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Does Kimchi Go Bad? How Long Does It Last?

Kimchi is a classic dish of fermented vegetables and spices that's popular in many Asian countries. Originally made as a way to preserve food for the winter, kimchi has since become an iconic component of many traditional meals. But does it expire? Does kimchi go bad?

Well, the answer is yes and no: with proper storage techniques, kimchi can last for a very long time without spoiling - but if left in improper conditions, it won't take long for it to go bad. In this post, we'll explore the various factors that can influence how long your kimchi lasts, and how you can ensure that your kimchi stays fresh and safe to eat.

Kimchi is a Korean dish that is a spicy fermented mix of vegetables. Fermenting is an effective preservation method, so you might wonder, does kimchi go bad? 

Kimchi can go bad. If you keep kimchi at room temperature after opening, it'll last about a week. Kimchi stays fresh for a much longer time if you refrigerate it.

It will remain fresh for three to six months or more but will continue to ferment and taste sour. Refrigerate your kimchi below 39 degrees F  to reduce the speed of spoilage. 

Kimchi in a white bowl with a dark background.

There is so much to learn about kimchi, such as:

  • how to prolong its shelf life,
  • how to make it
  • how to tell if kimchi has gone bad

Keep reading to learn all the answers you need about kimchi! 

How Long Does Kimchi Last?

Kimchi is a Korean staple dish and has been for generations now. It's easy to see why it's a superstar in the kitchen. The flavoring in kimchi is intricate, but the recipe is relatively easy. It's a harmonious and versatile dish that's rich in nutrients and flavor

Kimchi is originally from Korea and staple to both North and South Korea with a broad appeal, rating five stars in the nutrition scorecard and various uses. Kimchi is made with:

  • cabbage
  • garlic
  • other vegetables
  • fish sauce
  • salted seafood
  • chili powder
  • spring onions
  • ginger

You'll taste a plethora of flavors once it hits your tongue!

Kimchi can last months before it spoils. The shelf life of kimchi doesn't have a specific and straightforward answer. A Korean kimchi veteran might say that kimchi doesn't spoil.

Instead, it merely ripens. However, it won't taste the same forever as it is made with fermented vegetables. 

Fermented food has many health benefits and homemade kimchi is the best way to get some of those health benefits, like healthy bacteria for your gut to improve your gut health!

As kimchi is not pasteurized, the bacteria in it are alive. So fermentation is ongoing with kimchi, and it'll become sourer with time

If you've bought kimchi from a store, you'll have to look at the expiration date to see if it is okay to eat. Usually, the shelf life of store-bought kimchi is between eight and twelve months

There are several variables in the equation, like time or whether you've opened the kimchi yet. Temperature also influences the fermentation and makes the kimchi sour.

If the kimchi is sitting in a warm spot, the fermentation rate will accelerate. Store a fresh jar of kimchi in the fridge right away after buying. 

It's also tricky to answer how long kimchi may last in the fridge after opening. A prolonged lifetime depends on:

  • how long it was stored before opening the jar
  • the temperature
  • how sour you like kimchi

If I had to estimate it roughly, I'd say kimchi should taste fine between six months to a year after you open it. This calculation applies if you've refrigerated the jar after first opening, and it didn't taste very sour. 

It's also worth mentioning that if kimchi is pasteurized and unopened, you can store it for a couple of months in the pantry. Unpasteurized kimchi tastes best before a month.

NOTE: These are only rough estimates and are applicable for the best quality kimchi only.

How to Tell If Your Kimchi Has Gone Bad

To tell if your kimchi is safe to eat or not, you'll have to look for possible spoilage signs. Some people throw away good kimchi because they think that it's a lost cause. Read the signs below. If your kimchi looks like this, don't panic because it should still taste fine and be safe to consume

  1. It's not unusual for kimchi to explode upon opening. It may happen from the gas buildup during fermentation. This event is not unlike a champagne bottle popping off due to an excess build-up of gas. 
  2. If kimchi seems bubbly after opening, it should be fine. Bacteria are alive inside, so the kimchi might be fizzy and active
  3. It's safe to eat the kimchi you've kept at room temperature for an extended period. It might become very sour, but you can add it to a soup or stew if you prefer. Or, throw in some other vegetables instead of eating it raw. 
  4. If the cabbage turns soft after storing kimchi for a long time, don't panic. It's perfectly fine to eat it. But if you don't want wilted cabbage, try using the kimchi in a recipe

Look out for visual signs to tell if kimchi is spoiled. If you spot mold or a white film on your kimchi, you can scoop the mold part off the top and a layer underneath, or you can discard the whole dish just to be careful. 

