The Korean-born kimchi dates back to the 7th century, when it was a way of pickling and preserving mild-tasting vegetables. It wasn't until the 16th century when chiles were introduced into Korea that kimchi changed its mild profile to one that was spicy. Today's extraordinarily pungent spicy-hot condiment is served at almost every Korean meal, though kimchi is fast becoming popular in many upscale restaurants as well as with health-food enthusiasts. Kimchi is comprised of a combination of vegetables (such as cabbage, carrots, radishes or turnips) and flavorings such as garlic, ginger and green onions. Sometimes small pieces of fish (such as baby shrimp or anchovies) are added to the mix. The ingredients are pickled together before being fermented. There are hundreds of kimchi recipes, which vary from region to region and change seasonally, depending on what fresh ingredients are available. In Korea, for example, wintertime kimchi is based primarily on chinese cabbage and has very hearty characteristics that Koreans savor during the long, cold months. On the other hand, summer foods such as radishes and cucumbers create lighter, fresher kimchi flavors for hotter weather. Kimchi is also used as a component for soup, rice and other dishes. Commercial kimchi can be purchased in Korean markets and natural food stores. It's usually in glass jars in the refrigerated section, and it will keep indefinitely in the fridge. Koreans use kimchi paste (also called gochujang) as a seasoning when making kimchi and as a table condiment to flavor dishes. It's a mixture of garlic, red chili peppers, fermented soybean paste (see miso), glutinous rice flour and other flavorings. It's also available in Korean markets.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.