Ask the Goats: Canning Kimchi?

Ask the Goats is a semi-regular Monday feature in which we, the goats, attempt to answer your food preservation questions. Got a question? Drop us a line at dorisandjilly@gmail.com.

Q. I would like to can kimchi so that it can be preserved without refrigeration and for longer periods. Is this possible? You have no information on your site.—Robin A.

A. Alas, no. All sources I’ve seen say that while it’s safe to can sauerkraut and fully fermented cucumber pickles, it is not a good idea to can kimchi. Although I have yet to find an extended explanation, there seem to be two separate issues. First, there’s the practical problem that kimchi is generally too fragile to withstand the heat of a water-bath processor. Fresh kimchi is delicious; boiled kimchi, not so much. But putting aside the texture, there’s also the question of acidity. In fully fermented foods, like sauerkraut, the lactic acid produced by the bacteria is strong enough to bring the acidity below a pH of 4.6—the magic number necessary to make a food safe for water-bath canning. The shorter fermentation period in kimchis, however, is usually not strong enough to ensure such a high pH.

There’s one other thing to consider. If you’re eating fermented foods for their health-giving properties, keep in mind that canning will kill the good bacteria along with the bad. Killing bacteria is, after all, the point of water-bath processing.

And finally, yes, you really should refrigerate your kimchi. I just had to throw out a batch that I’d been storing in my 55°F basement. I had hoped that the temperature would be cold enough to inhibit the growth of molds, but such was not the case. The kimchi at the very bottom of the jar was still edible, but the rest of it had an off-taste from mold spores that had dissolved in the brine. Another jar of fully fermented pickled green tomatoes, on the other hand, had been more successful at fending off the molds. Presumably the higher acidity level had something to do with it. Chalk it up to lessons learned.

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3 comments to Ask the Goats: Canning Kimchi?

  • John Schooler

    Just wanted to point out that I always see kimchi in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. I always figure if they can’t do it professionally, I shouldn’t try (and vice versa). Pressure canning would be another option, but would have all the same problems you mentioned with the water bath (basically boiling the cabbage). Perhaps a Korean cook will give us a better opinion…

  • mills

    Koreans, ferment their kimchi, for short periods, but also for years. Depends on what types of taste you like. Some restaurants in Korea take pride is serving kimchi that is a year old or more. They also like boiled kimchi in soups. You can get canned kimchi, as I have seen and tasted them. They didn’t taste great but were not bad, but I rather have the “fresh” version. Home canning I am not sure, but if you can, can sauerkraut you should be able to can kimchi. I wonder if the Ph of the peppers would require longer fermentation than that of sauerkraut? Not all kimchi is hot either, and not all made of cabbage. They have a white cabbage kimchi, that is pretty close to sauerkraut. hmmm maybe I am not so helpful…Sorry.

  • Chris

    I’ve been canning kimchee for years with no ill effect. In fact everyone loves it. A waterbath for 30 minutes will do the job by killing the bacteria that created the sour formented taste. If these bacteria are not killed then eventually the canning jars would blow up fromth4e gas build up. I believe that the National Center for Home Food Preserving people thank that people are stupid and can’t do things safely so they say no to a lot of canning processes like canning milk but if done properly, most anything can be canned by waterbath or pressure canning.

    Canning will kill the good bacteria along with the bad. Killing bacteria is, after all, the point of water-bath processing. The taste does remain but a “lot of the nutritional benefits will be gone”. The choice is yours.

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