Is Kimchi Spicy? Exploring Kimchi’s Spicy Side

Last updated on March 6th, 2023 at 10:38 pm

If you’ve been to a Korean restaurant, you’ve probably seen a side dish or ingredient accompanying every Korean meal, including fried rice and stew.  The side dish is Kimchi, a traditional Korean dish made from fermented vegetables such as Korean or daikon radish and napa cabbage. 

The dish includes various seasonings and spices, including Korean chili powder (gochugaru), garlic, spring onions, and salted seafood. It may also contain other vegetables such as celery, cucumber, carrot, and scallions.

Kimchi is usually left to ferment for a few days to a few weeks before serving. However, you can eat it fresh, unfermented, or immediately after preparation. 

Kimchi has been around for many years and has recently gained popularity in the West due to its flavor and potential health benefits. The dish is a rich source of probiotics, vitamins, and antioxidants, making it a healthy addition to any diet. There are different types of kimchi made with other vegetables as primary ingredients.

But what does it taste like? Is Kimchi spicy?

If you are a lover of spicy foods and want to try out Kimchi, this post answers all your questions about the spiciness of kimchi.

Is kimchi spicy?

Kimchi can be spicy and not depending on the type and how the kimchi is made. The level of spiciness varies depending on the kimchi recipe and your preference. 

Some types of kimchi are mild and slightly tangy, while others contain chili peppers or paste, making them very spicy. For instance, red cabbage kimchi is spicy while white kimchi isn’t.

The heat factor in Kimchi

So what makes some types of kimchi very spicy?

The ingredients included in a kimchi recipe determine the heat factor in the dish. You can create a kimchi recipe with specific components for a desired and tolerable spiciness.

Red pepper flakes (gochugaru) are among the primary kimchi ingredients that add significant spiciness. Fresh chili peppers can also add an extra kick of heat to kimchi. Ginger and garlic may also contribute to kimchi’s spiciness.

You should note that not all types of kimchi are spicy. The dish’s heat level varies based on the recipe and your preference. So, if you’re sensitive to heat, you might want to ask about the heat level before trying out kimchi.

Balancing the heat level in Kimchi

Kimchi allows you to ignite your taste buds with a preferred level of spiciness. Therefore, it’s an ideal dish for those who want to try spicy foods for the first time. Here are some tips to help you adjust the level of spiciness in kimchi;

  • Use less spicy ingredients: For instance, use only small amounts if you use gochugaru as your primary ingredient. Alternatively, you can use a milder chili powder, especially if your heat tolerance is still low.
  • Add sugar: A small amount of sugar in your kimchi recipe can help balance out the spiciness of your dish, making it more palatable.
  • Get rid of the seeds: If you’re using fresh chili peppers, you might want to remove the membranes and seeds. This will minimize the level of spiciness in your dish.
  • Use milder seasonings: Instead of spicy seasonings like chili peppers, you can use milder ones like ginger and garlic to reduce the spiciness. The opposite is also true if you want a more spicy dish.

You should always check with the restaurant or person preparing the kimchi before trying it out—especially if you’re sensitive to spice. Alternatively, you may taste some kimchi to see if you can tolerate the heat.

The health benefits of kimchi

Kimchi contains essential vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and antioxidants that may provide significant health benefits. The dish has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-cancer, anti-aging, and antiobesity properties. Let’s examine the potential health benefits of kimchi.

May provide immune support

Some studies show that taking fermented foods like kimchi may increase microbiome diversity and minimize markers of inflammation. This, in turn, helps strengthen your immune system.

Another study also confirms that kimchi may have immune-enhancing effects from the Lactobacillus bacteria in Kimchi.

May reduce inflammation

Kimchi contains probiotics and other active compounds that may help fight inflammation. Although human studies are lacking, several mouse studies reveal that some principal compounds in kimchi may suppress inflammation and improve blood vessel health.

May support weight loss

Kimchi is high in fiber and low in calories, making it a good dish for those trying to lose weight. A particular clinical trial suggested that Lactobacillus sakei, a compound derived from kimchi, might reduce waist circumference and body fat mass.

It may improve heart health

Chronic inflammation and high cholesterol are risk factors for heart disease. Kimchi consumption may lower cholesterol and inflammation, which may, in turn, reduce the risk of heart disease.

