| Categories: Asian Food Industry | Kim Chi
Kim chi is one of the most widely known Asian foods in existence today, and many people liken it to sauerkraut. It is a mixture of fermented vegetables (namely cabbage today) and a variety of spices that originated in Korea centuries ago. Although the Korean population created the recipe for survival reasons, today’s kim chi is still a staple – even a delicacy in some areas.
Korea is part of northeast Asia, and although it is now divided into the North and South, this was not always the case. The two areas share the same landscape and climate, which is mountainous with very little fertile ground for farming. What’s more, the winters are downright freezing, leading the BBC to claim that Koreans experience some of the coldest winters in their latitude. Because of this combination of factors, Koreans have always needed to find ways to preserve foods to bring them through the winter months. This is exactly how kim chi came to be; it was the result of experimentation and preservation.
The very first forms of kim chi were very different than they are today. Because it came down to pure survival and known techniques hundreds of years ago, Koreans typically just salted the vegetables they had. First came the invention of salty soybean paste (doenjang) and, later, soy sauce. Radishes were abundant in the mountainous region, so the people would sometimes dip their radishes in the doenjang or simply soak them in very salty water to preserve them.
As the centuries went on, agriculture around the world became more sophisticated. What’s more, traveling from one country to another for the purpose of trading became more mainstream, so the Koreans had access to new vegetables and flavors from other parts of Asia. During the Kuryeo Dynasty, they began to experiment with vegetables like cucumbers, leeks, bamboo shoots, mustard leaves, and more. This is when the wetter forms of kim chi that most people are familiar with today came into being.
From the year 1392 onward, in the Joseon Dynasty, food preservation became even more advanced. Salt was not the only ingredient widely available to the people, so they began making kim chi with soy sauce. This is also the time when cabbage was widely available in Korea and other parts of Asia, and because it was so abundant, it quickly became a staple – not only in a variety of kim chi products, but also in other dishes. 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