If you see mold on your kimchi, it's already begun spoiling. Some people are comfortable eating food where mold has been scraped off. However, molds can make you sick, so there is a risk

If your kimchi smells sour, it should still be safe to eat. But if it smells off besides just sour, discard it.

If you are still unsure whether you should throw away your kimchi, you can do a pH test on it. According to BBC, kimchi's pH level should be 4.5. If it is ever more or less than that, throw it away

How long do other fermented foods last? Read my article to learn all you need to know!

If the kimchi is too sour for your taste, or the vegetables are not crunchy enough, you can mix it with stews or use it in stir-fries. It's up to you when it comes to kimchi that tastes sour, your options are to:

  • keep it
  • throw it away
  • use it in a recipe
2 jars of kimchi on a wood surface.
Check to see if your kimchi is slimy or smells bad

Mistakes That May Spoil Kimchi Faster

There are things that can go wrong when making kimchi, especially for beginners. The radish might taste bitter, or the cabbage could be too:

  • thick
  • thin
  • fibrous

If the kimchi turns out too bitter or salty, next time try brining the vegetables more or less, depending on the issue. 

Sometimes, kimchi turns out slimy which is undesired. When unwanted microorganisms outgrow the beneficial ones, kimchi spoils and gets slimy. It might be safe to eat, but it will taste strange, have a weird texture, and won't be enjoyable. So you'll need to consider some factors to avoid this outcome

  1. Too Much Salt: Back in the old days kimchi was packed with salt before it was widely known that salt is bad for high blood pressure. Excess salt can make kimchi taste funny. 
  2. Too Much Flour Paste or Rice: Rice flour paste is not essential to make kimchi, and too much of it will undoubtedly spoil your kimchi. 
  3. Temperature: Prepare kimchi at the right temperature. The optimal temperature for fermentation is around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Add more salt and monitor it closely if the temperature exceeds 72 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  4. Too Much Sugar: Be careful with how much sugar you put in kimchi, especially the salt ratio. Korean restaurants typically use artificial sweeteners because excess sugar tends to make kimchi slimy.

Additional Kimchi Tips

Ensure that there aren't air-filled gaps and bubbles after putting the kimchi in a jar. Too much air inside the container will make unwanted bacteria grow, and the kimchi will taste off. It will also produce unevenly seasoned and fermented kimchi

It's best to pack and press it all down firmly so that you're leaving as little space as possible, using a fermentation pounder like this from Amazon can really help. Do leave space at the top of the jar to cover the vegetables with brine. Seal the lid tightly and do not leave the jar out for too long without refrigerating.

Store the jar for a few days at room temperature, and it is essential to keep it away from sunlight. Only move the jar to the refrigerator once it has started to taste a bit tangy. The cold temperature will slow down the fermentation gracefully.  

How to Store Kimchi for Longer Shelf Life

By now, you already know how the temperature influences kimchi when it comes to storing it. You can keep unopened kimchi in the fridge or pantry.

Leave kimchi that's not sour enough at room temperature for a couple of days till you get the desired taste. It's best to store the kimchi in the fridge once you have opened it. 

Kimchi doesn't have a stable shelf life in general because it has live bacteria. As a rule of thumb, immerse the ingredients in the brine every time you open it and seal it again. 

Additionally, use clean utensils to handle the kimchi inside the container. Otherwise, it will encourage dirty bacterial growth and cause the kimchi to spoil. Try to open the container as little as possible to avoid exposing the kimchi to the air, risking unwanted bacterial growth. 

If you used a large container for storing your kimchi, you should consider dividing it up into smaller portions and placing them in smaller jars to preserve them.

NOTE: You can sort the portions out according to weeks, making it easy to keep track of them.

The bottom line is, you can increase kimchi's shelf life if you:

  • limit the opening and closing of the jar
  • use clean utensils
  • immerse the kimchi in brine

How to Make Kimchi

Kimchi recipes vary from one region and season to another, but you can keep the dish entirely vegan using plant-based ingredients.

Kimchi is sold on Amazon, is available in stores, and is comparatively inexpensive. If you ferment kimchi at home, it takes a while.

