Kimchi vs. Sauerkraut — The Ultimate Showdown

The debate about kimchi vs. sauerkraut has been going on for years, with people passionately arguing over which one tastes better. Kimchi is a Korean dish that’s made from fermented cabbage, while sauerkraut is German and Eastern European in origin. At the end of the day, which one you prefer is a very personal choice. Sauerkraut has a more neutral fermented taste, while the fermentation of kimchi involves many spices. Kimchi is also usually spicier than sauerkraut, and kimchi contains more probiotics due to the longer fermentation process.

To settle this debate once and for all, we will compare classic sauerkraut (not the red cabbage version) with the traditional kimchi version (based on Napa cabbage)!

What do sauerkraut and kimchi have in common?

Both sauerkraut and kimchi are fermented foods that are made by pickling fresh cabbage leaves (and, in the case of kimchi, other veggies). They are both gluten-free, halal, low-fat, and (mostly) low-carb. Kimchi can be vegan, but many recipes include fish sauce.

They are both probiotics.

Though yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha come from different parts of the globe, they all contain beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus that can help improve gut health. Improving your gut health can have a positive impact on your overall wellbeing. Therefore, consuming fermented foods is an excellent way to promote better health.

Is kimchi better than sauerkraut?

It is indeed like comparing apples to oranges. Unsurprisingly, this answer is mostly a matter of taste. Let’s identify a few factors to give you a good overview of how they compare to each other.

Highly subjective factors include:

  • Taste
  • Texture
  • Smell
  • Appearance

These criteria can be judged more objectively:

  • Ease of preparation
  • Price
  • Nutritional value (nutrient density, variety in probiotic bacteria and microorganisms, as well as  sodium content) 
  • Shelf life
  • Severity of stains

Let’s briefly address all the subjective factors, so we can ultimately focus on other properties that involve actual metrics, shall we?

How do kimchi and sauerkraut taste differently?

Sauerkraut’s taste is more reliable, while kimchi is often a culinary roller coaster ride!

They use different seasoning

The main difference lies in the seasonings used. Sauerkraut is typically seasoned with salt, caraway seeds, and dill, while kimchi is usually made with a combination of chili peppers, ginger, garlic, radishes, and scallions. 

Taste profile of sauerkraut and kimchi

The taste of sauerkraut is often described as:

  • Tangy 
  • Acidic
  • Pungent
  • Salty
  • Vinegary
  • Sour
  • Astringent

The taste of kimchi is often described as:

  • Tangy
  • Tart
  • Salty
  • Pungent
  • Fishy
  • Garlicky
  • Umami
  • Fizzy
  • Sour
  • Sweet
  • Slightly bitter

The two most notable differences are that Kimchi has a much stronger umami taste and is also a lot spicier. The umami flavor is caused by the fish sauce, vegan fish sauce, or soy sauce, as well as the fermentation itself. The spiciness is due to the use of Gochugaru (also known as Korean red pepper flakes). Kimchi’s taste is also much more subject to change, as there are many varieties of kimchi, while there is a lot less wiggle room for sauerkraut recipes due to the limited variety in ingredients.

Due to its diverse and addictive flavor profile, kimchi is our winner in the taste category! Taste is by far the most important factor, and we believe this criterion should count 3 times as much. (Sorry, we run a kimchi website after all /s)

Kimchi 3:0 Sauerkraut

Difference in texture

The texture of sauerkraut can vary depending on how it is prepared. Some sauerkraut dishes are crunchy, while others are soft and mushy. The crunchy variety is made by fermenting the cabbage for a shorter period. This results in a firmer texture that can be quite crunchy. The soft and mushy type is typically achieved by fermenting the cabbage for a lot longer. This produces a more tender texture that is easy to bite into.

Kimchi’s texture depends on the type of vegetable used. For example, traditional kimchi made with Chinese cabbage is both soft and crunchy. However, kimchi made with radishes or regular green cabbage is much more crunchy. If you add more carrots, ginger, or other chunky vegetables, your kimchi will be crunchier. On the other hand, kimchi becomes more compact and softer as it ferments. We prefer finely cut, soft kimchi over crunchy kimchi with large chunks of vegetables.

Since we take a liking to tender vegetables, we are going to award this point to Sauerkraut. It is generally a lot more tender and easier to chew, and the soft, juicy cabbage can be seamlessly mixed into main dishes, as long as you make sure its taste does not dominate the plate.

Kimchi 3:1 Sauerkraut

Smell: Kimchi-breath overpowers kraut-breath!

Regarding the stench of probiotic foods, we truly believe the means justify the ends! And by this, we mean, that having a smelly breath and empty subway seats next to you is worth the indulgence of natural glutamates at the tip of your tongue. 

They both smell equally delicious, so this point comes down to which one is more debilitating to your social life.  Here, kimchi is unfortunately your biggest enemy. Sauerkraut may have the more intense test, but it is basically spiced fermented cabbage. Kimchi, on the other hand, is not only fermented but features a variety “fragrant” ingredients whose pungency exponentially increases as fermentation progresses. These include: 

  • Garlic
  • Spring onions
  • Radishes
  • Chives
  • Fish sauce

Kimchi 3:2 Sauerkraut

Appearance: Kimchi boasts many more colors than sauerkraut.

Green cabbage leaves, red cabbage slices, dark green scallions, yellow ginger, orange carrots, and glowing red pepper flakes. When nutritional scientists tell you to eat the rainbow, think of kimchi! Meanwhile, Sauerkraut is mainly yellow, with a few brown caraway seeds dotted here and there. The exception to the rule is red cabbage sauerkraut, which can complement many dishes by providing an exceptional purple contrast!

