Kimchi has become more mainstream in recent years, from Hallyu stars eating kimchi in dramas to being served as banchan in Korean restaurants. You may even have gotten curious enough to purchase a bag at the supermarket, where it’s widely available.
However, you may have discovered that you’re allergic to kimchi or just don’t like cabbage. But don’t write off kimchi completely, as there are more than 150 types of kimchi, from radish or mustard greens to cucumber-based varieties.
Kimchi is made with a wide array of vegetables, fruits, and seasonings, so even if cabbage is off the menu, there may be a kimchi to suit your personal taste. We’ve listed a handful of the more popular types of kimchi for you to give a second glance.
What is Kimchi?
Kimchi is a popular South Korean delicacy. It’s a salted and fermented vegetable pickle usually made with napa cabbage, though it can be made with any vegetable
This Korean side dish was developed as a method of preserving vegetables for the winter months. What began as a simple pickled cabbage in salty brine gradually evolved into the kimchi we know today, thanks to the addition of various spices and seasonings and using alternative fruits and vegetables.
Kimchi gets its sour, salty, and umami flavors from garlic, ginger, and gochugaru (Korean hot pepper powder), as well as its sharp acidity from fermentation. Other flavors, such as sweetness and tanginess, emerge as you savor each bite.
How is Kimchi Made?
Kimchi is achieved through lacto-fermentation, the same method used to make sauerkraut and traditional dill pickles.
When making kimchi, aside from following the steps, monitoring temperatures is also key to a good kimchi product. The ideal temperature is crucial because it encourages the growth of Weissella species, Lactobacillus species, and other bacteria that ultimately contribute to the fermentation process.
Kimchi ferments at room temperature in 1-2 or 3-4 days in the refrigerator.
- Core and then cut napa cabbages into quarters. In a large bowl, sprinkle it with salt then use your hands to massage the salt into the cabbage until it starts to soften a bit.
- They’re typically salted for 12 hours at a salinity of 5-7%, then for another 3-7 hours at a salinity of 15%. At the last stage, salt concentration ranges from 2-5%.
- Water is added to cover the cabbage then it is weighed down by a plate or jar. This curing process helps extract moisture from the vegetables and the salty brine kills harmful bacteria.
- The cabbage stands for 1 to 2 hours. This makes an almost uninhabitable environment for bacteria to grow save for Weissella and Lactobacillus bacteria which convert the sugars into lactic acid and preserve the cabbages while giving them that wonderful tang.
- Rinse under running cold water at least three times. Then the excess water is drained from the vegetables.
- Once they have dried slightly, other seasoning ingredients are added. Garlic, ginger, gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), and water are turned into a smooth paste. Other seasonings go into the mix depending on who is preparing it – sugar, fish, fish sauce, shrimp, or shrimp paste. As a rule of thumb, use 1 tablespoon for mild and up to 5 tablespoons for spicy kimchi.
- The heads of cabbage are then packed tightly in a container about 2/3rd full and left to ferment at room temperature (around 68F) for 1-2 days. Minimum air exposure.
- During this time, the cabbage begins to ferment and emit a large amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide). Taste it daily until it reaches your desired taste and texture.
- Transfer the kimchi to the refrigerator when it is ripe enough for your liking. You can eat it right away, but it tastes best after a week or two.
You can tweak the variety of spices and herbs to suit your liking. Some people add sweeteners to this traditional side dish, while others include a seafood flavor base for an umami punch. Traditional kimchi gains its signature umami flavor from seafood.
Fish sauce, salted shrimp paste, oysters, and other tiny types of seafood may be used in different regions and families. As you can see, numerous variables can have a significant impact on the flavor and texture of the dish, as well as the nutritional benefits it may provide.
Popular Types of Kimchi
Aside from personal taste, regions, temperatures, and other environmental factors have resulted in the development of over 150 different types of kimchi across Korea. Although varied, they all share two characteristics.
