Skip to main content

Kimchi's Amazing Transformation: One Hour to One Year

Lauryn Chun, founder of Mother-in-Law’s Kimchi, joins Bon Appétit to break down the different qualities kimchi acquires, undergoing an amazing transformation from just an hour of aging to an entire year. Does kimchi really get better with age?

Released on 11/23/2022


[Lauryn] When you buy a jar of kimchi at the store,

chances are, it's a few weeks old.

But what would happen

if you were able to age kimchi 7 days,

30 days, 60 days, even a year?

I'm Lauryn Chun, founder of Mother-in-Law's Kimchi,

and today, we're gonna find out

if kimchi gets better with age.

[percussive music]

Kimchi is a pickling process.

The root words mean salted vegetables,

and it can be made with any vegetables.

There's some, what, like 200 foundational recipes

for kimchi-making in Korea.

This is just-made kimchi.

It's about an hour old, just mixed up.

And this is a Geotjeori-style.

Commercially-made kimchi

that you would purchase in the United States,

it's napa cabbage with an assortment of seasonings

like garlic, ginger,

and chili flakes, Gochugaru flakes.

This is how all kimchi is born,

but it's about to go through a radical transformation.

This is a seven-day-old kimchi,

typical of something you'd find in a jarred kimchi

that you buy in the store.

You could tell that it's already been sort of softened

and much more pliable.

I mean, it started out as the same thing,

but you could tell, in seven days,

this one is soft

and just juicy.

The Gochugaru is really transforming

from this white speckled cabbage

into something that is much more coated

and soft and crimson and integrated.

So now we're gonna move on to 30 days,

and we're gonna look at that same kind of leaf.

But you can already see that it's even more pliable

and there's a lot more

just sort of melding of the colors

that have sort of been infused

into the rib of the kimchi,

as well as just a little bit of translucence

that is starting to happen.

The broth is a lot more crimson

and melded together,

much more so than the seven days.

The broth is really all that seasoning

and garlic, ginger,

all of those glutamates,

all kind of coming together.

So 60 days, you could tell

the sauces have really just been infused

into the napa cabbage,

and it almost looks dry.

It's just taken on much deeper hues of crimson color,

and just really looks like something

that's like a halfway-dried apricot,

if you will.

In kimchi, it's actually good

to see something like this,

that's soggy.

It means that it's been properly brined,

and the seasonings and all of the balance of fermentation

have come together to make it so pliable

and delicious-looking.

This one-year-old kimchi,

you're not gonna find it at the stores.

It's either something you've gotta make yourself

and put away

or have a good kimchi connection.

This one-year-old kimchi

came from my mother's kimchi refrigerator.

It's a very big deal having a one-year-old kimchi.

This is an onggi.

It's a small one.

It is traditionally the way

in which you would put the kimchi in

and bury it underground.

It's a semi-porous membrane of clay

that Koreans really believe

create a ideal fermentation flavor.

About-a-year-old kimchi,

you start to see the leaves

even more sort of translucent and softer.

But interestingly,

the sauce itself really kind of turns into a consomme.

Yeah, so this is just really, really soft.

I would love to put this on top of a pork bossam right now.

Look at the difference between these two kimchi.

So I've got the seven-day here

and I've got the one-year.

And notice how just this has totally gone translucent

and more sort of a greenish tone.

And the seven-day is still white.

I think the color of the Gochugaru,

as it ages, it really becomes mellow as well.

But the color itself

gives off the prelude

to what it will taste like.

So we can see how much

the appearance of kimchi changes over time.

But we're gonna also see how the most dramatic changes

happen with smell and taste.

[mellow music]

Let's smell the seven days.

I could smell a little bit of that sourness,

a little bit of anchovies,

a little bit of chili flakes.

But mostly, I smell a lot of the sweetness

of the cabbage coming through.

And the sour smell

smells bright,

like citrusy, on my nose.

This 30-day-old kimchi

is a sensory explosion for my nose.

Like I'm getting leather.

I'm getting leather,

barnyard leather.

The Gochugaru and all of the seasonings

have sort of melding into this really complex composition.

And I almost smell like the smokiness

that's coming through

from the chili flakes.

You know, there is some fermented sour notes coming through.

Maybe not quite like a sherry vinegar.

Okay, so this is a 60-day-old jar

of Mother-in-Law's Kimchi

that we've been fermenting.

I wanna show you all the bubbles

and fermentation that's happening inside this jar.

When we open it,

it may pop, it may fizz,

it may even explode.

But this is all good.

It's part of fermentation.

Okay, look at all the bubbles!

