Low Salt Kim Chee the Easy Way & Sauerkraut

These pages are under development by the page author, no warranty implied.

Fermenting is a great way to preserve vegetables. The process creates lactic acid (not vinegar or acetic acid) which some say is healthy as a probiotic and at the very least adds zing to a meal. This last winter our big 2nd hand refrigerator broke down and the tumble mustard KimChee I had kept there for several years got thrown out in the snow. We stored it in the a box in the shade with temperatures over 100F on some days and by August it still tasted the same as when it had been in the refrigerator! When I was younger I was friends with a Korean family and really developed a taste for Kim Chee. Kim Chee can be made with almost any edible vegetable and my favorite is Dandelion Kim Chee (it's an acquired taste). I have even fermented beans with cabbage with cumin and other spices and added it to tacos. While living overseas none was available in the local supermarkets so I ordered the ingredients I needed online and made my own Kim Chee and Sauerkraut.

The first time I made Kim Chee myself I made a large batch following a recipe in a Korean cookbook which specified weights and volumes for different ingredients, in particular several cups of salt. Do not use volume, only use weight, to measure salt because different salts have different densities and small grain salts can be much denser than large grain salts. After this error, I wanted to have Kim Chee with as little salt as possible so I researched what is the ideal salt concentration for KimChee or Sauerkraut.

In short the scientific recommendation is 2% salt and adding more vegetable ingredients during fermentation or even using some already fermented vegetables as a starter is not advised as it changes the bacterial profile of the final product. Some beneficial bacteria thrive at the beginning of the fermentation process at a more neutral pH which grow and acidify the mixture which are then followed by beneficial acid loving bacteria which thrive at a lower pH. Some people have posted articles of making fermented vegetables without salt but in fact these are just rotted vegetables.


Making sauerkraut is easier so I made several batches of sauerkraut lowering the salt progressively till I reached 1.4% salt which worked great, but 1.2% had a peculiar taste. I recommend 1.4% salt as the lowest. Additionally if making KimChee the fish sauce contains 19% salt which should be subtracted to get the actual 1.4% final salt.

For sauerkraut juniper berries and caraway is traditional but you really don't need to add anything more than cabbage and salt. I suggest adding either pepper or juniper berries and carroway, not all three.

Sauerkraut Ingredients

Sauerkraut Instructions

Remove the outside leaves of the cabbage and wash and dry them if you wish to use them but do not wash the clean inner leaves which have beneficial starter bacteria on their surface. I normally buy several cabbages, shread into small strips, weigh the cabbage, adjust the amount of salt for weight of cabbage, and then add the salt. You may have to weigh in batches transferring between containers and pressing the leaves down. I put the shreadded cabbage in a large pot or flat bottomed plastic container sprinkle the salt and then mix, massage, squeeze the salt into the cabbage. Cover and let sit for 20-30 minutes and repeat as many times as needed till the liquid in the cabbage comes and and the cabbage can be pressed below it's own juices. Do not add water or brine at this point. Put the mixture into clear jars leaving 1.5-3 inches at the top, cover the top of the cabbage with plastic wrap and close the jar leaving the lid a little loose. The plastic is to help exclude oxygen which will cause the exposed part to discolor. If needed dissolve 14g of salt to 1 liter of water by heating, cool, and add this on top of the sauerkraut. Keep the jar between 70-80 F, no more than 80 F for several days to several weeks. At just below 80 this should start to bubble after 24-48 hours. During fermentation a lot of CO2 will be produced and push the vegetable mix upwards and it will necessary to crack the lid SLOWLY to release the CO2 a little at a time or push the mixture back down with a spoon. This is a good opportunity to take a sample of the surface liquid and get a taste (delicious and my favorite). Once it reaches the desired sourness keep it in the refrigerator preferably below 40F or it will slowly get more sour.

Kim Chee the Easy Way

Making Kim Chee the way it is supposed to be made involves cutting napa cabbage lengthwise, soaking in 3% salt, rinsing, drying, and spreading a mixture between the leaves. It has a nicer appearance, better texture, and is more work than this quick method. Some recipes include salted fish and salted shrimp but fish sauce can supply the needed aroma and is easier to prepare and measure. I have made this enough times I am going to supply this recipe from memory and try to remove the calculations as much as possible.

Kim Chee can also be made with radish and no cabbage where it is usually made a little sweet with sugar and not fermented as long. If fermented longer the sugar is converted to lactic acid making it even more sour. I have also made Kim Chee with wild tumble mustard, regular mustard, dandelion, regular garden radishes including the tops, beans mixed with cabbage, and sunchokes. Sunchokes or Jerusalem Artichokes are a drought tolerant vegetable that can cause flatulence and lactic acid fermentation is used to decrease the amount of inulin which causes flatulence.

Kim Chee Ingredient Notes

Kim Chee Vegetable Ingredients Kim Chee Other Ingredients Kim Chee Other Ingredients - less fish sauce alternative

Kim Chee Directions

Remove and wash the outer leaves but do not wash the inner leaves just as with sauerkraut but chop in pieces slightly larger than sauerkraut. Clean and chop the vegetables as directed above and combine and weigh together with the cabbage. If adding fresh chili leave this out for later since it can make your hands hot. Put the vegetables in a large flat bottomed container and add the salt massaging the salt into the vegetables. Let stand 20 minutes and continue till the vegetables can be pressed below the liquid same as with sauerkraut.

Add the fish sauce, green chilies, and chili powder and mix thoroughly. Pack into jars leaving 2-3 inches at the top, cover directly with plastic wrap, and put another plastic wrap over the top of the jar and secure with a rubber band or put the lid on loosely. It gets very difficult to remove the lid after the gas has expanded, and the plastic wrap under the lid will help stop it from sticking. Also Kimchee is very strong smelling and the plastic wrap helps prevent the aroma from escaping. Expect a strong fermented garlic smell, the usual comment around the house when releasing the gas is appropriately "Who let out the gas?" :) Try to exclude oxygen. The plastic wrap helps prevent exposure to oxygen which can causes an off taste and discoloration. Additionally the vegetables should be below the brine. If needed dissolve 14g of salt to 1 liter of water by heating, cool, and add this on top of the KimChee before under the first layer of plastic wrap. If making a big batch, use a large round plastic container with plastic wrap and with a weighted matching sized plate inside. Close the container as normal. Keep below 80 F for 2 - 18 days. The expanding gas will need to be released regularly and the vegetables can be pushed back down with a clean spoon which is a great opportunity to remove a little brine and put in a cup to taste the progress, it is a real treat!