Who Moved My Kimchi Smell?

Who Moved My Kimchi Smell?

Kimchi is not only one of the most important Korean side dishes which is also used in Korean stews and main entrees, but many, many of us love it's one of a kind smell! I love my Kimchi and fried rice, and yes, the smell of frying kimchi is half the treat. I can't imagine preparing and then staring at a dish of kimchi fried rice that imparts NO SMELL of kimchi. What sort of culinary nightmare is this?

Well, the apparent nightmare, much like your favorite movie without sound, with or without color, or a cup of joe in the morning void of coffee aromatics, is now a dream or nightmare come true depending on how you prefer your kimchi.

The side dish as it's been served for hundreds of years is, for most of us kimchi connoisseurs, perfect with it's pungent smell and even has it's own National event called Kimjang. In preparation for the coldest months of the year, the entire Korean nation participates in the collection of ingredients, making, and storing of Kimchi for Um-dong (the coldest 3 or 4 months of winter). This is one of the most important annual events. Housewives, friends, relatives, and neighbors all pitch in. In years past, every fall, families traditionally took turns helping each other out in making Kimchi for the harsh winters ahead - complete with it's wonderful fermented smell I might add.

The annual event strengthened ties among family and neighbors perpetuating the spirit of "Pumasi" - Spirit of helping one another.

This tradition has been lost in some areas due to cultural modernization, busier schedules, availability of ready to eat Kimchi at local grocers, and the revolutionary Kimchi refrigerator which extends freshness using lower temperatures.

Now, 56 year old Kim Soon-ja (named First Kimchi Master by the South Korean Food Ministry in 2007) has created a Kimchi that has no smell. She has run her own factory since 1986 and now holds a patent on the odorless kimchi. Her creation is a new type of freeze-dried pickled cabbage that doesn't smell even after water is added. [1]

As selfish as this may seem, I'm not at all interested in the reaction from foreign palettes as much as what I may think of it. I understand Korea's struggle for globalization of Korean food and Kimchi in particular but I love the smell of Kimchi followed by the flavor of the pickled pungent heavenly gift.

The Seoul-based Corea Image Communication Institute, surveyed that Korean food's unique smell is the biggest obstacle to culinary globalization. Granted, the fermentation of cabbage, garlic, red pepper flakes, anchovy, fish sauce, and ginger greatly improves your chance of having kimchi breath but that's what brushing and breath mints are for!

Also consider that if such odorless kimchi brings itself and Korean cuisine, in general, closer to the desired culinary globalization, what are we to do with the 3,000 year old recipes and approaches to kimchi when asked about it? What do we say to those requesting REAL kimchi at restaurants? Shall we maybe provide separate seating as we did with smokers? I'm being a bit extreme of course, but I guess we can provide a pseudo kimchi for those not willing to risk being around the smell of a healthy fermenting food. For the vendor, it might even be an extra source of revenue and probably sell for more than the real stuff. One of the few requirements for ridiculous pricing is the novelty factor and a odorless kimchi will certainly have that. People are funny that way don't you know.

With the smell removed, what does the odorless kimchi taste like? Well, I personally haven't had the opportunity to try it but am extremely doubtful and pessimistic that I would enjoy it as I do naturally fermented and freshly served kimchi with all it's glorious smell. However, I will remain open minded enough to say I've yet to try it and until I do so, will have to hold my tongue just a little and, without effort, nose on the matter - remember it's odorless..

The creator of the odorless 'just add water' brand of kimchi speaks better of it saying, "When it soaks in water either hot or cold for a few minutes, it will become just like ordinary kimchi," says Kim, the owner of Han Sung Food in suburban Seoul.

It sounded like and reminded me of the sterilized and irradiated kimchi that was developed for space travel when Astronaut Ko San went into orbit April '08.

I'm sure the odorless brainchild's creator has nothing but great things to say about the Kimchi but I want the pungent smell as its part of the experience for many of us. For kimchi mongers like myself, this odorless variety would be like smoked B-B-Q without a trace of smokey beef in the air or a pastry kitchen with no sweet effect on the nose.

