Why is there sugar in my kimchi?

I just noticed Mother in Law Kimchi has sugar. Why? Is it there for some reason is it like most prepared foods in this country where sugar is added for no reason at all?

  • Posted by: Pilar
  • June 30, 2019


sara D. July 17, 2019
The small amount of sugar - granulated sugar or fruit - feeds the bacteria during the fermenting process.
Valhalla July 1, 2019
I only add about a teaspoon to a recipe using an entire head of cabbage, so I don't sweat it. If you want to try making your own, Linda Ziedrich's is super easy and requires no special ingredients other than gochugaru, which you can get about anywhere these days.
Lori T. June 30, 2019
Traditional cabbage kimchi usually includes either korean pear or apple, for rounding out the flavors and balancing the salt/sour. I discovered this when living in Seoul, and asking Korean friends- via grandmothers and mothers- to teach me how. Some used pear, some used apple- some neither at all, a few used jujubes (a type of date), and one used a bit of honey. Some of them also would add in a spoonful of sugar if they felt it was needed. I was given the reason I just gave you. I imagine some of the mixers add in sugar because it's cheaper than the dates, pear or apple, and does a similar thing. I also think that the recipe varies enough that it's best to figure out which version you like best and just go with that. If you don't want to add in white sugar, don't . Opt for one of the other sweeter ingredients instead. You might also consider that while we use the word kimchi to refer to that spicy fermented cabbage stuff- the word actually denotes a class of fermented and preserved veggies of all sorts and colors. It's the equivalent of our word "salad", so to speak. So the premade kimchi pastes are also designed to allow a wide variety of veggies to be used, and some of those would benefit from a bit of sweetness.
Pilar June 30, 2019
Very helpful, thanks! I don't make kimchi (yet) I try to buy the best prepared one I can find. I used to buy Farmhouse Culture organic fermented veg (basically kimchi) from Whole Foods. It was fantastic. Then I found a huge dead beetle in a package!!

Wildbrine makes a decent looking kimchi with no sugar and: Napa Cabbage, Sea Vegetable, Chili Pepper, Green Onions, Water, Sea Salt, Sesame Seeds, Garlic, Ginger.

Is there a brand you can recommend? especially without sugar? (perhaps fruit to sweeten like you said)

Lori T. June 30, 2019
I tend to make my own kimchi, actually. There is a really great recipe and article here at Food52 about kimchi, and one from Maangchi that is good as well. I don't have a particular brand I can recommend, unfortunately. I live close to a really good Korean food store, complete with a kimchi making grandmother who keeps the shop stocked with a couple varieties depending on the season. I'd highly suggest you give making your own a try. You can always freeze any leftover kimchi spice paste mix, and just use what you need to make the size batch you want. Though I have to tell you, my taste buds prefer kimchi that includes salted shrimps, anchovy paste, daikon, carrot, green onions, and the Korean pear, plus the various seasonings in the paste. If you are vegetarian or vegan, I can see where that might be a problem. But whatever you choose, it will taste better if it's balanced by something to bring a sweetness- be that a fruit, honey, dates, or even the sugar. Some of the Koreans even use rice syrup or brown sugar- if that is less objectionable than white sugar. They would say it's a matter of a balance of tastes that is important, not so much what you use to get there.
Happygoin June 30, 2019
I think Gammy hit the nail on the head. Also, for those gochujang fans out there, Mother In Law brand is excellent.
Gammy June 30, 2019
Not seeing the recipe, my thought would be to temper the acidity and round out the flavor of the kimchi. I add a teaspoon of brown sugar to commercial sauerkraut for that reason.
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