Looking for a way to salvage overly spicy kimchi? These tips and tricks will help you get it back on track.
Kimchi, the fermented staple from Korea, is known for being fiery. Sometimes, its heat can be a little too much to handle even for the experienced eater.
If you find yourself with kimchi that’s just too hot to eat, don’t sweat it; it’s generally salvageable. To make kimchi less spicy, you can simply use less of it, add more of the other ingredients, or stir in nut butter, dairy, or sugar. Lastly, you can pair the kimchi with spicy foods or even give it a rinse under running water.
We’ve written this guide to help you explore these options in detail.
Just Use Less of It:
Let’s start with the simplest solution; the one that’s so obvious, it’s all too often overlooked. If the kimchi you’ve just made or bought is too spicy for your taste, add less of it to your dish.
Sure, using less kimchi may mean you won’t be following the recipe to the T, and you may need to adjust the ratio of other ingredients to achieve the ideal texture and flavor. But it’s still a solution worth considering—it only requires using a smaller amount of kimchi!
Besides, you can always refrigerate the leftover kimchi to use in future recipes. Sealed tightly and stored at or below 40°F (4.4°C), kimchi can last for 3 to 6 months.
Add More of the Other Ingredients:
If you are in the preparation stage of making your own batch of kimchi, this tip is for you.
For those unfamiliar with the kimchi preparation process, it involves fermenting a mixture of vegetables and spices over a period of time. Unfortunately, this tip won’t be applicable if you’ve purchased store-bought kimchi, as altering the ingredient ratio at that stage could potentially disrupt the fermentation balance.
However, if you are still in the process of making your kimchi, adjusting the ingredients is a viable option. The best way to mitigate the heat is to dilute it. You achieve this by adding more cabbage, which reduces the ratio of Korean red peppers (gochu) to everything else.
This solution allows you to maintain the original ingredients list while adjusting the heat to your preference.
Stir in some almond, cashew, or peanut butter:
“Wait, did I read that right? Almond, cashew, or peanut butter?!”
Before you dismiss this as kimchi blasphemy and close the tab on this article, hear us out. If your dish could benefit from a touch of sweetness—as many Asian dishes can—a scoop of nut butter can help temper the heat. Nut butters are fatty, which means they can break down the capsaicin that gives kimchi its heat, making the dish noticeably less spicy.
This approach works wonderfully in dishes where kimchi is a main component, such as in a kimchi stir-fry, kimchi fried rice, or a hearty kimchi stew. The nut butter not only reduces the spiciness but also imparts a creamy texture and a subtle nutty flavor that can elevate the dish to another level.
Start with a tiny amount and add more if necessary to avoid ending up with overly sweet kimchi. This way, you can add a new dimension to the flavor profile of your dish without altering the fundamental taste of the kimchi too much.
Top with dairy:
Dairy is an absolute champ at counteracting heat in foods, and kimchi is no exception. Top your dish with a splash of sour cream or Greek yogurt, or if you’re working with a sauce or soup, add some whole milk or kefir to mitigate the heat from the gochu peppers.
There’s sound science behind this: Milk contains a protein called casein, which can break down capsaicin, the oily compound found in Korean chili peppers that causes the burning sensation in your mouth. For those who prefer plant-based diets, you might explore non-dairy alternatives, although they may not work as effectively as dairy in alleviating the burn—they contain vegetable fat but not dairy protein.
Adding sweet ingredients can help to balance out the spiciness of kimchi. Stir in some sugar, honey, or a sweet fruit like apple or pear to your kimchi. These ingredients not only mellow out the perceived heat but also add a new layer of flavor to the dish.
We encourage you to experiment with different levels of sweetness to find the balance that works perfectly for your palate. Start with a smaller amount of sweetener and gradually increase it, tasting as you go to find the sweet spot that complements the kimchi’s natural flavors without overpowering them.
It’s important to note that balancing out the heat is not necessarily the same thing as counteracting it. The previous solutions on our list help mitigate the heat by diluting the capsaicin or even breaking it down. So, if you find your kimchi too hot to eat, prioritize those methods over this one.
Pair With Starchy Foods:
Starchy foods are great for balancing out the heat in spicy dishes, acting almost like a canvas. They mellow the fiery notes and allow the other flavors to shine through. This is a trick used in various cuisines from around the world, and it can work well with kimchi.
When you think about it, rice, noodles, and potatoes have a kind of blandness that works to their advantage here. They absorb some of the kimchi’s heat, yes—but they also offer a reprieve for your taste buds, a kind of “cooling station” in between the spicy bites.
If you’re serving kimchi as a side, consider going for a starchy main course: a bowl of jasmine or basmati rice, or perhaps a plate of buttery mashed potatoes. And let’s not forget noodles. From udon to rice noodles, the options are many.
Give It a Rinse:
Sometimes, despite our best efforts to balance the flavors, the kimchi just turns out way too hot to eat. In such cases, rinsing the kimchi briefly—in a fine-mesh sieve, under cold running water—can remove some of the spice while retaining most of the fermented flavor.
This is your last resort. Rinsing kimchi can potentially wash away some of the beneficial bacteria that are a hallmark of fermented foods, reducing its probiotic benefits and dulling its unique flavor profile.
Overly spicy kimchi doesn’t have to go to waste. From adjusting the amount of kimchi used to adding dairy or sweet elements, you have a range of options to explore. You might even find that a touch of nut butter or pairing the kimchi with starchy foods brings a delightful new dimension to your dish.
Remember, it’s all about finding the right balance that suits your palate. Try out the different methods and find your perfect kimchi. And as a last resort, rinsing your kimchi can reduce the spiciness. But use this method sparingly to retain the beneficial bacteria that make kimchi a healthy and flavorful choice.You've voted for this post