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Is Kimchi Vegan? No, Here’s Why! 2023 Updates

Lindsey Desoto

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Melissa Mitri, MS, RD

is kimchi vegan
Traditional, non-vegan kimchi. Photo: Shutterstock & Team Design

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made from fermented vegetables like cabbage and radishes. It has a sour and spicy taste and is often eaten as a side dish. Since it’s loaded with greens, you may wonder, “Is kimchi vegan?”

Unfortunately, traditional kimchi is generally not a vegan food as it’s made with animal products. But the good news is that several brands sell vegan kimchi if you’re following a vegan diet. You can also make your own by following a vegan kimchi recipe.

Here’s everything you need to know about this popular fermented food, including its vegan status and ways to make homemade vegan kimchi.

Is Kimchi A Vegan Food?

Traditional kimchi is not a vegan food. This is because it is made with jeotgal, a Korean fermented fish sauce. However, many people are now making vegan-friendly kimchi using miso paste and/or apples for added sweetness.

Is Kimchi Vegan Friendly?

Kimchi is not compliant with a vegan diet as it is typically prepared with animal ingredients. However, many people are swapping out these ingredients for plant-based alternatives. This allows vegans to enjoy the health benefits of kimchi without compromising their dietary choices.

Why Is Kimchi Not Vegan?

Kimchi is seasoned with jeotgal,[1] which is a Korean fermented fish sauce. Jeotgal is an important condiment in kimchi. That’s because it is high in glutamate-containing compounds, which gives kimchi its rich umami flavor.

Some other recipes use shrimp paste to provide the same savory flavor.

What Is Kimchi?

Kimchi[2] is a popular Korean cuisine. It is made by fermenting baechu cabbage with other vegetables like Korean radish — or daikon radish — cucumber, and lactic acid. The dish also typically includes a variety of spices and seasonings like salt, red pepper powder, ginger, garlic, and green onions. 

During the fermentation process, lactic acid bacteria produce organic acids. This prevents the growth of harmful bacteria and gives kimchi its unique flavor.

The taste of kimchi can depend on the ingredients used and how long it is fermented. However, it is usually crunchy and has a sour, spicy, and slightly tangy flavor.

Health Benefits Of Kimchi

Kimchi is chock-full of vitamins and minerals, fiber, and probiotic bacteria. Studies[3] suggest compounds in kimchi may function as antioxidants and help reduce damage caused by free radicals in the body. 

Kimchi may also help:[3]

  • Boost immune system function.
  • Reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.
  • Improve aging.
  • Reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome.[4] This is a cluster of metabolic conditions characterized by a large waist circumference and high blood pressure, blood sugar, and fat levels in your blood.
  • Improve gut health.[5]

How To Make Your Kimchi Vegan?

Many Americans who follow a vegan diet are now incorporating kimchi into their vegan meals. This is often done by swapping out fish-containing jeotgal for miso paste.[6]

Miso paste can be found at most health food stores or Asian markets. It ferments grains and soybeans, providing a similar umami flavor without animal ingredients.

Studies[6] suggest that vegan kimchi made with miso paste has a similar beneficial bacterial community as non-vegan kimchi.

To make your own vegan version of homemade kimchi, follow these simple steps:

  • Cut a medium-sized cabbage, preferably napa cabbage, into bite-sized pieces. Remove the bottom core. Place cabbage pieces in a large mixing bowl.
  • Sprinkle moderate amounts of kosher salt between the leaves and let sit for at least an hour. This draws out excess moisture and softens the cabbage.
  • While your cabbage is sitting, make your vegan sauce. Combine green onion, garlic cloves, fresh ginger, Korean chile powder, miso paste, and sugar in a food processor.
  • After wilting the cabbage, add the sauce and coat the leaves. Add a cup of water along with salt until it has the saltiness of seawater.
  • Place kimchi in mason jars, packing firmly to ensure no air bubbles are present at the bottom of the jar.
  • Seal the jars tightly and allow them to sit at room temperature for one to two days, then transfer them to the refrigerator. 
  • Allow kimchi to ferment for a minimum of one week before eating. It will become more sour as it ages.

