Does Kimchi Get Less Spicy As It Ferments?

Does Kimchi Get Spicier as It Ferments?

If you enjoy the spicy kick of kimchi, you probably wonder – will fermenting it longer make it even hotter?

The answer is: yes, but only initially.

During the first 1-2 weeks of fermentation, kimchi does get spicier. This is because lactic acid levels surge, rapidly freeing up capsaicin heat from the peppers.

However, after hitting peak spiciness around the 2 week mark, kimchi’s heat then begins to decline with extended fermenting.

Over long periods of several months, the capsaicin degrades and the kimchi mellows out. The pace of fermentation and lactic acid production also slows down.

So in summary:

  • Short fermentation (1-2 weeks) makes kimchi spicier
  • Long fermentation (over 2 weeks) makes kimchi less spicy

Understanding this is key to controlling the heat of your kimchi. Now let’s look at how you can fine-tune its spice level…

In this article, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about how fermentation affects kimchi’s spiciness. You’ll learn:

  • The science behind kimchi fermentation
  • How lactic acid impacts spice levels
  • Ideas for reducing kimchi heat before fermenting
  • Tips to control spiciness with fermentation time
  • Health benefits of eating fermented kimchi
  • Frequently asked questions about kimchi and spice

By the end, you’ll be an expert on managing kimchi’s signature spice to suit your preferences!

How Does Kimchi Fermentation Work?

Kimchi Preparing

To understand if kimchi gets spicier as it ferments, it helps to first look at the fermentation process.

Kimchi fermentation relies on a process called lacto-fermentation. During this:

  • Salt draws moisture from the veggies to create a brine.
  • Good bacteria like Lactobacillus feed on the vegetables’ natural sugars.
  • The bacteria convert those sugars into lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and other compounds.

The lactic acid gives kimchi its tang. Bubbles from the carbon dioxide make it fizzy. And compounds like acids, alcohols, and esters add flavor depth.

Fermenting kimchi promotes growth of these beneficial bacteria. They lower its pH to preserve the vegetables and develop complex tastes.

So how does this process affect spiciness? Let’s take a closer look.

Does Lactic Acid Make Kimchi Spicier?

The magic behind kimchi’s spice happens thanks to an interaction between two compounds:

Capsaicin – This is the molecule that makes chili peppers hot. Kimchi gets its spiciness from ingredients like red pepper flakes or paste.

Lactic acid – As mentioned, lactic acid is produced by lactic acid bacteria during kimchi fermentation.

Research shows that as lactic acid levels rise, it breaks down capsaicin. This frees it from the pepper’s ribs and seeds, dispersing it throughout the kimchi brine.

In essence, the lactic acid unlocks capsaicin heat that was previously dormant. So yes, increased lactic acid from extended fermentation can make kimchi spicier!

Other flavor compounds are also created, but capsaicin is light and volatile, so it’s most impacted.

Now let’s look at how you can control kimchi’s spice through the fermenting process.

Does Kimchi Keep Getting Spicier the Longer It Ferments?

The short answer is no—kimchi spice doesn’t just keep exponentially increasing.

There are two phases of kimchi fermentation:

1. Rapid rise in spiciness

  • During the first phase (around 1-2 weeks), lactic acid levels surge. This rapidly liberates capsaicin from peppers.

2. Gradual decline in spiciness

  • After the initial spike, the pace of fermentation and lactic acid production starts to slow.
  • Over long periods (several months), the capsaicin degrades and the kimchi mellows.

So kimchi spice does intensify once fermentation kicks in. But it doesn’t keep getting hotter forever. It eventually peaks and subsides.

For the most heat, enjoy kimchi at around the 2 week mark. Then refrigerate it to slow fermentation if you don’t want it to get more pungent.

How Can You Make Less Spicy Kimchi?

If you don’t like intense kimchi spice, the good news is you can control it right from the start:

  • Use less red pepper powder or paste – This reduces the total capsaicin.
  • Add more radish – Radish dilutes spiciness.
  • Use milder peppers – Gochugaru is very hot. Opt for paprika or ancho chile.
  • Ferment briefly – The shorter time equals less lactic acid and slower capsaicin release.
  • Blanch peppers – Quick boiling mellows their flavor.
  • Add ginger – Ginger’s heat counterbalances pepper spice.

Customize your recipe based on your preferences. Just know fermenting longer isn’t an effective way to reduce the existing spice level.

How Long Does Kimchi Take to Ferment?

There’s no set kimchi fermentation time—it comes down to personal taste. Here are general guidelines:

  • Minimum: 5-7 days. This produces very mild kimchi.
  • Common: 2-4 weeks. Most recipes suggest fermenting for 2+ weeks.
  • Maximum: Several months. Well-sealed kimchi can ferment for 6 months or more.

The longer kimchi ferments, the tangier and softer it becomes. Bacteria convert more sugars into acid, breaking down vegetables.

Many Koreans prefer very sour, soft “overripe” kimchi. If you don’t like intense sourness, opt for quicker kimchi ferments around 1-2 weeks.