Unfortunately, kimchi clearly takes the cake on this one, as it is much more visually appealing to us and its colors pair insanely well with most savory dishes out there!

Kimchi 4: 2 Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut is easier to make compared to kimchi.

If you want to try fermentation, it doesn’t get much easier than making your own sauerkraut. All you need is a head of green cabbage and a pinch of salt. The caraway seeds are optional but much recommended for rustic, country flavor. 

There are also some easier adaptations of kimchi recipes, whose ingredients can also be counted on a single hand. However, most types of kimchi require many ingredients, some of which can be deemed rather exotic, such as gochugaru or Korean fish sauce. The process is also a bit more involved, as you’ll need to pound and grind the ingredients together before fermentation.  Therefore, Sauerkraut wins the simplicity criterion!

Kimchi 4:3 Sauerkraut

Which is cheaper? Sauerkraut or kimchi?

This is a difficult question to answer, as the price of sauerkraut and kimchi can vary greatly depending on where you purchase them. In general, however, kimchi is usually slightly more expensive than sauerkraut. This is because kimchi is typically made with more expensive ingredients, such as gochugaru. Some items such as daikon radish or napa cabbage are also a lot more seasonal and slightly more difficult to source than green cabbage and salt, which can also drive up the cost. Additionally, kimchi is often fermented for a longer period of time than sauerkraut. Therefore, whether it’s store-bought or homemade, sauerkraut is definitely more economical.

Kimchi 4:4 Sauerkraut 

To be fair: Neither should be considered a luxury product. However, both still provide a good nutritional bang for their buck, which brings us to our next and most important criterion: Nutrition!

Both boast irreplaceable nutritional value!

Kimchi is made from cabbage, radishes, and other vegetables, while sauerkraut is made from cabbage alone. Both kimchi and sauerkraut are high in vitamins A and C, and kimchi also contains vitamins B1 and B2. As a result, kimchi is slightly higher in calories than sauerkraut, but both are low in fat and cholesterol. 

Kimchi has more micronutrients and microorganisms.

Unsurprisingly, kimchi has a greater variety of micronutrients, which is simply because the dish contains a colorful assortment of vegetables. Daikon radish for example contains a staggering amount of vitamin C and folate, and respectable quantities of magnesium and potassium. Chili peppers used to make gochugaru contain a variety of secondary plant compounds, such as capsanthin (a carotenoid), sinapic acid, ferulic acid, and last but not least, our cherished capsaicin!

Even more impressive are the variety and quantities of microorganisms present in kimchi? 

  • A single variety of kimchi can be home to over a hundred different species of microorganisms.
  • 1 gram may contain up to 100 million units of Lactobacillus.
  • Kimchi can contain up to 10 different Lactobacilli. Not all of which can be found in sauerkraut, such as the well-named Lactobacillus kimchii.

Napa cabbage vs. green cabbage

As mentioned previously, sauerkraut and kimchi both use different types of cabbage. Chinese, cabbage or Napa cabbage is the staple ingredient of most kimchi recipes, while green cabbage has been used to make sauerkraut for centuries. The data gathered from the USDA’s food data suggests that green cabbage has more nutritional qualities than napa cabbage.

Green cabbage contains more:

  • Vitamin C
  • Dietary fiber
  • Vitamin K
  • Thiamin
  • Vitamin B1, B5, and B6
  • Lutein
  • Zeaxanthin

Napa cabbage, on the other hand, contains more:

  • Beta-carotene

Of course, some of these nutrients are more important than others, but in our opinion, green cabbage appears to be the more nutrient-dense ingredient.

Which one has more salt?

This study from South Korea found the average sodium content of 100g of kimchi to be 830 mg. Meanwhile, the USDA’s official food database suggests that Sauerkraut has a slightly lower sodium content, clocking in at 661 mg per 100g of sauerkraut.

To sum up the nutrition debate

  • Kimchi has a greater variety of ingredients, resulting in a large variety of micronutrients and microorganisms.
  • Sauerkraut uses green cabbage, which is considered more nutrient-dense. It also contains less salt.

We’ll call this one a tie.

Kimchi 5:5 Sauerkraut

Shelf life

Both kimchi and sauerkraut boast an incredibly long shelf life. Both can last up to 6 months in the fridge and multiple years when canned if stored properly. There are also dedicated kimchi fridges in Korea that keep a stable temperature and allow you to accurately control the fermentation rate. These fridges can, of course, also be used for your sauerkraut.

The shelf life of kimchi is less consistent, as there are simply more factors at play that affect fermentation, such as the amount of sugar the assortment of fruits and vegetable contains. But for traditional napa cabbage, the shelf life can be compared to that of sauerkraut.

Another tie.

Kimchi 6:6 Sauerkraut

Severity of stains

If your chopstick game isn’t spot on, you likely dropped some kimchi on your newly purchased Ikea carpet before. It happens to the best of us, but not all of us know how to get rid of such a horridly smelly stain. It goes without saying, that due to the pungency level that’s through the roof and the red color from the gochugaru, kimchi stains are a lot worse to remove than sauerkraut stains.

In our opinion, this is only a minuscule disadvantage. Therefore, this criterion will only be weighted as 0.5.

The final results are in: Kimchi 6:6.5 Sauerkraut

It looks like the Germans beat the Koreans by a close margin; however, once you master the martial art of eating with chopsticks and know where to source and prepare all the ingredients, making kimchi may be the more rewarding hobby to experiment with!

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