Origin of Kimchi

The word of kimchi is a combination of the letter kim meaning to pickle and the letter chi meaning vegetables; kimchi prepared at the arrival of winter was called kimjang in Korean, whose origin is in that every household used to build a dugout for a kimchi pot and store it in soil. In other words, kimjang means to store the pickled vegetables long.

The firsthand record of kimchi dates back to the period of Koryo (918-1392). The History of Koryo (printed in 1451) wrote that parsley kimchi, bamboo shoot kimchi, radish kimchi and leek kimchi were set on circular altar at the time of a sacrificial rite to the gods of heaven and earth, which had been performed since 983.

Ri Kyu Bo (1168-1241), a poet of Koryo, wrote, seeing radish, cucumber, eggplant and green onion growing on the kitchen garden, as follows:


Pickled radish is a good dish in summer, Kimchi prepared for the winter

Can be eaten through all the winter days

These records give a glimpse of the public usage of kimchi in the diet of Koreans. The origin of kimchi, therefore, was from earlier than that. This is illustrated by the fact that radish and other vegetables, main ingredients of kimchi, and parsley, wild garlic, anise and stonecrop, which are mountain


herbs and edible grass usable for the materials of kimchi, had long been used in the food life. The Ancient Korea-founding tale said about garlic and the Chronicles of the Three Kingdoms wrote that when Ko Ju Mong, Founder King of Koguryo, the first feudal state in Korea, arrived at the Piryu River, he sensed, seeing vegetable leaves flowing down, that people lived in the upper side. All these records are proof to the cultivating of vegetables in the olden times, before the period of Three Kingdoms.

The wide use of salt in the diet from earlier days is also evidence to the long history of kimchi.

Salt not only gives saltiness to kimchi, but also ferments lactic acid to mellow it. However good the ingredients of kimchi may be, without salt those cannot be kept from spoilage and degeneration and kimchi cannot be made although it is added with the artificially-cultured lactic bacteria. This tells that salt is indispensable for preparing kimchi.

Some heavy saltiness arrests the growth of putrefactive bacteria so that vegetables can be stored long. This storing method of using salt is the processing method of kimchi.

The long history of kimchi is also shown by the fact that garlic and other major spices have been cultivated since the ancient time.

Garlic improves the flavour and enriches kimchi and restrains various germs and so helps it to be mellowed moderately.

The long tradition of kimchi is also proved by another fact that Koreans


had since long applied food-processing techniques in the diet, based on the fermenting principle.

In the primitive age liquor was yeasted and used, and in the period of the Three Kingdoms soy and bean paste, pickled shrimps, vinegar and other zymosis foods were widely used in the diet. These show that the food-processing method based on zymotechnics had been invented before then.

The long custom of using pots or jars for kimchi is a ground that kimchi dated back long before.

There are pots and jars unearthed as the relics of the neolithic era. A pot is seen in the mural of tomb belonging to the Koguryo period and the Pictorial Book of Koryo Ceramic, an old record, introduces large pots, too.

The pots were made from various materials and their sizes differed from one another. As for their forms, in the period of Ancient Korea there emerged a pot, bulged and narrow at the mouth, which was an agreeable container for zymosis goods. The living custom of Koreans who preserved a pot alone, though poverty-stricken, helps you conjecture that a kimchi pot was one of native chattels.

The big container implies the plenty of products as well as their long storage.

The Pictorial Book of Koryo Ceramic wrote that a water pot was big, but it is appropriate to consider that such a big pot would have been more


necessary for making soy and soybean paste or kimchi and storing them than for preserving water as long as clear water flowed everywhere in Korea.

The early existence of materials, techniques and means for processing kimchi offers a ground that there would have been a foodstuff corresponding to them. In the period of the Three Kingdoms kimchi was made in public, whose origin was in the ancient time. Needless to say, the then kimchi would have been similar to the present-day tongchimi (radishes pickled in salt water) as long as red pepper was not yet cultivated until then.

The Chronicles of the Ri Dynasty wrote that a dugout for kimchi was built in 1409, which allows us to have a knowledge of place of kimchi in the diet of Koreans in those days.

With the wide usage of red pepper and other various kinds of vegetables in the food life, kimchi-processing method was developed and new ones were invented.

As red pepper began to be grown during the late 16th century-early 17th century, various kinds of kimchi came into being and pickled shrimps were used for kimchi. The red pepper adds a peculiar flavour and fresh red color to kimchi, removes the fishy smell from pickles and restrains the acidifying of oiliness. That’s why, today, it is generally used for almost all kinds of kimchi and the pickled fishes are added to some kinds of kimchi as an auxiliary nutritive ingredient.

The use of pickled fishes considerably enriched the nutriment of kimchi


and allowed it to hold a special place in zymosis foodstuffs.

With the extensive cultivation of celery cabbage, it was used as a main ingredient for various kinds of kimchi together with radish.

The period of Ri Dynasty witnessed varied kimchi. The Forestry Economy, Library for Women, Reference for Women and Cuisines, the contemporary documents, introduced scores of kinds of kimchi.

Particularly, kimchi for the winter (from November to March next year) was made at one go, so it was called half-year provisions. Kimchi-making for the winter was an annual event of a special interest.

With the passage of years, kimchi became varied and improved in quality, assuming specific features by seasons and localities.

Being high-nutritious, in plenty of ingredients and easy in making, kimchi has become a popular dish, indispensable for every meal, and traditional dish, precious for each member of the Korean nation.