Fermenting is a large part of homesteading and prepping and includes fermenting fruits and vegetables, some in the form of kimchi, and making fermented drinks such as kefir. Fermenting foods is done to preserve excess from your harvest to have it available out of season and to enhance the nutritional value. Health drinks such as kefir and kombucha are produced to provide a healthy alternative to commercial yogurts and sodas. Making kimchi does come with some risks, however, one of these risks being unexpected explosions!
Kimichi is produced through a fermentation process whereby vegetables are preserved for future use. The fermentation process produces gases which, if not released from the fermentation container, can result in the contents of the container fizzing out, or in the worst case, the container exploding from the pressure build-up.
A certain measure of caution needs to be used when making any type of fermented food or drink. Incorrect processes, procedures, and methods can result in many undesirable outcomes for your fermentation, one of these being a messy or even dangerous explosion of the fermentation jar.
What Is Kimchi?
Kimchi has many different ingredients, but the main ingredient is usually a vegetable, and then other ingredients are added to attain a specific flavor profile.
Kimchi is a traditional dish that originated in Korea, where it is a traditional, staple side dish that is eaten at almost every meal. In Korea, the fermentation process to create kimchi was used as a method to preserve food for winter months and preserve excesses from crops of vegetables that produced a bountiful harvest in the summer.
In many traditional Korean kimchi recipes, seafood is even added as an ingredient to be included in the fermentation process.
In times where refrigeration was not possible, this was an important method of preserving food to get through the lean winter months and, at the same time, ensure a healthy and nutritious meal.
The flavor profile of kimchi can be varied depending on the ingredients used. Some versions are salty, sour, spicy, and sweet. Some varieties use combinations of these flavors to produce a complex, tasty dish.
Kimchi has gained popularity in the western world as a healthy, fashionable and exotic dish but has been adopted by homesteading and prepping communities for its long term food storage application and the health benefits it offers when other food may be scarce.
Western cultures had their own versions of fermented foods, which follow similar processes as kimchi in their production. But what sets kimchi apart is the use of ingredients that are from Asia and that give the product a specific flavor.
This fermented dish has been accepted so widely throughout the world that it is even produced on a commercial basis and sold in supermarkets and restaurants.
How Does Kimchi Explode?
Exploding kimchi comes from the method and process that takes place during the fermentation process. The type of containers used during the process and the sealing efficiency of the lids play a role in the potentially explosive nature of kimchi!
The fermentation process causes the lactobacilli bacteria, which are healthy for you, to proliferate and multiply. These bacteria fight off bad bacteria that cause the food to go bad. The lactobacilli produce carbon dioxide as they convert the natural sugars to a vinegary lactic acid that helps to preserve the food and create an environment where bad bacteria cannot flourish.
The production of carbon dioxide during the fermentation process is generally the cause of any explosions when it comes to kimchi. The process is fairly easily controlled, however, and people normally only experience the explosions when the fermentation process is not controlled properly and gets away from them.
The production of carbon dioxide creates an increase of pressure within the fermentation jar, which, if not released, can cause the jar to explode. Most modern fermentation jars are made from glass, which can potentially cause sharp fragments to become shrapnel and potentially cause injury.
The way to prevent your kimchi from exploding is to control the fermentation process and also allow for the carbon dioxide to escape.
Most modern fermentation jars come with lids that have specialized valves that allow the carbon dioxide to escape without introducing air or oxygen to the fermentation process. While these jars with specialized lids are nice to have, you can make kimchi without them by simply burping your jars once or twice a day. This involves opening the lid slightly to allow some of the gas to escape, but not so much to allow significant amounts of air to get in.
The fermentation process can be slowed down once the desired fermentation level has been reached by placing your kimchi in the refrigerator. Many people fall into the misconception that the fermentation process stops in the fridge, but the process continues; it just slows down. You should still burp your jars occasionally, even when they are in the fridge. This is to prevent the contents of the jar from expanding and overflowing over the top of the jar when you open it.
Benefits Of Kimchi
The fermentation process involved in making kimchi produces healthy bacteria, which are a necessary component in our gut to promote general health.
Kimchi contains probiotics and bacteria that promote an environment in the human gut for the healthy bacteria we need to flourish and an environment that limits the growth of bad bacteria that is not good for us and cause disease and infection.
The improvement in our gut health results in a boosting of the immune system, which helps our bodies fight off disease and infection and improves general health and resistance to sickness.
Kimchi can be used in many ways in the kitchen. It is often eaten as a side-dish and goes very well with many types of meat. Kimchi is often used as an ingredient in the making of soups, stews, and gravy and is regularly served as an accompaniment to rice.
How To Make Kimchi
Making kimchi is a relatively simple process and can be done easily at home. Once you grasp the basic fermentation principles, you can experiment with various types of vegetables and other ingredients to create different flavors and types of kimchi that you prefer.
Here is a simple recipe that you can try to get you started.
- 1 small cabbage, which can be any type of cabbage, including Chinese cabbage
- 1 tablespoon of sea salt
- 3 crushed garlic cloves
- 1 piece of ginger about 1-inch in size (2.5cm) which must be grated
- 2 tablespoons chili sauce or chili paste
- 1 tablespoon golden castor sugar
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 8 radishes grated coarsely
- 2 carrots coarsely grated
- 4 spring onions finely chopped
Slice the cabbage into strips that are about 1-inch long. Place the cabbage in a bowl and mix in the 1 tablespoon of salt. Mix thoroughly and let it stand on the kitchen counter for about 1 hour. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel to prevent bugs and contaminants from getting in. While you are waiting for the 1 hour, you can mix the other ingredients. Crush the garlic, ginger, chili paste, sugar, and rice vinegar in a mortar and pestle or in a blender if you have one available.
After the cabbage has stood for an hour, you will notice there is a substantial amount of water in the bowl that the salt has drawn out of the cabbage. Mix in the paste you have made and the carrots, radishes, and spring onions.
Pack the mixture into a glass jar that has an airtight lid. Press the contents down into the jar and top up with the brine solution from the bowl. Place a weight or frame on top of the vegetables to keep them below the brine solution, which will help prevent the growth of mold. The weight can be a glass fermenting weight or a plastic frame that keeps the contents below the brine surface.
Leave the jar on your kitchen counter to ferment at room temperature for 24 to 48 hours. Burp the jar once a day to relieve the pressure of the gas. Then place the jar in the refrigerator to slow the fermentation process down.
You can use the kimchi immediately after the initial 24 to 48-hour ferment, but keeping it in the fridge for a longer period will enhance and intensify the flavors.
Exploding kimchi is only a risk if you do not follow the procedure of periodically burping your kimchi jars during the fermentation process.
Another way to avoid explosions is to use specialized fermenting jars that have lids with valves built into them to relieve the excess pressure without letting air into the jar.
You cannot call yourself a homesteader of a prepper if you haven’t tried your hand at making kimchi or other fermented food products. So give it a go and try different recipes till you find one that suits your taste and helps you make better use of the vegetables you grow.
Just make sure to follow the anti-explosion steps to avoid an explosive, fermented mess that you will have to clean up, and worst of all, lose your fermented kimchi!