First is that they are all plant-based. Kimchi can be made from a single vegetable. There are numerous recipes and forms that use various fruits & vegetables such as cabbage, radish, and cucumber or a combination of several. The second difference is the salinity and fermentation process.
Baechu kimchi, kkakdugi, and nabak kimchi are the most common types of kimchi served in homes and restaurants, but there are countless more, and some variations may not even be documented.
Baechu Kimchi (OG Kimchi)
When you refer to kimchi in general, you’re referring to baechu kimchi. Although the dish can vary greatly, the majority of variations are made with whole salted Napa cabbages rinsed in water several times.
It’s then coated with a thick paste-y mixture of gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), garlic, onions, jeotgal (fermented seafood), fish sauce, and ginger. Other common additions include sliced radishes, carrots, or green onions, and some people cut the process short by using gochujang.
Baechu, like most kimchi varieties, is traditionally made in onggi—an ancient Korean earthenware suitable for fermentation. Traditionally, kimchi is fermented in onggi for a couple of days or longer to achieve its characteristic spicy-sour flavor.
This kimchi tastes tangy, sweet, salty, spicy, and crunchy. It’s commonly served as a side dish, but it can also be found in dishes such as kimchi fried rice and kimchi stew.
Nutritional Benefits of Kimchi
Kimchi boasts numerous vitamins, minerals, and probiotics that offer various health benefits. These have been scientifically proven, raising global interest in this traditional Korean food.
Kimchi is high in beta-carotene and other antioxidant compounds, which can help lower the risk of serious health conditions like stroke, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Kimchi is also packed with vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin A, B Vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin K2, Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium, and Iron.
All these nutrients can lead to boosting immunity, slowing the aging process, aiding in weight loss and preventing anemia, and keeping your bones from becoming brittle.
Kimchi is sold in convenience stores in Korea and supermarkets around the world, available in a variety of types and packaging sizes. It’s also fun and easy to make at home whenever you feel the need to stock this highly nutritious side dish.
How to Use Kimchi
Kimchi is a must-have banchan at any Korean meal. In Korean cuisine, banchan are small side dishes served with a main meal. While they are typically served as side dishes, they are almost as important in Korean cuisine as main courses.
Some Koreans believe that a meal is incomplete without kimchi & white rice, a phrase I heard many times over my years in Korea. There’s even a National Kimchi Day held every November in Korea.
You can enjoy kimchi with pretty much anything. This fermented vegetable dish is a versatile condiment that can be eaten alone, straight out of the jar. It can also be enjoyed with a bowl of rice or a big bowl of soup, though it’s uncommon when enjoying Korean street food.
Kimchi can be served alongside your favorite Korean BBQ or combined with almost any other Korean main dish. It’s even used to flavor many Korean dishes, especially stews.
Additionally, you can get creative with your sandwiches and pile on the kimchi atop other ingredients. A jar of kimchi can keep in your fridge for a long time, and there are countless ways you can use it. Here are some of our favorites:
- Kimchi fried rice
- Use it to flavor stews like kimchi jjigae or pair it with noodle soup like in those Korean dramas
- Make kimchi dumplings or pancakes
- Best with Korean BBQ in a rice or grain bowl
- Creamy Kimchi Dip
- Flavor your eggs with kimchi
- With a side dish like gochujang brussels sprouts
- Use the liquid to turn dipping sauces into flavor bombs like a kimchi aioli
- Use kimchi to amp up your burgers or sandwiches
9 Best Alternatives to Cabbage Kimchi
This traditional Korean dish is not a staple in many homes, except if you usually stock Asian ingredients. This side dish is not just great to keep in the fridge because it’s healthy and tasty, but also because of its versatility.
However, you’ve come here because you’re looking for cabbage kimchi alternatives and that’s exactly what we’ve got lined up for you. From radish and green onion kimchis to other leafy greens, check out this list a cabbage-free kimchi that you’ll love.
