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  • Writer's pictureChristopher Grant

White Kimchi - Food of Kings

White Kimchi (Baek Kimchi) is a non-spicy kimchi variety that tastes mild and refreshing, generally served cold.

It’s particularly popular amongst spicy food cautious people. Baek kimchi is a favourite summer dish, sometimes served on shaved ice.

The Beginning

Korean winters are from December to February and on average -6 to -3 degrees celsius. Korea is also mountainous with few good growing plains. This makes food preservation during the cold months very important. When early Koreans started an agricultural lifestyle, they ate salted vegetables to aid in the digestion of grains. The grains back then consisted of barley and millet. Rice was introduced much later.

This salting of vegetables turned into a preservation art. It was not only used to make pickles. Koreans started preserving soybeans, making them into a paste (doenjang) and into a sauce (ganjang, soy sauce).

The Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C. – 668)

A Chinese history book written in the 3rd century says, “The people of Korea are very good at making fermented foods such as wine, soybean paste, and chotkal (salted and fermented fish).” Early kimchis were mainly radishes dipped in paste or salted in brine.

Koryeo Period (918-1392)

During this period, more vegetables were being brought in, including pine mushrooms, large radishes, and the famous Chinese cabbage.

The first known written record about kimchi itself was in the middle of the Koryeo Dynasty. The types of vegetables used in kimchi expanded during the Koryeo Dynasty. Cucumbers, wild leeks, Indian mustard leaf, and bamboo shoots found their way into kimchi pots. The “juicy” style of kimchis also came into being. This is also the time that garlic and some spices were introduced.

The Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910)

Kimchi developed during Korea’s longest dynasty. Salt was no longer the only preservative. Kimchis were also being preserved in soy sauce. The king’s table would have cabbage kimchi, water kimchi, and Ggakdugi (tiny cubed radish kimchi).

Usually the royal household had meals served five times a day: restorative medicine of rice gruel or porridge in the early morning; a royal breakfast table at around 10am; a simple meal in the afternoon; a royal dinner table at around 5pm; and a simple meal at night.

The royal table called surasang, was served with 12 dishes, including rice and soup, as well as stew, hot pot, kimchi and sauces. Both white rice and sweet rice were served, and the most common soups were miyeok guk (seaweed soup) and gomtang (beef bone soup).

Japan’s Toyotomi Hideyoshi attempted a few failed invasions of Korea from 1592-1598. Korea at the time was closed off to the world except for China. The Portuguese introduced foods to East Asia from the Americas, including potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, and chilli peppers.

Korea was introduced to these New World ingredients, though it is still disputed that the Hideyoshi invasions themselves introduced chilli peppers or they were brought in from China. Whichever is correct red chilli peppers were heavily used within a hundred years of the invasions. This totally changed the fermentation methods and the look of kimchi.

Skillful kimchi makers were adding animal proteins to their kimchis. Pheasant was mentioned back in 1670. In 1803, the Gyuhab Cheongseo, a reference book, for women, recommended using fermented fish in kimchi.

Tongbaechu Kimchi, the whole cabbage kimchi everyone is conversant with, was created sometime after 1800. It became the most popular style of kimchi, replacing the radish, cucumber, and eggplant.

By 1827, there were 92 different types of kimchi. Today there are over 200.

A traditional and faster version for making White Kimchi:


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