A food science professor at Kyung Hee University said "Some people who like freshness could dislike" dried kimchi". The dish, an acquired taste, isn't the same without its telltale aroma, Cho says.

I would also be concerned about missing any of the true health benefits of traditional kimchi versus it's odorless counterpart. I enjoy the smell of my kimchi as its served and I indulge myself. Not withstanding the lack of it's natural smell, I can't help but wonder if the health benefits of odorless kimchi remain intact to include the anti-toxins, anti-allergens, and anti-biotics.

From Wikipedia: (Regarding REAL Kimchi)

"The magazine Health named kimchi in its list of top five "World's Healthiest Foods" for being rich in vitamins, aiding digestion, and even possibly reducing cancer growth.

A study by Seoul National University claimed that chickens infected with the H5N1 virus, also called avian flu, recovered after eating food containing the same bacteria found in kimchi. However, the veracity of these results has been questioned due to the very small sample size of only a handful of chickens and the fact that no subsequent research supported the claims. During the 2003 SARS outbreak in Asia, many people even believed that kimchi could protect against infection, although there was no scientific evidence to support this belief.

However, in May 2009, the Korea Food Research Institute, Korea's state food research organization, said they had conducted a larger study on 200 chickens, which supported the efficacy of kimchi in fighting off avian flu." [2]

Among factual health benefits of Kimchi are improved intestinal maintenance, omega-6 fatty acids, fights unhealthy cholesterol levels, high levels of garlic contributing high levels of Allicin - a natural source of Selenium and artery cleaner, and high chili pepper content with it's vitamin C content. [3]

I suppose, my future dinning experiences may require a call ahead to specify and insure I'm served the traditional stinky kimchi following my preference between the city's finest tap or mineral water. So if a serving of this odorless kimchi makes it to my table, it will for my tastes be only half the experience.

That would undoubtedly be a table and restaurant I would have to avoid. I mean Kimchi has been traditionally served fresh or slightly aged with all it's natural flavors and fermented smell just as it was made as early as 2600-3000 years ago. It's hard to part with such an old habit you know.

I must admit that opening a jar of kimchi will release a strong and lingering smell that most would find very noticeable and maybe offensive. If traveling and unable to to go where it is served as a standard, having to eat from a hotel room or another's home, I'd be more than happy to venture into the customary grub of the region. I mean, when in Rome, you don't bust out your tupperware full of kimchi. And even then, I know in many parts of the world, I can acquire enough kimchi locally to satisfy my needs. This isn't like requesting $750 a pound white truffles while on expedition in the Amazon.

I've contacted Kim Soon-ja for a sample of her Kimchi as I would like to review her product at my site Love That Kimchi.com. Just as I sampled Granny Choe's traditional Kimchi (complete with the wonderful smell of fermenting cabbage and age-old ingredients) and now recommend it at my site, I would offer a completely fair and unbiased review of the odorless kimchi for both the traditionalist and those who've stayed away from this gem because of the smell. Despite having my strong preference, I can offer a fair review on merits of taste alone. This despite a strong connection between sense of smell and taste - at least mine. It might be like judging a sizzlin' steak, before the eyes, with no beefy smell but it would be the taste, after all, that is being judged. I've had to do worse.

Until then, with all due respect, and I mean that, I believe 'odorless kimchi' will be tolerated among true lovers of Korean cuisine as much as zirconia diamonds are among precious stone collectors.

In the meantime, I'm grateful to keep and wherever acceptable revert to my smelly kimchi.

I enjoy every whiff of the fermenting perfectly balanced flavors of cabbage and ingredients that make this strong smelling food one of the five healthiest foods in the world according to Health Magazine. But then again, what do those shmuks know about this stuff right?

Finally, for those not willing to settle, remember, if it looks like kimchi, SMELLS like kimchi, is served like kimchi, then its probably REAL kimchi.

In the meantime, don't make me ask who moved my kimchi smell.


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