Kimchi can be eaten as:

  • an ingredient in a recipe
  • a dip
  • a side dish

Additionally, kimchi can be made to preference with flavors that are:

  • sour
  • spicy
  • sweet

Napa cabbage is the main ingredient in kimchi, with other vegetables like:

  • Korean radish
  • carrots
  • cucumber
  • scallions

Kimchi is not a tricky dish to make, but if it's your first try at fermenting vegetables it might feel overwhelming. Fermentation isn't a conventional way of cooking. After all, it is rotting food! The only difference is that you're in control of the rotting.

Here are a couple of recipes for making kimchi. The most widely used recipe is the one that uses napa cabbage. Before you begin, here are some things to consider during fermentation

  1. I recommend keeping a jar at room temperature to speed up the fermentation process and store the rest in the fridge. You have to do this for a few days before you put it in the refrigerator.
  2. Ideally, use an airtight container like a mason jar. Sanitize the jar first, and fill it so it has ⅓rd space left so the jar doesn't explode. 
  3. It's working if you notice bubbles in your kimchi. Check it by opening the jar over the sink every few days for a quick sniff test. You can stir it around a bit but ensure that the vegetables are always submerged in the liquid
  4. The pH of the kimchi won't be 4.5 until two weeks have gone by. So don't panic if it's not at this level. 

I recommend eating it after a month and within three months of preparing it. 

What are the best storage conditions for kimchi? 

The best storage conditions for kimchi is to store it in a cool, dry place, in an airtight jar like mason jars, glass jars, or other containers. It is important to keep the kimchi away from direct sunlight and heat sources, as this can cause the kimchi to spoil faster.

Additionally, you should also make sure that the container or jar has a tight-fitting lid so that it is not exposed to any external contaminants. Keeping the jar sealed will help preserve the flavor and shelf life of your kimchi.

​Warmer temperatures will cause kimchi to become sour kimchi faster and will decrease kimchi shelf life.

A large wood bowl with gloved hands mixing cabbage with spices to make kimchi.
Napa cabbage kimchi is a simple recipe

Napa Cabbage Kimchi Recipe

The following recipe is an altered version of a Maangchi Easy Kimchi made with napa cabbage. Before you begin, I suggest you watch some instructional videos, particularly by Maangchi.

Ingredients 

  • 2 lbs napa cabbage 
  • 5 ½ teaspoon sweet rice flour
  • 3 Tbs salt 
  • ½ cup water 
  • 1 ½ teaspoon sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon ginger 
  • Four garlic cloves (large)
  • 4 ½ tablespoon onion 
  • 3 tablespoon fish sauce 
  • 4 tablespoon Korean hot pepper flakes (for tasting)
  • 2 Green onions 

Instructions to Make Kimchi

Firstly, trim any undesirable leaves off the cabbage. Then remove the cores and cut the cabbage into quarters lengthwise. Chop the quarters into bite-size pieces. 

Rinse and drain the cut pieces of the cabbage thoroughly. Use a colander (sold on Amazon) to drain the cabbage and place it in a large bowl. Sprinkle it with salt, and let it rest for 30 minutes. 

Next, mix the cabbage, salt it again, and let it rest for another thirty minutes. Repeat this step one more time, for a total of three times with thirty minutes in between. It should take about one and a half hours

During the thirty-minute intervals, prepare the rice porridge. Mix the sweet rice flour with water in a small saucepan. Keep mixing until it boils and continue until the porridge begins to bubble, which should happen after about five minutes

Pour the sugar into the pan and continue cooking until the mixture seems translucent. Now, let it sit and cool. Make the kimchi paste while the porridge cools. In a food processor, mix these ingredients until smooth:

  • garlic
  • onion
  • ginger
  • fish sauce

Pour the mix into a large bowl, and add the cooled rice porridge and hot pepper flakes to the bowl. Mix it thoroughly until it is a consistent paste and combine the cabbage and other vegetables in the mix. Everything should be well coated by the time you finish mixing. 

Gloved hands mixing orange spices into cabbage to make kimchi.
Mix the paste with cabbage and vegetables

Fill the jar up to ¾ of the way full with the kimchi mix and store it in the fridge for a month to let it slowly ferment, and check it regularly. 

