How long does Kimchi last? This is a question that I get asked time and time again. Not just be people who follow my fermenting antics, but by friends and family who I invite (read...force!) to try these wonderful fermented foods I produce.
The answer to the question is, as usual....it depends. And it really does, this isn't just some 'get out of jail free' card that I play when I don't know the answer.
Kimchi, and indeed, most other fermented foods do have a shelf life. When I say this, I mean that nothing lasts forever, but the longevity of your kimchi will depend a lot on the environment it is stored in.
In this article, I'm going to give you the bare bones guide to Kimchi and how long you should keep it before throwing it in the bin. This assessment has to be done by you, using your senses and observational skills. Once you've read this short guide, you'll be able to feel confident making that call.
Take note right off the bat that many Koreans really like their Kimchi once it is aged, and we're talking 2-3 years +. This should give you some quick insight that Kimchi can last a very long time, but we need to be storing it appropriately. Read on to find out how...
Table Of Contents
- What Is Kimchi
- How Fermentation Works And Why This Matters
- How To Store Kimchi
- How Long Does Kimchi Last? - Your Questions Answered
- Does Kimchi Go Bad?
- Warning Signs Of A Batch Gone Bad
- What Is The Ideal Kimchi Storage Temperature?
- How Long Can Kimchi Go Unrefrigerated?
- How Long Can I Leave Kimchi In The Fridge?
- What To Do If Your Kimchi Tastes Fizzy
- It's A Wrap
- Recommended Fermenting Accessories
What Is Kimchi
Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish with Korean origins. Many Koreans love it and it is used as a condiment for many of their meals, and also as an ingredient to add to soups and other dishes.
Ingredients vary, but most Kimchi recipes include some form of cabbage, daikon radish, garlic, green onions, Korean spices, miso paste and fish sauce.
How Fermentation Works And Why This Matters
The fermentation process is one in which air is excluded from the ingredients and a huge variety of microorganisms and bacteria eat the sugars from the vegetables. Their waste products (sounds yuk, but don't stress it) include lactic acid, which is why fermented food has a tangy and slightly sour taste. Check out my article on how fermentation works if you fancy a bit of a geek out on this process.
By now, you probably realise that fermented Kimchi is a live product. Sure, some big, mainstream manufacturers pasteurize the end product to kill ALL the live cultures within it. This results in a product that probably tastes ok, but has none of those gut health promoting probiotic bacteria that are so lacking from our conventional diets.
It's hopefully fairly obvious that live products have some specific issues that your mass-produced, sterile foods don't. However, with a little knowledge and some care, live, raw fermented Kimchi and sauerkraut are by far some of the healthiest foods in the world.
So how do we look after them so that your Kimchi doesn't go bad and leave you with an upset tummy? It's all about production, storage, and a little common sense.
How To Store Kimchi
Fermented Kimchi will continue to ferment within certain temperature ranges. The higher the temperature, the faster fermentation takes place. At the other end of the spectrum, Kimchi that is refrigerated will result in fermentation virtually ceasing.
This is demonstrated when you make a batch of Kimchi in a fermentation crock. If you do it in the middle of summer, or in a room where that is warm, fermentation occurs rapidly.
If you make Kimchi and leave it out in a crock in your garage in the winter, you'll be waiting a lot longer for the finished product. Ideally, fermentation should take place in a temperature range between 65-72 degrees F. This is the ambient temperature for most homes.
A decent crock helps to maintain a good temperature range, check out my top crock recommendations here.
Additionally, we are always trying to keep the air out of our Kimchi, whether during the fermenting process in a crock, when it's transferred to jars to be stored AND when you're consuming it. Air and some of the bacteria in the air are the enemy of food, leading to spoiling and mold appearing.
So keep lids tightly secured.
How Long Does Kimchi Last? - Your Questions Answered
Does Kimchi Go Bad?
Yes, as with all foods, they can eventually go bad and not be fit for human consumption. Kimchi is no different. That said, Koreans believe that the best Kimchi is one that has been stored for a number of years. But of course, they are the masters of Kimchi production, so are going to be extremely skilled in the manufacture and storage process.
The salting that takes place at the start of the fermentation process keeps kills harmful bacteria while allowing the good ones to live. Salt preserves food and has been used for thousands of years.