Does Saltiness Decline as Kimchi Ferments?

Along with potential spikes in spiciness, does kimchi’s salt content also change during fermentation?

Salt acts as both a seasoning and preservative in kimchi. Initially it draws moisture from the cabbage to create brine.

As fermentation progresses, bacteria convert sugars into lactic acid. This acidity eventually overtakes the saltiness, giving kimchi its sour kick.

However, the total salt concentration doesn’t decrease—it just becomes relatively less pronounced. Over time, you taste the sourness more than salt. But the salt is still present.

For best results, add enough salt at the start to season and facilitate fermentation. Then you won’t have to worry about the saltiness fading.

Does the Type of Pepper Used in Kimchi Affect its Spiciness?

The varieties of chili pepper used in kimchi can significantly influence its spiciness. Traditionally, Korean kimchi gets its signature heat from peppers and vegetable like:

  • Gochugaru (SHU 1,000 – 8,000) – Korean red pepper powder
  • Radish (SHU 0) – Adds no heat but give intense smell and flavor

These types of chili tend to be on the milder end, with medium spice levels. They provide gentle warmth without being overwhelming.

However, swapping in other bolder chili peppers can really turn up kimchi’s heat. Options like:

  • Thai bird’s eye chilies (SHU 50,000 – 225,000)
  • Jalapeño peppers (SHU 2,500 – 8,000)
  • Serrano peppers (SHU 10,000 – 23,000)

Will lend much more intense, mouth-burning spice to kimchi. A little goes a long way due to their higher natural capsaicin levels.

So the next time you make kimchi, consider the varieties of pepper used. The spiciness can range from gently tingling to fiery hot depending on the pepper. It’s about finding your perfect balance of kimchi kick!

How to Preserve the Desired Flavor of Kimchi for as Long as Possible

Kimchi is revered for its complex blend of sour, spicy, and umami flavors. Follow these tips to maintain kimchi’s taste perfection throughout the fermenting and storage process:

  • Use fresh, quality ingredients – Ripe, wholesome vegetables make the tastiest kimchi. Look for crisp napa cabbage and vibrant carrots, radishes, and scallions.
  • Use a proper fermenting jar – A glass or ceramic wide-mouth jar allows gases to vent during fermentation.
  • Submerge vegetables in brine – Keep veggies fully covered by liquid to prevent spoilage. Weigh them down if needed.
  • Ferment at room temperature – Let kimchi bubble at room temp for 3-7 days to develop taste.
  • Refrigerate after fermenting – Fridge slows fermentation while stabilizing flavor.
  • Check for mold – Discard any kimchi with white mold growing on its surface.

Careful attention to each step will yield kimchi with vibrant, balanced flavor that persists over time. So savor its tangy goodness long past the initial fermentation!

The Health Benefits of Fermented Kimchi

Aside from its bold flavor, kimchi offers some nice perks for your health:

  • Improved digestion – Kimchi contains probiotics and fiber that support gut health.
  • Immune boost – Fermented kimchi is packed with immune-enhancing vitamin C.
  • Cancer prevention – Compounds in kimchi may inhibit tumor growth.
  • Weight control – Lactic acid bacteria in kimchi promote fat loss.
  • Detoxification – Kimchi assists your liver and kidneys in removing toxins.

So don’t be afraid to enjoy this fermented staple. Its tingling spice and crunch provides both flavor and wellness advantages.

Frequently Asked Questions about Kimchi Spiciness

Here are answers to some common kimchi FAQs related to spiciness:

Does kimchi keep fermenting in the fridge?

Yes, but very slowly. Refrigeration temperatures dramatically slow fermentation. Fridge-stored kimchi keeps getting sourer but only mildly spicier over time.

What’s the difference between Napa cabbage and Korean cabbage for kimchi?

Napa cabbage is milder in flavor while Korean cabbage gives a stronger, more pungent taste. Use Napa for mellower kimchi.

Can I adjust ingredients to control kimchi spiciness?

Yes! Omitting red pepper or adding more radish, scallions, garlic, ginger, or pear will make kimchi less hot.

Is it safe to eat very old, over-fermented kimchi?

As long as it was prepared properly and tastes/smells normal, highly fermented kimchi won’t make you sick. But the texture and acidity become very intense.

Let Your Tastebuds Enjoy Kimchi’s Spicy Tang

Kimchi strikes a delicious balance of sour, savory, and spicy. Getting comfortable with its signature fermented spice can take time. But hopefully now you have all the tools to tailor kimchi’s heat to your preferences.

Understanding how lactic acid transforms capsaicin during fermentation unlocks the secrets behind kimchi’s coveted fire. So feel empowered to control spice levels and savor this dynamic Korean staple. Your tastebuds will thank you as they enjoy kimchi’s intense and complex pleasures!

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Bill Kalkumnerd
Bill Kalkumnerd

I am Bill, I am the Owner of HappySpicyHour, a website devoted to spicy food lovers like me. Ramen and Som-tum (Papaya Salad) are two of my favorite spicy dishes. Spicy food is more than a passion for me - it's my life! For more information about this site Click

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