Faster fermentation: Does kimchi primed make kimchi before its time?

Do you jump-start the kimchi or let nature take its course? The choice is yours. (Photo by Jeff Quackenbush)

Chef Hector Marroquin of Pupusa Griddle in St. Helena, Calif., continues to perfect his kimchi recipe.

He sent me this message on Sept. 13 from Facebook:

I made about three gallons of kimchi…. I used about a cup of the older kimchi juice I had as a starter. I was surprised how quickly the fermentation process started.

Then he asked me an interesting question — interesting to me anyway:

Have you ever seen anybody use old kimchi juice as a starter?

If you save the juice from your Lactobacillus-fermented kimchi, you can either make it into stew or save a cup or two to jump start your next batch. (Photo by Jeff Quackenbush)

I told him that natural-foods advocates often use starters. Koreans often use the leftover kimchi to make 김치 찌개 kimchi jjigae, or kimchi stew, and start the pickling process from scratch.

The Weston Price Foundation is an American nonprofit organization that advocates the nutritional superiority of natural foods and old-fashioned cooking and preservation methods. That includes naturally fermented foods such as kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut and yogurt. The foundation’s 1999 slow-food classic Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats is in my library.

Chef Marroquin’s question was well-timed. The Washington Post (free subscription only) in a Sept. 14 article called “Fermentation: A wild way to make food come to life” detailed ways to expedite vegetable fermentation (emphasis added):

Depending on your time and temperament, there are three ways to go about it. Sealing the food in a simple saltwater brine is the most traditional method; the wait for the finished product is usually several weeks. Jump-starting the process with whey from a dairy product, or liquid from any live ferment, can produce the desired result within several days. Powdered starters also do the trick.

How will using a “liquid from any live ferment” such as kimchi juice effect the final product?

I asked Master Food Preserver Delilah Snell of Project Small how such liquid starter as kimchi juice could affect fermentation.

“I think using the old juice adds a little more flavor and it has more of the ‘good bacteria,'” she wrote. “Starting from scratch, you have to make your own .”

Use of a starter also helps control the sourness of fermentation, she added.

If you like a sour, more developed kimchi, start the new batch with some juice from a prior pickling. Using a starter may also help create a more consistent kimchi more quickly, which is crucial for a restaurant or catering business.

However, if you prefer a fresher, more subtle kimchi, start each batch from scratch.

Leo Tolstoy said, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” He could have been talking about the art of making kimchi, because patience and time are keys to the good stuff.


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0 thoughts on “Faster fermentation: Does kimchi primed make kimchi before its time?”

  1. I tried using some liquid from “Water Kimchi”, adding a little sugar and a little salt, to shredded veg (turnip, beet, daikon & a little carrot)
    -the liquid became…syrupy, but didn’t smell bad.
    I replenished water on the water-kimchi(large daikon chunks) that was fine/slow ripening in the fridge,
    and -that- water got “thicker”
    I use reverse osmosis water; should I have boiled it 1st? -salt: pink/mined. sugar: minimally refined, & -very- little.
    > any suggestions on what went wrong?

    • When making water kimchi (or any kind of kimchi, really), one should be careful not to use chlorinated water. Why? Chlorine indiscriminately kills bacteria. When making kimchi, we use brine (salt and water) to kill the bacteria that would destroy the vegetables while at the same time encourage the bacteria that will ferment

      Boiling water does not remove chlorine, but there are filters that can remove the chlorine and make the water more suitable for brining kimchi.

  2. I made Kombucha before Kimchi so I was used to having a starter. After a few batches of Kimchi I realized how much more potent it became over time and decided it would be better and healthier to jump start future batches. I take my last jar of Kimchi and add it to the new sauce liquids and gently blend them. Kombucha has strains of bacteria that develope over time so the longer you brew, the better the probiotics. Figured Kimchi should be the same and by liquifying the old cabbage I’m certain that creates a pretty healthy bacterial environment in the new sauce. 🙂


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