Ooh, I can smell that.

It has a complexity now,

with the kind of the sour notes,

but also just this umami

and sweetness of the cabbage all coming together.

I'm getting some major anchovy and seafood.

I'm getting a brininess

and concentrated flavors

that all kind of come from the seasoning.

Most people are kind of surprised to know

that there's things like fish sauce

or that kimchi is not vegan,

but it's actually those components of the protein

that really work during fermentation

to bring out these glutamates

and these really complex flavors.

It's a brininess that's similar

to like a ocean water, like oysters.

Really incredibly complex flavors

that you wouldn't,

you wouldn't expect in a pickled vegetable.


So this one year old kimchi is so exciting,

'cause it doesn't even smell

anything like all the ingredients that I put in.

And it smells more like a vinegarette.

And yet it also smells like a little bit of tomato,

little mushroom.

It smells more like a kind of a cheesy,

like blue cheese.

I think it's incredible

that you've got a one-year-old kimchi,

and it doesn't even smell much like anything

that we put in

from the very beginning to make kimchi.

And then we get all these

kind of secondary transformation of smells

that can only come from fermentation.

So we went on a real journey,

from seven days to a year,

smelling all the different components of kimchi.

But the real test will be how they taste

once you put it in your mouth.

[upbeat music]

There's this terminology in Korean cooking

called son-mat, and it really means

as if your hands have taste,

'cause nothing is measured,

and everything is massaged

or using your hands.

And so it's really this love

that comes from this kind of making food with your hands,

such a reverence to vegetables

and particularly kimchi-making.

I remember my grandmother would take a leaf

of cabbage and then you would use your hand

to kind of cut it into strips like this,

because using a knife would really be damaging

and too harmful and violent.

Nowadays, for convenience sakes,

we have the kimchi scissors.

You know, this is just a great way

to cut your kimchi as you eat it.

And what this does

is releases all the amazing carbonation

that you get during that fermentation.


Little flavors of sweetness

from the cabbage coming through.

Still no sign of sourness at all.

Pleasant enough, but not really anything

that I would equate with kimchi.

So it's tasting more like a marinated vegetable

than a kimchi that you might know.

Let's taste this 30-day-old kimchi

and see what's happened.


Yeah, I'm getting really the tangy notes

that I associate with kimchi,

and I just wanna keep eating more

because it just brings all of the delicious umami notes

that are in the kimchi ingredients,

like we talked about,

that gochugaru really kind of fading in the background,

and I taste those sour notes,

but also just that kind of smoky notes

kind of coming in at the end.

Still, it has this kind of sourness

that is really like a crisp apple,

just something that is very pleasant,

like what you want in a pickle.

So here we are, tasting the 60-day kimchi,

and I'm super excited about this one.


It has so many different layers of umami flavors

that come from those seafood protein components,

just all these secondary flavors through fermentation

are really coming out

in this kind of meaty,

this kind of complex way.

I love this one.

It's just kimchi that I wanna sit down

and have with my favorite red Bordeaux or something.

It's a kimchi you can hang out with.

Okay, so now we're tasting the one-year-old.

I know I said that I smelled

some tomato-y, kind of mushroom-y,

and I just wonder

what it's gonna taste like in my mouth.

It just tastes so delicate.

All the flavors of that brininess,

but also the kind of tomato-y flavors

are kind of coming through.

It's like the 60 days

had so much concentrated flavor and personality

and then it took 10 months

to really kind of find its mellowness

and have this refinement

of everything kind of coming together.

I mean, look at the color.

It's just so exciting.

It looks like a consomme,

and it tastes, like I could taste my mother's son-mat.

Thanks, Mom.

[mellow music]

So the whole idea of fermentation

is to really try to transform what you've made

from a kimchi that's fresh and young,

much like a salad,

into these transitions

of mellowed balanced kimchi

that shine through only with time.

Just remember that no kimchi is ever the same.

Each bottle captures a time and place,

its own bacteria,

and it's just such a unique living live food.

So kimchi is better with age,

but for me,

somewhere right around 60 days is the sweet spot.

It's where just sort of the concentration of flavors,

the multidimensional texture,

and everything kind of comes together

to show me how good this kimchi is

and what it will continue to be.

And by the time you get to the one-year-old,

it's just seamlessly like a butter sauce.

But it's really the ultimate hallmark

of a properly fermented kimchi

that you can taste, in a year,

it's really come together as what kimchi can be.

Kimchi is something that is vital in Korean cuisine

and was part of a meal, every meal.

And there's a saying in Korea

that if you have kimchi and rice, you'll never starve.

[percussive music]