This side dish of spicy, bubbly, funky pickled vegetables is such a staple in Korea that no meal is considered complete without it—and recently, kimchi has found its way into burgers, pasta, grilled cheese, and even tacos. In this episode, we trace the behind-the-scenes story of the “kimchi diplomacy” that turned Korea’s favorite fermented cabbage into an international food trend. And then, because we’re Gastropod, we take part in our very own cutting-edge science experiment to understand one of kimchi science’s most mysterious questions: Where do the microbes that transform the sugars in cabbage into such tangy, savory flavors actually come from? Is it our hands? The soil? Or could the secret to all that deliciousness actually lie in the stomachs of beetles and bugs? Listen in this episode for kimchi secrets, kimchi explosions, and a little bit of kimchi K-pop, too.
“Koreans traditionally have kimchi at all three meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” the food ethnographer Kevin Kim told us. Some scholars say the true origin of kimchi lies in China and Chinese fermented vegetables, while others point out that the chili pepper that gives most kimchi its distinctive spiciness is a New World ingredient. But kimchi is so quintessentially Korean that, according to the historian Michael Pettid, as early as 2,000 years ago, Chinese records remarked on the special fondness that people living on the Korean peninsula had for fermented vegetables.