Can You Use Any Type Of Cabbage For Kimchi? (With Recipes)


Have you ever wondered if you can make Korean kimchi with regular green cabbage? It can be difficult to source Napa (Chinese) cabbages in certain areas and in the summer. Kimchi is a staple in my household as it is packed full of nutrition and flavor. When I started making kimchi, I wondered if you can use any type of cabbage to make it.

You can use any variety of cabbage to make Kimchi. You can shorten the salting process if not using Chinese cabbage as regular cabbage is less dense, requiring a shorter brine. Feel free to use leafy greens like Swiss chard or Bok choy in your kimchi.

Let’s look at what types of cabbage can substitute Napa cabbage in kimchi. Besides cabbage, kimchi can incorporate many types of vegetables. Read on to find out what other vegetables can be used in kimchi – and some good recipes I’ve found.

What Type Of Cabbage Is Used For Kimchi?

The most common type of kimchi is baechu kimchi which is made with Napa cabbage. In Korea, Napa cabbage is known as baechu hence the name baechu kimchi. This cabbage is also known as Chinese cabbage around the world.

Napa cabbage comes from the Beijing region in China. Napa cabbage is widely used in East Asian cuisine. We have been cultivating Napa cabbage in the western world since the 20th century. 

Napa cabbage is much stringier than regular green cabbage and therefore is more suited to the lactic acid fermentation process in making kimchi.

See the recipe for traditional baechu kimchi.

Is Kimchi Always Made With Napa Cabbage?

Kimchi can be made with different cabbages or other vegetables. It is the popular baechu kimchi that must use Napa cabbage which gives it its distinctive taste and texture.

In true Korean style, kimchi is a very versatile dish. Because this dish has been eaten widely in Korea for many centuries, many generations of Koreans have had to improvise ingredients for this popular side dish.

In times of famine and political instability, it would have been difficult to source specific ingredients, and people had to get by with what they had. Koreans started immigrating to the US in the late 1800s. With them, they brought their rich food culture. 

When the first Koreans landed in the US, there was no Napa cabbage being cultivated in the US. Korean immigrants soon learned that one could use green cabbage to make Kimchi. 

Because green cabbage is less fibrous than Napa cabbage, the salting process for green cabbage is considerably shorter than the salting process for Napa cabbage. Green cabbage only needs an hour or two of salting to soften and bring out the flavor of the cabbage.

You can certainly make Kimchi with green cabbage if you can’t get hold of Napa cabbage in your area. Even some very traditional Korean American families opt for green cabbage in Kimchi to save time.

When green cabbage is used, it is called Yangbaechu Kimchi (yangbaechu means western cabbage) – you can find a recipe for here – yangbaechu kimchi recipe.

Can You Use Any Type Of Cabbage For Kimchi?

You can use other types of cabbage in kimchi such as green, savoy, red or other greens like Swiss chard or Bok choy. The flavor and texture will be different from traditional kimchi made with Napa cabbage but is still delicious.

Green cabbage (also known as white cabbage) is an excellent substitute for Napa cabbage in Kimchi. Green cabbage is an easy alternative when Napa cabbage is not in season. You can also use green cabbage for “instant” or quick Kimchi as it takes much less time to salt it.

Savoy cabbage is also great in Kimchi. This cabbage resembles green cabbage in flavor and nutritional value. Savoy cabbage is round, green in color, with very veiny textured leaves. Use savoy cabbage in Kimchi as you would green cabbage.

Red cabbage makes a very brightly colored Kimchi. The purple color of the cabbage will stain the other vegetables in the recipe and give the whole dish a lovely purple hue. Use red cabbage in Kimchi in the same way you would green cabbage.

You can also substitute Napa cabbage with leafy greens such as Swiss chard and Bok choy

Radishes are great Napa cabbage substitutes. Radishes of all varieties have a satisfying crunchy texture with a sharp, crisp flavor. 

There are over one hundred Kimchi recipes. Not all Kimchi recipes actually require cabbage at all. If you want to experiment with Kimchi then check out one of these 15 easy kimchi recipes.

How To Substitute Green Cabbage For Napa Cabbage in Kimchi

You can substitute green cabbage for napa cabbage in kimchi and reduce the time needed to salt the cabbage. Napa cabbage needs 6-8 hours to absorb salt while the green cabbage only needs 1-2 hours until its had enough salt.

Green cabbage is waxier but less fibrous than the traditionally used Napa cabbage. It makes kimchi that is crunchier but is quicker to make. You just need to salt until the leaves become bendable and this happens much faster with green cabbage.

This brings the preparation time of Kimchi down considerably. Some people prefer to make “instant” Kimchi, and green cabbage is perfect for this type of Kimchi.

Yangbaechu is the Korean name for green cabbage and translates to “Western” cabbage.

See the recipe for green cabbage kimchi – yangbaechu kimchi recipe.

Differences Between Napa Cabbage And Green Cabbage

Green cabbage (or white cabbage) is the most common type of cabbage in the world. It is around ball-shaped cabbage with a tightly packed leaf. 

Napa cabbage (or Chinese cabbage) is lesser-known in the western world. Napa cabbage has an oblong shape with a frilly green leaf. The shape and color are not the only differences between Napa and green cabbage.

