January 29, 2008

The Elephant of Kimchee


Among all the many loving discussions about the wonderful unique taste of kimchee, of it's health benefits, it's history, it's many forms, I've never heard discussed the one thing about kimchee that makes it truly fantastic. It's the one thing that differentiates your kimchee from my kimchee, no matter how equal our ingredients. That is, your Choom. SALIVA. Yours, your mom's, your siblings, your roommate's all add that truly unique ingredient, the actual stuff of fermentation that gives the kimchee it's flavor.

Now, of course, the little shrimp or oyster used in the kimchee begins the process but as anyone who finishes the smaller serving of kimchee kept in tupperware and goes back to original giant jar for more finds the original kimchee much less fermented, less ripened as we'd say. Now take that same kimchee and track it's distribution to different households and I daresay it tastes different in each home. (In my previous life without kids I'd love to try this experiment but will throw my hypothesis out there for anyone else to try!)

I guess it's the gross-out factor that prevents much talk about this say over dinner while you're actually eating it. (Yumm, your friend so-and-so really added something new to the kimchee..) But let me take a moment to parse out the gross bits and make an inquiry into the science of fermention...

The enzymes from your saliva act in the same way as the shrimp/oyster and foster the ripening of the kimchee from a stiff plain cabbage dressed with dried korean chiles and salt to a rich leafy cabbage, absorbed with the flavors of chile, salt and sugar. The salt forces the water out of the cabbage, the enzymes from the shrimp break down the cabbage cells, and the seasoning takes on the sharp piquant, almost vinegary flavor that defines korean kimchee. The enzymes from your saliva hasten this process in degrees, basically as much as you take the kimchee out of the fridge and eat some, and you get to experience the wonder of eating kimchee in many stages, culminating in hopefully a kick-ass stew, made best only with the most fermented, most enzyme-filled kimchee around. (Or as my sister says, leave that kimchee in the fridge until it becomes jigae all by itself!)

Enzymes, anyone?

posted at 10:27 AM by jenn

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01/29/08 07:45 PM


02/04/08 05:04 PM

yummy...kimchi with oysters...someone i know refuses to eat kimchi that has oyster in it...Becky's missing out...

02/05/08 02:29 PM

Hi just perusing your site through Becky's reference. But isn't saliva called Cheem not Choom?

02/05/08 10:14 PM

hmmm, could be. i only spoke korean as a first language until five years of age so this is entirely possible. i've also learned recently that a lot of words we used in our family seem to be unknown out there... most notable, jji-jji for dirty instead of ji-ji. i chalk this up to the fact that my grandparents are actually north koreans.

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