Preparing and Serving Kimchi

A Simple Recipe for Homemade Kimchi

Making kimchi at home is a simple and rewarding process that allows you to control the ingredients and flavor of your kimchi. Here’s how to make easy kimchi at home.


  • 1 large Napa cabbage (about 2 lbs)
  • 1/4 cup sea salt
  • 1 cup Korean chili flakes
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped garlic
  • 1/2 cup chopped ginger
  • 1/2 cup sliced scallions
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce (optional)


  1. Cut the Napa cabbage into 2-inch squares and place in a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle it with sea salt and massage it into the cabbage for 10-15 minutes until it softens. Rinse the cabbage with cold water and drain.
  2. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the Korean chili flakes, fish sauce, sugar, chopped onion, garlic, ginger, scallions, and oyster sauce (if using). Mix well.
  3. Add the salted cabbage to the bowl with the chili mixture and mix until the cabbage is well coated.
  4. Pack the mixture into a clean, sterilized glass jar, pressing down on the mixture to release any trapped air bubbles. Leave at least 2 inches of headspace at the top of the jar.
  5. Cover the jar with a lid and let the kimchi ferment at room temperature for 24-48 hours. Check the kimchi regularly and release any trapped air by opening the lid to release pressure.
  6. Once the kimchi has fermented to your liking (the flavor will become tangier as it ferments), transfer the jar to the refrigerator. The kimchi will continue to ferment but at a slower rate.

Your homemade kimchi is now ready to enjoy as a side dish or an ingredient in other recipes. You can store it in the refrigerator for 3-6 months. Remember, fermentation process can create a strong odor, so making kimchi in a well-ventilated area or outside is best.

Serving Suggestions for Kimchi

Kimchi is a versatile dish that you can serve in many ways. Here are some ideas for incorporating kimchi into your meals:

  • As a condiment: Kimchi can be a condiment, much like pickles or salsa. Simply serve it alongside your favorite dishes, such as grilled meats or vegetables, for an extra flavor.
  • In soups and stews: Kimchi adds a spicy kick to soups and stews. Try adding a few spoonfuls of kimchi to your next pot of soup or stew for a flavor boost.
  • In stir-fries: Kimchi makes a great addition to stir-fries. Simply stir-fry your favorite vegetables and meats, and then add a few spoonfuls of kimchi at the end for a spicy and flavorful dish.
  • In tacos: Kimchi is a tasty topping for tacos. Simply add a few spoonfuls of kimchi to your tacos, along with your favorite fillings and toppings, for a spicy and satisfying meal.

Keep the heat factor in mind when serving kimchi. If you find the kimchi too spicy for your taste, pair it with other dishes that have a cooling effect, such as rice, vegetables, or dairy products. This will help to balance the heat and create a more enjoyable eating experience.

Is Kimchi Spicy?

Genuine Korean cuisine always comes with kimchi as a side dish or ingredient. However, kimchi is not always spicy. The heat level varies depending on the type of kimchi, the ingredients used to make the dish, and individual preferences.

Kimchi can be served as a condiment or side dish. This traditional Korean side dish has gained popularity due to its unique flavor and potential health benefits. And the best part is that you can adjust the spice level to suit your heat tolerance and preference. Try kimchi today to experience its unique flavor and health benefits.

FAQs on Kimchi

Are all kimchi spicy?

No. Some types of kimchi are spicy, while others are not. It all depends on the kind of kimchi and the ingredients used to make the dish. You can adjust the spice level to suit individual preferences and heat tolerance.

What makes kimchi spicy?

The ingredients used to make kimchi determine the spice level of the dish. The addition of chili peppers, which are vital ingredients in kimchi recipes, makes the dish spicy. Different types of chili peppers bring varying spiciness levels. Chili peppers that contain high amounts of capsaicin will make your kimchi very spicy. Other ingredients like ginger, garlic, and onion can also contribute to kimchi’s spiciness.

Is spicy kimchi good for you?

Besides adding flavor to your dishes, spicy kimchi might benefit your health. The dish contains essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and probiotics that might support your digestive health, boost immunity, and lower inflammation and cholesterol levels.