Green cabbage has a softer, more delicate flavor than Napa cabbage. On the other hand, Napa cabbage has a stronger, almost peppery flavor. Both are suitable for eating raw or cooked.

Green cabbage has a much higher water content than what Napa cabbage has. Napa cabbage, however, has more fiber than green cabbage.

Both of these types of cabbage become sweeter when they are cooked.

Cucumber kimchi

What Other Vegetables Can Be Used In Kimchi?

Firm, crunchy vegetables work best in kimchi. Besides cabbage, kimchi recipes can also include radish, beet, cucumber, onion, scallions, eggplant, carrots, chili peppers, celery, bamboo shoots, and apples.

There are over a hundred traditional Korean kimchi recipes. Kimchi can be made with many different types of vegetables. 

Don’t be afraid to improvise with a kimchi recipe. Kimchi is very forgiving and versatile. Feel free to add any vegetables that you might have lurking in the fridge. Because kimchi is a fermentation, making kimchi from vegetables will keep them edible for longer.

Can You Make Kimchi With Any Vegetable?

It is best to use firm vegetables that are high in fiber for kimchi. Firm vegetables will hold their shape better for longer in the fermentation process. As a rule of thumb, only make kimchi with vegetables that are safe to eat raw. E.g. Avoid potatoes or pumpkins.

Recommended Kimchi Recipes

Here is a selection of kimchi recipes using different cabbages and different vegetables:

What To Eat Kimchi With

In Korea, kimchi is eaten every day. It can be a side dish to almost anything, or it can be incorporated into the cooking process. Kimchi is nutritious, delicious, and very versatile. Alongside Asian dishes, here are some more ways to eat kimchi.

  1. Kimchi is delicious on its own. You can eat Kimchi straight out of the jar, or you can strain the liquid out and serve chopped as a canape with toothpicks.
  2. Kimchi is a perfect companion to rice. You can stir some finely chopped Kimchi into steamed rice or add right at the end of making fried rice.
  3. Kimchi is great on french fries! Like I had at my last trip to a Korean fusion restaurant.
  4. Serve Kimchi on a grain bowl. Korean Bibimbap is very similar to the grain bowls that are currently trending. You can spice up any variety of grain bowls by adding Kimchi. 
  5. Incorporate Kimchi in fritters or pancakes. Add chopped Kimchi to your batter and fry as you would pumpkin fritters or the like. 
  6. Incorporate Kimchi into a braise. Braise the Kimchi with onions and tomato paste for lovely savory and complex flavor. This type of braise is well suited for chicken.
  7. Add Kimchi to stew. The addition of Kimchi in stew not only lends a lovely spicy flavor but also ups the nutritional value of your stew.
  8. Kimchi pairs really well with eggs. Try Kimchi in an omelet or stir into scrambled eggs just before they set.
  9. Use Kimchi liquid as you would stock. Kimchi liquid is also a very tasty base for salad dressings and mayonnaise-based dipping sauces.

Can Kimchi Go Bad?

Though it is a relatively stable product, kimchi can still go bad. The most common reason for Kimchi to turn bad is contamination.

Kimchi is fermented vegetables in brine and because it is pickled in brine it does have a long shelf life if stored under the right conditions.

It’s very important to ensure that the kimchi you make is handled in a sterile manner. The containers and jars used to store Kimchi need to be heat sterilized like you would for preserves and fruit jellies. If the jars are not sterile, you can potentially grow deadly pathogens.

It takes about two to three days at room temperature and two to three weeks in the fridge for the lactic acid to fully develop and the fermentation process to start. The fermentation process will keep going indefinitely. The older the Kimchi, the softer the texture and stronger the flavor

If you prefer crunchy kimchi, it is advised to use kimchi within three weeks. Kimchi is, however, still safe to eat beyond this point. Homemade Kimchi is safe to eat for about six months if stored in the fridge.

Signs That Your Kimchi Has Gone Bad

Though kimchi has a strong aroma, bad kimchi does smell off. Off Kimchi will have an almost alcoholic sour smell.

Mold is obviously not good. Though there are types of mold that humans can eat, I would not advise eating moldy kimchi. Mold could be fuzzy or be dark spots of black and green. If you see mold in your kimchi, please do not do a sniff test as you can inhale harmful spores.

Kimchi that contains seafood like fermented fish should be watched more carefully than its vegetarian counterpart. Eating spoiled pickled seafood can land you in the emergency room with severe food poisoning.

If your kimchi shows signs of spoilage or you are for some reason worried that your kimchi has been compromised, it is advised to discard said kimchi and rather start a fresh batch.

Conclusion

You can use all the types of cabbage available on the market for kimchi. Traditionally Napa cabbage is used for kimchi, but if you can’t get your hands on Napa cabbage, you can use green cabbage, savoy, or red cabbage. Kimchi can also be made with leafy greens like Swiss chard and Bok choy. 

Kimchi is super versatile and packed full of nutritional goodness. Kimchi can last for months in the fridge and can be made with very economical ingredients. Don’t be afraid to experiment with kimchi; any vegetable that is safe to eat raw can be made into kimchi. Kimchi lasts long, but not forever!

Tom

Hey, I'm Tom. I set up Boss The Kitchen to start answering the thousands of questions people have while cooking. For me, the kitchen is my happy place and I hope to help other people with the knowledge I've gained along the way.

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