Some other vegan kimchi recipes use a kimchi paste made with apples to add a touch of sweetness.

How Long Can You Store Homemade Kimchi?

You can expect homemade kimchi to stay fresh for around one week at room temperature. In the refrigerator, it has a much longer shelf life, as long as six months.

Summary

Kimchi is a popular Korean food made from fermented cabbage and other vegetables with spices and seasonings. 

The fermentation process gives kimchi its unique umami flavor and contributes to its health benefits. Traditional kimchi is not vegan because it uses fish sauce as a condiment. However,  many people who follow vegan diets make vegan versions by substituting fish sauce for miso paste. 

Vegan kimchi offers similar benefits to traditional kimchi, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and probiotic bacteria. 

Making vegan kimchi at home involves salting and wilting cabbage, preparing a vegan sauce with miso paste, and allowing the mixture to ferment. The resulting kimchi is a tasty and healthy option compatible with a vegan diet.

Kimchi is typically low in protein, so it is not suitable as a vegan meal replacement. Instead, it is best enjoyed as a side dish.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know if kimchi is vegan?

Most kimchi varieties are unlikely to be vegan. However, if you’re eating out and unsure, ask your server if it is made with a fish product, such as fish sauce. Store-bought kimchi that is vegan-friendly is generally labeled as such.

What is not vegan about kimchi?

Although the majority of ingredients in kimchi are fruits and veggies, it is fermented and seasoned with jeotgal, a Korean fish sauce.

Can vegetarians eat kimchi?

Traditional kimchi is made with fish sauce, making it off-limits for vegans and vegetarians. However, several brands offer vegetarian-friendly kimchi. You can also make your own using miso paste or other vegetarian ingredients.

What is the difference between vegan and non-vegan kimchi?

Non-vegan kimchi is seasoned and flavored using fish sauce. In contrast, vegan kimchi is often seasoned using miso paste. Some recipes also add apples or pears for a touch of sweetness.


+ 6 sources

Health Canal avoids using tertiary references. We have strict sourcing guidelines and rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic researches from medical associations and institutions. To ensure the accuracy of articles in Health Canal, you can read more about the editorial process here

  1. Min Whan Jung, Kim, T.-W., Lee, C., Joon Bum Kim, Hye Seon Song, Yeon Sook Kim, Ahn, S.C., Ju Han Kim, Seong Woon Roh and Lee, H. (2018). Role of jeotgal, a Korean traditional fermented fish sauce, in microbial dynamics and metabolite profiles during kimchi fermentation. [online] 265, pp.135–143. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2018.05.093.
  2. Choi, Y.-S., Hae Young Lee, Yang, J.-H., Sung Kyu Hong, Sung Sup Park and Lee, M.-A. (2018). Changes in quality properties of kimchi based on the nitrogen content of fermented anchovy sauce, Myeolchi Aekjeot, during fermentation. [online] 27(4), pp.1145–1155. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10068-018-0349-6.
  3. Kim, M.-S., Hye Ran Yang, Soo Jin Kim, Hye Sun Lee and Myeong Soo Lee (2018). Effects of Kimchi on human health. [online] 97(13), pp.e0163–e0163. doi:https://doi.org/10.1097/md.0000000000010163.
  4. NHLBI, NIH. (2022). What Is Metabolic Syndrome? [online] Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/metabolic-syndrome#
  5. Leeuwendaal, N.K., Stanton, C., O’Toole, P.W. and Beresford, T.P. (2022). Fermented Foods, Health and the Gut Microbiome. [online] 14(7), pp.1527–1527. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14071527.
  6. Zabat, M.A., Sano, W.H., Cabral, D.J., Wurster, J.I. and Belenky, P. (2018). The impact of vegan production on the kimchi microbiome. [online] 74, pp.171–178. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fm.2018.04.001.
Lindsey Desoto

Medically reviewed by:

Melissa Mitri

Lindsey DeSoto is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist based out of Coastal Mississippi. She earned her BSc in Nutrition Sciences from the University of Alabama. Lindsey has a passion for helping others live their healthiest life by translating the latest evidence-based research into easy-to-digest, approachable content.

Medically reviewed by:

Melissa Mitri

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