Korean Radish Kimchi 

This is a simple kimchi to make. It's called Kkakdugi in Korean, which means cubed radish kimchi. Typically, people enjoy this dish in chilly winter weather. It's firm and crisp and tastes slightly sweet and peppery

The main steps are:

  1. Cut the radish into cubes.
  2. Salt it.
  3. Mix the seasonings.

Ingredients

  • 3 large Korean radish 
  • cup coarse sea salt
  • 3 to 4 scallions 
  • ⅔ cup Korean red chili flakes 
  • ¼ cup salted finely minced shrimp 
  • 2 tablespoon fish sauce 
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger 
  • 2 tablespoon sugar 

Radish Kimchi Instructions 

First, clean the radishes using a scrub brush like this one, or scratch the stubborn impurities off with a knife. If necessary, peel the skin. If the skin is smooth and clean, use them with the skin on.

Next, cut the radish into an inch-thick disc and further chop them into one-inch cubes. Place the cubes into a large bowl. Don't worry if the discs are large, they will shrink when you salt and ferment them. 

Sprinkle the salt over the radish and make sure that the salt coats the radishes evenly. Let it rest for about thirty to forty minutes until the radish cubes have expelled some liquid and softened. 

While it sits, prepare the seasoning. Use the rest of the ingredients mentioned above and mix well. Set the mixture aside so that the chili peppers become pasty and dissolve

Drain the radishes in a colander without rinsing. In a large bowl, mix the seasoning and scallions with the radishes by hand until the seasonings have evenly coated the radishes.

You can taste the seasoning to see if you need to make any changes. It should taste too salty, and the radishes should be dry by now. Next, add the salted shrimp or fish sauce

Like the previous recipe, repeat the storing process and remove air pockets from the jar. You can keep it at room temperature for a day, depending on how fast you want the kimchi to ripen. Then, put it in the refrigerator and eat it after a week. It will keep its excellent flavor and texture for several weeks! 

Top view of kimchi in a white bowl, on a wood surface.
Kimchi can be eaten daily in many ways

Tips On Eating Kimchi 

Kimchi is a special dish because it's packed with flavor and rich in nutrients. However you cook your kimchi, the process and basics are the same. 

Here are some bonus tips that will make kimchi taste even better and make your kimchi-making skills more mature. 

Tip #1: Kimchi is Seasonal

Kimchi is a seasonal dish, and its recipes vary from one region to another. Basic napa cabbage kimchi is a fall dish. You can experiment with other vegetables according to the seasons. For example, in spring, try fresh greens, and during summer try radishes and cucumbers

Tip #2: Experiment with Flavors

The second tip I have for you is to experiment with flavors and different ingredients. Embrace the seasonings because it's one of the most fundamental properties of a kimchi dish. Broaden your range with seasonings and add-ins. Also, kimchi is typically spicy, so you can dabble with that too! 

Tip #3: Use Salt Wisely

As I've mentioned before, too much salt can ruin kimchi, so use salt wisely. A saline environment will also speed up the fermentation process. Don't use iodized table salt as iodine can block fermentation. Your best bet is to use coarse sea salt. I recommend salting in a couple of steps: 

  1. Rub the vegetables with salt to open and break them.
  2. Soak them in a brine solution for more enhanced flavors.

Tip #4: Pack and Store Kimchi Carefully

Make sure not to disturb your kimchi often, and store it very carefully, as I've directed above. Pack the kimchi in and always use an airtight container to store it.

We like to use mason jars for this. depending on the amount of kimchi you are storing, will vary the size of jar that you need. You can use different sized jars to hold different serving sizes if desired.

Tip #5: How to Serve Kimchi

In Korea, kimchi is served with almost every meal and used as an ingredient to prepare dishes like jjigae, a traditional stew. Additionally, it's also used to flavor pizza and noodles. The recipes above are two of the most basic recipes for kimchi. You can experiment with other vegetables and keep the process the same. 

Kimchi in a white bowl with a dark background top view.
Kimchi is delicious and good for you!

Conclusion 

Kimchi has become a regular guest on the menus of restaurants and home dining. It's delicious and ample with vitamins and minerals. During fermentation, it will develop complex flavors and nutrition. It will last a long time and is easy to prepare

So to answer the question: Does kimchi go bad? I would say it ripens rather than spoils. It's naturally a sour and pungent-smelling dish, so unless you see visible molds and it smells weird, it's safe to consume. Kimchi is quite beneficial for health and has survived the test of time. In essence, kimchi is living history!

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