Pa Kimchi (Spring Onion Kimchi)
Green onions (scallions) are the main ingredient in this fermented vegetable dish, and both the white and green parts are included. After cleaning, the onions are coated in a spicy paste mixture of chili flakes, fish sauce, ginger, garlic, and anchovy sauce.
The paste can be made with a rice flour base if desired, and sesame seeds are typically sprinkled on top as a garnish. Pa kimchi tastes best in the spring when green onions are in season. It is most flavorful when fully ripened, just like a traditional kimchi.
This easy-to-make Korean side dish has many nutritious benefits from antimicrobial, antioxidative, antimutagenic, anticarcinogenic, and anti-obesity, to anti-diabetic properties.
Green onions are a common medicinal herb used to treat viral infections, the flu, and the common cold. Each part of the onion has numerous health benefits. Kimchi of any kind is extremely beneficial to one’s health, particularly one’s gut health, as long as you don’t have histamine issues.
This side dish is the right balance of spicy, salty, and umami. It’s worth giving it a try to see if it will change your mind about kimchi. When you’re feeling adventurous, here’s a recipe for you to try making pa kimchi at home.
Kkakdugi or Mu Kimchi (Diced Radish Kimchi)
This kimchi variety uses radishes instead of napa cabbage. As common local produce, radish was the first vegetable fermented by Koreans thousands of years ago. Kimchi was not made with cabbage until the Joseon dynasty, when it was introduced to Korea during trade with other Kingdoms.
This root vegetable is rich in antioxidants and minerals. They’re known detox agents for the body, promoting overall wellness and boosting immunity.
Radishes aid in improving liver and stomach functions, prevent gut cancer, purify the blood and increase oxygen into the bloodstream, and maintain bone, skin, and hair health. Additionally, fermented radishes’ health benefits include lowering cholesterol levels, improving vision, aiding in weight loss, and anti-aging.
To prepare kkakdugi, radishes are diced and then soaked in a brine solution. After a few hours, they’re rinsed and then coated in a spicy paste mixture. This flavoring is typically a combination of gochugaru, garlic, green onions, and ginger before being left to ferment for a couple of days.
Fermented radishes are a popular banchan, which pairs well with soup dishes like noodle soup or vegetable soup. Discover its refreshing sweet, sour, spicy crunch when you have a piping hot bowl of soup in front of you.
Chonggak Kimchi (White Radish Kimchi)
Chonggak kimchi or altari kimchi is made from a rare white radish with long leafy stems. It’s made with chonggak mu, a small variety of white radish with long leafy stems that makes for a popular type of kimchi in Korea.
This small variety of white radishes is firmer and crunchier than the larger varieties. It’s distinguished by its long “ponytail” (like a hairstyle) of greens that is left on and eaten alongside the root.
This radish is also known as “bachelor radish” (chonggak means “bachelor”) because its tail resembles the traditional hairstyle worn by young unmarried men in Korea. The radish is tender and crisp, with little pungency.
It typically grows to be 2-3 inches long and 1 inch wide. Small to medium radishes with smooth skin and fresh, tender green leaves are ideal. Chonggak kimchi is made with the entire radish, stem, green leaves, and all.
This way, you can serve the pieces of kimchi whole or cut them into smaller pieces. The salting time varies according to the size/thickness of the radishes as well as the salt used. This type of radish kimchi doesn’t even need to be salted all the way through.
Kimchi tastes better if you don’t draw out all of the water content of the radish by oversalting it. Fresh radish kimchi tends to be both spicy and bitter before fermentation, so this type of kimchi tastes best when it is well-fermented.
The combination of a crunchy radish and soft yet pleasantly chewy stems distinguishes and enhances the flavor of this cabbage kimchi alternative. Chonggak kimchi can be served with any meal, but it is especially delicious with soups.
Yeolmu Kimchi (Young Radish Greens Kimchi)
Yeolmu kimchi is the most popular summertime kimchi in Korean cuisine, both at home and in restaurants. Yeolmu is a type of young summer radish greens, a white radish variety with tender, long greens and a thin, small root.
