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How Long Does Kimchi Last? Can it Go Bad?

For those of you who aren’t yet familiar with this somewhat unusual but delicious spicy Korean dish, let us just take a second to describe how it is made as this has a huge bearing on how long it can last. Kimchi is created by salting and fermenting a base of vegetables which are usually consistent of cabbage with a small amount of radish. The tang in its flavor comes from the fermentation process, alongside its added paste, manufactured from such elements as chili, ginger, and fish paste.

Traditionally, this mixture was then buried under the ground in clay pots and allowed to ferment for prolonged periods of time, cooling and slowing its fermentation during the winter but not allowing it to freeze. Similarly, in the summer, keeping it buried would prevent it from getting too warm and ruining the fermentation. These days, though you can still find traditionally made kimchi, the process is a little different. With the advent of modern storage techniques, one no longer has to find a hole to keep your kimchi in. We also have best-before dates to guide us. Nevertheless, storing something which is fermented can always raise some questions, particularly when the odor is as strong as to hint that there might be something wrong. So, as a result, we have decided to compile a little guide on how to correctly store kimchi and how to know when it has gone bad.


The Best Way to Store Kimchi

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Natasha Breen/

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So, the chances are that if you are a newcomer to the world of kimchi, you’re not going to finish a whole jar. More often than not, it will be used as a side dish and then simply get placed back into the fridge. In these instances you can end up thinking “will this kimchi have gone bad?” Thankfully, kimchi is quite a forgiving ingredient in this regard, so once you follow these guidelines you should be totally fine.

Unopened kimchi

The vast majority of kimchi is still sold unpasteurized. This means that it will have active cultures inside it which are still fermenting to a degree. This means that if it is placed in the pantry and the temperature in there is quite high, it will continue its fermentation. For the best tasting kimchi, you are looking to keep the fermentation at the same level as when it left the factory. The safest and easiest way to do this while preventing your kimchi from literally exploding (it can happen!) is to always keep it in the fridge after use.

Opened kimchi

Once the jar of kimchi is opened, there is no rush to finish it quickly like there is with some food products. Consider the jar of kimchi as if it were sauerkraut when storing it. Always make sure the seal is tightly formed when placing it back in the fridge, and that all of the contents of the jar are covered by the liquid which preserves it. In some rare cases, you may find that the kimchi just isn’t tarte enough for your taste buds. In this case, it is a reasonable idea to let it ferment a little more, but don’t leave it more than a few hours as this can happen pretty fast.

Pasteurized kimchi

If you happen to have purchased heat-treated kimchi, which kills the bacteria that cause the kimchi to ferment, you will not have to monitor its temperature so closely. Instead of storing it in the fridge, this type of kimchi will also survive the temperature of your larder without any ill effects. That being said, as soon as the jar has been opened, it definitely belongs in the fridge from then on.


How Long Does Kimchi Last?

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Right, it’s finally time to get around to the all-important question of how long kimchi can keep for. You will have noticed by now that your kimchi has a sell-by date on it. The chances are that this gives it a lifespan of anywhere between 6 and 12 months. But, here’s the thing. Once your kimchi has gone beyond this date, provided it hasn’t been opened, the cabbage and other ingredients will still be fine. The sell-by date is not designed to tell you when the product has gone off, per se. Instead, it relates to the fermentation. This is because even at the low temperatures within your fridge, the fermentation process will continue its work, though only at a snail’s pace.

This means that your kimchi is ever so gradually becoming more and more tarte with time. As such, the sell-by date relates only to when the manufacturer thinks that it will become too sour to be enjoyed. The take-home from this then is that kimchi can be enjoyed for a long time after its sell-by date, so long as you really enjoy strongly flavored kimchi. It is also worth noting that opening the jar of kimchi won’t make it go bad quicker, provided it is stored correctly after. So, with that, it is time to describe the signs that your kimchi may have gone off.


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Signs That Your Kimchi May Have Gone Off

In most cases, your kimchi won’t really go off. Due to the preservative powers of the fermentation process, it kind of just… keeps. So, don’t be disturbed if you open the jar and are immediately hit with a really strong and sour odor – so strong it can bring a tear to the eye. This generally just means that the kimchi has fermented and become stronger. Likewise, if the crunch from the cabbage is gone, this shouldn’t raise any immediate red flags. In fact, a lot of people prefer their kimchi this way!


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Really, the only sign of spoilage that should concern you in any way is mold. When this happens, there’s more going on than mere fermentation and the whole jar should be discarded immediately. The same treatment applies to kimchi where some of the vegetables have been sitting above the liquid line for a prolonged period of time. However, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Generally speaking, when a jar of kimchi has been deemed as too sour, it doesn’t spell the end for it. It can be repurposed and used in dishes to add a touch of that kimchi flavor.

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Should Kimchi be Refrigerated?

The simple answer is, it depends. If you have bought heat-treated pasteurized kimchi, it can be stored in the pantry until it is opened. This is because the pasteurization has killed the fermentation process. In the cases of opened or non-pasteurized jars, these should absolutely be stored in the fridge. In fact, the only other option is to go with the traditional process of storing it and to bury it in the ground at a similar temperature in an earthenware pot. For most, the refrigeration option is a little less hassle.


Kimchi Storage, Sell-by Dates, and Other Related Questions

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Is Kimchi healthy?

Kimchi’s claims to being a healthy food are somewhat backed up the scientists. It boasts a broad variety of vitamins, is low in fat, and reportedly is excellent for your gastrointestinal health. However, due to the fact that it contains quite a bit of salt, it isn’t something that we would recommend eating large quantities of. Some kimchi recipes also have a large amount of garlic in them, which can be an irritant to those with IBS.

What is fizzy kimchi?

Fizzy kimchi is just regular kimchi where the fermentation is particularly active. In this sense, it is totally safe to eat. In fact, many prefer consuming it this way.

Is there alcohol in kimchi?

With any fermentation process, there is a chance of creating a small amount of alcohol. However, in kimchi, this will appear in such small levels that it is effectively redundant. In a kimchi that has been shop-bought, the alcohol vapors will long since have turned to vinegar, meaning there will be no alcohol present whatsoever.

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