of your kimchi mostly depends on the amount and type of chili flakes used. Kimchi typically contains gochugaru; these are red chili pepper flakes from Korea.
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Gochugaru is not as spicy as it looks
Most Gochugaru only has a mild spiciness. You add it to kimchi for its vibrant red color and potent paprika-like taste. However, the spiciness of Gochugaru can vary wildly between 2000 and 10000 SHU. That’s the difference between an Anaheim and a Serrano pepper!
As most types of kimchi use large quantities of chili flakes, it is best to stick to gochugaru. Other types of peppers, such as those used in Southeast Asia, Central America, can be tens or hundred times spicier.
How to make kimchi taste less spicy?
Are you new to kimchi-making or Korean cuisine? Then we recommend starting of with a relatively mild version of kimchi. You can always make it spicier at any time. It is difficult to make it taste less spicy after it’s been fermented, but not impossible. Here’s how you can fix spicy kimchi:
- Put your spicy batch of kimchi in the fridge to slow down fermentation.
- Start a batch of mild kimchi (without any pepper flakes at all) and make it ferment faster at room temperature.
- After a day, mix both batches together in the same jar.
- Let them sit in the fridge for another day
- Enjoy your perfectly balanced kimchi!
What’s the least spicy type of kimchi?
There are three traditional types of kimchi that have 0% spiciness to them:
- White kimchi (Baek kimchi): A vegan and gluten-free type of kimchi. It is pretty mild and does not contain red chili pepper flakes. It is only submerged in a fruity, salty brine, giving it a mild, yet tangy flavor.
- Radish kimchi (Dongchimi): Pro tip: Don’t go into your local Korean grocery store asking for “Dong Chim”. Or do you want the owner to poke you between your bum cheeks? Back to Kimchi… this one is made with small radishes, cut into relatively bulky chunks. Therefore this kimchi often takes a good couple of weeks to ferment. Traditionally this kimchi was meant to last for a long time over the harsh Korean winters. This kimchi has a slightly bitter taste and can be compared to light and clear soup. Beware that the radishes have a different type of spiciness to them, which cannot be compared to the spiciness of chili flakes
- Water kimchi (Mul Kimchi): This kimchi is very mild. It is often served as an aesthetically pleasing side dish or appetizer in Korean fine dining venues. The crunchy and fizzy texture is meant to stimulate your appetite for an upcoming, hearty dish.
How to make kimchi spicier?
The answer to this is quite obvious. Add more spicy goodness of course! However here are the options, from best to worst.
1. Add fresh chilies
Please consider adding finely cut, fresh chilies that are spicy, but relatively neutral-tasting. This way you can add some hotness to your kimchi without ruining its flavor balance. Just make sure you cut them as finely as possible and add the right amount. Wash them thoroughly, especially if you will still let your kimchi ferment. We do not want to introduce foreign bacteria to your microbial treasure.
2. Add more Gochugaru
Of course, you could also add more gochugaru. Please beware, that gochugaru has a quite strong peppery taste. So adding more may destroy your kimchi’s complex flavor profile.
3. Add chili sauce
This is maybe the easiest method, but also the worst. Adding chili sauce or any kind of hot sauce will not just introduce flavors that are less than authentic: The salts, vinegar, and sugars in these sauces will interfere with the rate of fermentation. So we recommend adding the hot sauce only after your kimchi is done fermenting.
What’s the spiciest kimchi?
There is no single type of kimchi that is considered the spiciest one. Every Korean mom has their own variations of these different types. Unlike official hairstyles in North Korea, there are no “official kimchi recipes”, that every South Korea has to follow. The rules are bent, and anyone can make the spiciest kimchi. In fact, this may be a good marketing strategy for your future product line!
Speaking about products. When it comes to store-bought kimchi, Tobagi is often regarded as the spiciest one. So if you’re in a Korean or Asian grocery store, try these.
Historically, kimchi wasn’t spicy at all!
The fascination with spicy chillis in Asian cuisine is relatively new! Historical evidence suggests Kimchi was already made in the 1st century BC! However, before the 16th century, the Asian population had never seen a pepper in their life. The chili pepper originated from the Americas and was likely brought to Japan by Portuguese settlers in the 16th century. Later that century, invading Japanese troops likely brought the peppers to the Korean peninsula. Again our idea of “authentic” kimchi depends on how far we want to look back in time. Arguably, the aforementioned white kimchi may be the most traditional type of kimchi.