Although yeolmu have small and thin taproots that are rarely used, its thick and abundant green leaves are constantly used to make yeolmu kimchi throughout the summer and spring in Korea. When young summer radish greens are salted, their volume decreases significantly over the course of a few days.
Choose radish greens with slightly plump stems and dark green leaves. If the roots are too thin and tiny, you can cut them off or use them regardless. Handle the greens with caution because once bruised, they will impart an unwelcome grassy flavor to your kimchi.
This fermented food promotes gut health by increasing the number of beneficial bacteria, as well as lowering cholesterol and boosting the immune system. Koreans enjoy this crunchy and refreshing yeolmu kimchi in their bibimbap or naengmyeon and so do we!
Because radish greens have a strong peppery flavor, young cabbage leaves are frequently added to this unusual kimchi variety for a touch of sweetness. When added, young napa cabbage gives yeolmu kimchi a different texture and flavor.
If you’re specifically looking for kimchi without cabbage, look for yeolmu kimchi with only radish greens.
Buchu Kimchi (Garlic Chive Kimchi)
Buchu kimchi or garlic chive kimchi is another cabbage kimchi swap to try. It’s typically made with Korean garlic chives, which are more thin and tender than their more common Chinese counterparts.
Also known as Chinese or Asian chives, these greens have a distinct flavor that differs from most other types of chives. At this stage, the leaves are tender and fragrant, making them ideal for making kimchi.
Garlic chives that are thin and slim produce the best results. Buchu kimchi can be eaten immediately or left to sit for a couple of weeks, developing umami flavors which will develop much more if fermented for a longer period.
With a more zesty, onion flavor, these garlic chives need very little to become kimchi — rice flour, gochugaru, and a splash of fish sauce. Garlic chives don’t need to be pre-salted either.
The spicy paste is gently massaged onto the garlic chives, then allowed to ferment at room temperature for a couple of hours, and the kimchi is ready!
This dish is popular in the spring and summer when garlic chives are most plentiful. Garlic chives are known to relieve heat in our bodies, making this kimchi the ideal warm weather side dish. This notably tangy and spicy kimchi variety pairs well with meat dishes.
Oi Kimchi (Cucumber Kimchi)
Oi kimchi (oh-ee-kim-chee) or cucumber kimchi is a popular side dish, especially during the hot summer in Korea. Cucumbers are frequently misclassified as vegetables when they are, in fact, a fruit. These fruits are members of the Cucurbitaceae plant family, which includes squash, pumpkin, and watermelon.
Cucumbers originated in South Asia but are now grown all over the world, much like other popular types of squash. They’re high in phytonutrients (plant chemicals with anti-inflammatory or disease-fighting properties) and naturally low in calories, carbohydrates, sodium, fat, and cholesterol.
Because it is composed of 95% water, cucumber keeps you hydrated and satisfied. Cucumbers contain a plethora of beneficial microbes and these probiotics aid in the proper balance of your gastrointestinal tract.
Antioxidants such as vitamin C, beta-carotene, and manganese boost immunity and promote gut health. Cucumber kimchi is a variation of the traditional baechu kimchi. Some recipes even don’t rely on a long fermentation process, making it as easy as tossing together a simple salad.
It’s ideal for hot summer days when you need a quick side dish, or to top a bowl of rice with some fish or chicken. Even though the dish is spicy, the juicy cucumbers keep it cool and refreshing.
There’s a crunchy texture, bold tangy flavors, and a fiery edge to this kimchi that kimchi fans looking to branch out from the traditional cabbage version will enjoy. Oi kimchi adds a delicious and refreshing flavor boost to sandwiches, salads, and grilled meats, and can be served either at cold or room temperature.
Gat Kimchi (Mustard Greens Kimchi)
Gat kimchi, also known as mustard leaves kimchi, is not your typical kimchi. If you prefer something other than baechu kimchi, this pungent, crunchy, and tastier kimchi might be for you.