The lactic acid that is a byproduct of the process also works to prevent harmful bacteria from thriving. But this is no reason to be complacent.
Here are a couple of useful indicators of whether you should keep or discard your fermented vegetables.
Warning Signs Of A Batch Gone Bad
Blue Mold - This is a surefire sign that something is wrong. You often hear people saying to just scrape mold off the top of the ferment and eat it. This is ok if you have a WHITE mold or film, which is just a type of yeast forming, and is harmless. But blue mold appearing indicates you should discard that jar and start on a new one.
I've rarely seen it happen. I keep my jarred Kimchi in a cool, dark place, and when I do open it to use, it goes into the fridge with a tight lid and is usually consumed within a week or so.
It's just a matter of common sense. If you wouldn't eat bread with mold on it, Kimchi should be no different.
However, there is a different type of 'film' that you may see on your Kimchi or sauerkraut that can be mistaken for mold, but really isn't.
A white film or 'mold-like' growths on the surface of your Kimchi are most likely Kahm yeast, a yeast which grows when the sugars in the ferment have been eaten up and the lactic acid reduces the PG in the jar/crock.
Kahm yeast (pictured right) looks very different from mold. Mold is fuzzy, fluffy and usually raised.
Kahm yeast on the other hand is white and can sometimes present as a thin film. In any case, it's harmless and can just be removed.
On the very rare occasions this has happened to me, I take a spoon and remove an inch layer from the top of the jar. But the takeaway from all this is....
If in doubt, take no chances and bin it!
What Is The Ideal Kimchi Storage Temperature?
The ideal storage temperature for Kimchi, once the fermentation process has completed to your taste (the right amount of tang for you).
The cooler you store it, the longer it will last. In the Korea of old, well before the advent of refrigeration, Kimchi was stored in crocks buried in the ground, where the temperature would maintain at just above freezing all winter long, really slowing the fermentation process to a virtual halt. The Kimchi would survive the winter well.
Refrigerated Kimchi will last longer, and just above freezing will give it the longest life. Don't freeze it. I did this by accident once and the vegetables just tasted watery afterwards.
A temperature range of 34 - 37 degrees F will keep your Kimchi in good condition.
How Long Can Kimchi Go Unrefrigerated?
When fermenting your own Kimchi from scratch, it needs to be at a temperature of 65-72 degrees F for the process to occur at a reasonable rate. It's a linear scale, the lower the temperature the slower, the higher the faster.
Once jarred, if you can't keep it in a fridge, then a cellar, cool area of a room or cupboard, or a garage will be fine. If you plan to eat it regularly, then leaving it in a cool place for a while works, but this isn't an open ended timescale. I'd always aim to get it in the fridge if I plan to leave it for more than a couple of weeks, unless the garage or cellar is really cool.
How Long Can I Leave Kimchi In The Fridge?
In our modern refrigerators, where we tend to maintain a temperature of around 37 degrees F (3 degrees C) one should aim to consume your Kimchi within 3 months or so. Once opened though, I never let if sit for more than a week to ten days, and always ensure the lid is tight after I've taken some.
What To Do If Your Kimchi Tastes Fizzy
Fizzy Kimchi is fine to eat. Sounds odd right? The fizziness occurs because the fermentation process creates gas, which, if not allowed to escape, will result in tiny gas bubbles in your Kimchi.
Some people love the fizz, I love it, especially when I am making milk kefir, but if you don't then put your jar of kimchi in the fridge, loosen the lid a little, and de-gas it.
It's A Wrap
That sums things up. Kimchi is a wonderful food to prepare and to eat. It's healthful, tastes frickin' awesome and lasts well provided you pay a little attention to your storage solutions. If food looks wrong or tastes bad, bin it. Simple as that. Kimchi can last a long time though, so get started with fermentation and enjoy!
Recommended Fermenting Accessories
Here are a few cool things that you might want to consider if you decide to start fermenting. I love my cabbage pounder and also have a shredder similar to the one below. I've used a knife for a long time, but the shredder speeds the process.
Himalayan salt is the best in my view, check out my article on the best type of salt for fermenting if you'd like to learn more.