What Is Kimchi Soup?

Rebecca Cartwright

Kimchi soup is a traditional Korean thick soup or stew. In Korea it is called kimchi jjigae, which can be translated as "kimchi soup" or "kimchi stew." It may also be written with the alternate transliteration of kimchi, as "kimchee soup." This is a thick sour and spicy soup which takes its signature flavors from kimchi, a spicy fermented vegetable relish often compared to sauerkraut. Though widely available in restaurants, kimchi soup is often described as a home-cooked comfort food.

Chili peppers are a key ingredient in kimchi.
Chili peppers are a key ingredient in kimchi.

Many recipes for kimchi soup recommend using older kimchi, which has fermented longer and therefore has a stronger flavor. Adding kimchi juice to the soup further increases the flavor. The kimchi is drained and shredded before being added to the cooking pot and simmered along with the other ingredients. As is common with home recipes, there are many variations of kimchi soup but most versions use kimchi and kimchi juice with pork, tofu and onions.

Some recipes for kimchi soup can be made using the broth from anchovy and kelp.
Some recipes for kimchi soup can be made using the broth from anchovy and kelp.

Seasonings for kimchi soup usually include garlic, soy sauce and rice wine. Another important flavoring ingredient is doenjang, a Korean fermented soybean paste similar to Japanese miso. Some modern recipes call for miso, rather than doenjang, because miso has a lighter flavor which some believe blends better with the other ingredients. Gochujang, a Korean seasoning made from rice flour, fermented soybeans and chili peppers can be used in place of doenjang if a spicier flavor is desired.

Kimchi soup is sometimes made with beef or seafood in place of the pork. Two popular seafood versions are chamchi kimchi jjigae, which uses tuna; and kongchi kimchi jjigae, which is made with Pacific saury, an ocean fish sometimes called mackerel pike. Some recipes call for making the soup with an anchovy and kelp broth for deeper flavor. Another popular addition is small tteok, the beaten rice cakes used in many Korean dishes. They are soft and chewy and absorb the flavors of other ingredients.

A stoneware pot is the traditional cooking vessel, which allows the soup to simmer for long periods without burning. One possible substitute is an enameled cast-iron kettle. Most recipes call for at least 35 to 45 minutes of simmering to fully develop the flavor of this soup. Kimchi soup is often placed on the table in the pot it was cooked in. The soup can be served as is, but some recipes call for garnishing it before serving with items such as chopped green onions or sliced chili peppers.

Kelp is used in some kimchi soup recipes.
Kelp is used in some kimchi soup recipes.

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