It’s not only flavorful but also nutritious. Green and red mustard leaves are two of the most nutritious greens you can eat, and we’re fortunate to have them as one of the kimchi varieties available.
Gat is a nutritious plant, widely used in Korea and parts of China. The sharp, earthy, peppery, and pungent leaves are combined with fish sauce, red pepper, garlic, onion, and ginger to create a strong and distinct flavor. The coarse, broad leaves resemble kale and have a crunchy texture.
It has many health benefits, is high in fiber, is a great detox agent, and is low in calories. It has antioxidant and immune-boosting properties, is high in Vitamin K, and may have anti-cancer properties. Also, mustard leaf kimchi is a great food for gut health— again, as long as you don’t have SIBO or histamine issues.
This different type of kimchi is made with mustard leaves and stems that have been coated in a spicy mixture of gochugaru, ginger, garlic, and finely sliced scallions before being fermented in the traditional salt brine. The dark greens are coarsely chopped before being coated in the paste and later fermented.
Because mustard leaves are already pungent, this kimchi is extra spicy. Gat kimchi is frequently served as traditional Korean banchan and is perfect with grilled meats or in stews.
Nabak Kimchi (Red Water Kimchi)
Try nabak kimchi as an alternative to cabbage kimchi. It’s a mildly spicy variety of Korean mul kimchi (water kimchi). The name “nabak” comes from the technique of slicing radish into a thin, square shape, as well as the sound made when chopping the radish: “nabak-nabak.”
It’s made with salted diced radish that’s then combined with water and other seasoning ingredients. These generally include Korean pears, onion, garlic, and gochugaru, all of which are used to make delicious water kimchi.
It’s ready to eat in a few days and only keeps for a week or two, but the tangy flavor develops as it sits and ferments. Some people add thinly sliced carrots, green onion, ginger, and Chinese cabbage (baechu) to the pink or orange-tinted fermenting liquid.
Nabak kimchi has a mild & refreshing flavor with a hint of saltiness, ideal for hot weather. It complements any Korean dish, such as tteokboki or roasted sweet potatoes. Its light flavor complements oily and grilled foods, so it’s commonly served on Korean New Year’s.
Dongchimi (Radish Water Kimchi)
Dongchimi or winter kimchi is a popular winter side dish made with Korean radish. This other type of water kimchi is often prepared before wintertime in Korea, using radishes harvested in fall. Autumn radishes are said to be crisper, plumper, and sweeter than any other type.
Just like nabak kimchi, it’s a good alternative to cabbage kimchi if you don’t like cabbages or anything too spicy. Depending on the radishes, which are naturally spicy, you get only a tinge of heat. But there’s no gochugaru needed for this kimchi, and any other types of peppers are totally optional.
Radishes are high in nutrients and fiber, and contain a lot of antioxidants. They also help with digestion, control blood pressure, and boost immunity.
When you find radishes with a larger green portion and a smaller white portion, they are usually sweeter and better for dongchimi. The small (palm-sized) oval radishes are sliced, salted, and combined with plenty of water, red or green peppers, garlic, ginger, and chunks of Korean pear.
Dongchimi tastes like a light and refreshing cold clear soup. There’s a slightly bittersweet taste thanks to the small radishes combined with a sweet and salty brine which brings out fruity, tangy, and savory flavors.
One sip of dongchimi broth will inevitably lead to you drinking more of the delicious fizzy sweet-sour liquid. Dongchimi can also be used as the base for a dish of cold noodles known as dongchimi guksu, or enjoyed with rice in the broth.
Dongchimi is typically served as a side dish alongside a main course. It can be enjoyed as an appetizer with porridge or Korean BBQ, where it’s often served as a complimentary side dish in Korean BBQ restaurants.
You can also make this Korean cold noodle soup (dongchimi guksu) with the fermented dongchimi broth.