Sunday, January 9, 2011

History of Kimchi [ The Basis of Korean Food]

Koreans traditionally believe that the taste and quality of food depends on its spices and sauces, the essential ingredients to making a delicious meal. Therefore , soybean paste, soy sauce,red pepper paste and kimchi are some of the healthiest and the most important staple in a Koren household.

• Origin of Kimchi
For as long as humans have been cultivating they have enjoyed the nutritional elements of vegetables. However, the cold winter months, when cultivation was practically impossible, soon led to the development of a storage method knowns as 'pickling'. Rich in vitamins and minerals, kimchi was conceived in Korea around the 7th century.

Use of Hot Red Pepper Powder
Many years ago, kimchi was merely regarded as a salted vegetable. Yet, throughout the 12th century, with the addition of several spices and seasonings, it grew steadily in popularity. It wasn't until the 18th century that hot red pepper was finally used as one of the major ingredients for making kimchi. In fact, the very same kimchi as we know it today has retained the same qualities and cooking preparations that prevailed ever since it was first introduced.

The Origin of the Name, Kimchi
It is suspected that the name kimchi originated from shimchae (salting of vegetable) which went through some phonetic changes: shimchae - dimchae - kimchae - kimchi.

Reasons Why Kimchi Was Developed in Korea
Few fermented vegetable foods are found worldwide. Some possible reasons why kimchi was developed as a fermented food especially in Korea are as follows: (1) vegetables were popular to the ancient people in Korea whose main industry was agriculture; (2) Koreans had a remarkable technology for salting fish which was frequently used as a seasoning; (3) cabbages (brassica) appropriate for making kimchi were widely grown.

Major Historical Periods of Korea
The development of kimchi is reportedly rooted in the agrarian culture that began before the era of the Three Kingdoms on the Korean Peninsula. Due to the cold Korean winter, they had to come up with the storage technology for vegetables as a means of securing food.

- Kimchi in Ancient Times
It is difficult to identify the development of kimchi throughout ancient times, as historical records remain scarcely available. We can only assume that they simply salted vegetables in order to preserve them as long as possible.

- Kimchi during the Goryeo Kingdom
Although there are records that clearly indicate the root of kimchi's discovery, cabbage was first mentioned in an oriental medicine book titled 'Hanyakgugeupbang'. There were two types of kimchi - jangajji (sliced radish preserved in soy sauce) and sunmu sogeumjeori (salted radish). In this period, kimchi began to receive new attention as a processed food enjoyable regardless of season as well as storage food for winter. It is suspected that the development of seasonings at that time enabled spicy kimchi to appear.

- Kimchi in the Joseon Period
It was after foreign vegetables, in particular, cabbages (brassica) were introduced and used as the main ingredient that the current form of kimchi was conceived. Hot red pepper was imported to Korea from Japan in the early 17th century (after the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592), but it took roughly 200 years until it was actively used as an ingredient in kimchi. Therefore, it was only during the late Joseon period that kimchi became associated with its red color.

Royal Court of Joseon  - Kimchi in the Royal Court of Joseon
Normally three types of kimchi- whole-cabbage kimchi (jeotgukji), diced-radish kimchi (kkakdugi) and water kimchi, were served to the kings of Joseon. Jeotgukji for a good deal of pickled fish was added to the kimchi. A cooking book of Joseon, Joseon massangsansik yorijebeop, explains how to make jeotgukji as follows:

First, cut well-washed cabbages and radishes into small chunks and salt them. Second, mix them with chopped hot red pepper, garlic, dropwort (minari), leaf mustards (gat) and some seaweed. Third, boil fermented fish in some water and cool it. Fourth, add the fish to the above mixture. Fifth, store it in a pot and wait till it is fermented.

Even though the main ingredients of water kimchi (dongchimi) are radish and water, more garnishes were used to enhance the taste in the royal court of Joseon. The radishes used for water kimchi should be of a wholesome shape. In addition, they should be washed and salted for a day before being stored in a jar buried under ground. There is an anecdote that King Gojong, the second last king of the Joseon Kingdom, liked cold noodles in dongchimi juice mixed with some beef juice as a winter-night-meal. Hence, special water kimchi was prepared with pears, which were exclusively used for the cold noodles.

                                     - Modern Kimchi
Kimchi has been scientifically proven to be high in nutrition and is often recommended as a valuable food source both at home and abroad. In fact, there has been a significant increase in kimchi exports in recent years. Korean immigrants to China, Russia, Hawaii and Japan first introduced kimchi abroad, and have continued to eat kimchi as a side dish. It gradually gained popularity even among foreigners. Accordingly, kimchi may be found wherever Koreans live. In America and Japan especially, where relatively many Koreans live, packaged kimchi is easily available. In the past, the production and consumption of kimchi was confined to Korean societies, however, in recent years it has become a globally recognized food.

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