Does Kimchi Go Bad?

So you decided to give kimchi a test. You’ve heard about it from a coworker or a friend, and read a bit about its health benefits. Then you’ve bought a jar, opened it and had some as a side dish a couple of times. And then you started wondering: does kimchi go bad?

Or maybe kimchi is a regular guest in your menu, but you never really learned how long does it last. You finish a jar within a few days, so you never really thought about it spoiling or losing its taste. So you’re looking for a quick primer on the shelf life of kimchi.

Either way, if you have any questions or concerns regarding storage, shelf life, or going bad of kimchi, you’re in the right place. This article covers exactly those topics, so read on.

Making kimchi
Image used under Creative Commons from Lori L. Stalteri

How to Store Kimchi?

Kimchi is a popular Korean side dish made with fermented spicy cabbage and other veggies. Traditionally, kimchi is made in huge earthenware vats buried in soil, but nowadays it’s usually made in mason jars and fermented at room temperature or slightly below it. The production process is quite similar to sauerkraut, and so are the storage guidelines.

Kimchi in most cases is sold unpasteurized. That means the beneficial bacteria in the jar are still active, and the fermentation process is ongoing. Because of that, the fridge is the best storage place, where fermentation slows down significantly. You can keep the jar at room temperature for a few days, but the resulting kimchi will be very tart, and the jar might explode like champagne upon opening.

Once you open the jar, first and foremost remember to keep it sealed tightly when not in use. Second, like with pickles, make sure all the veggies are covered in liquid, so they won’t dry out and go bad. If for any reason you can’t use the original jar, any other airtight container should work too. Make sure you transfer all the liquid, and the veggies are submerged in it.

If you’ve opened a jar of unpasteurized kimchi and didn’t find it sour enough for you’re liking, you can fix that easily. Just let the sealed jar sit in the sink overnight and put it back into the fridge in the morning. You should find contents of the jar more tasty in the afternoon. We put the container in the sink just in case the bacteria go crazy overnight, and it releases some liquid.

If you’ve bought pasteurized or heat-treated kimchi, you can store an unopened jar in the pantry or kitchen. Just make sure it sits in a cool place that’s away from sunlight and sources of heat. Heat treatment kills all the bacteria in kimchi, so there’s no need to keep it refrigerated. But once you open the jar, make sure you store it tightly sealed in the fridge.

Last but not least, always use clean utensils when scooping the veggies from the jar. While the environment inside is quite acidic and will likely kill most bacteria that could get in there, there’s no point in testing if this actually works.

Kimchi in a bowl
Image used under Creative Commons from Charles Haynes

How Long Does Kimchi Last

Store-bought kimchi usually comes with a best-before or use-by date. Depending on the producer and ingredients, its suggested shelf life is usually between 8 months and a year. That date is provided not because the fermented veggies will go bad, but because even when stored in the fridge, the fermentation slowly proceeds. That means that kimchi becomes tarter over time, and after around that date, it might start to become too sour for some people. Opening the jar doesn’t really change anything in terms of shelf life if you follow the storage guidelines provided above.

So to sum things up, adequately stored kimchi will last years, but its taste will gradually change over time. Because of that, finishing the veggies before or slightly after the date on the label makes perfect sense.

PantryFridge
Kimchi (unpasteurized)Best-before + 1 month
Kimchi (pasteurized, unopened)Best-by + 1 – 3 months
Kimchi (pasteurized, opened)Best-by + 1 – 3 months

Please note the periods above are estimates and for best quality only.

How to Tell If Kimchi Has Gone Bad

Generally speaking, if stored properly, kimchi doesn’t go bad, it just ripens. When kimchi ripens, the flavor becomes sourer. But that doesn’t mean ripe kimchi is no longer usable, it is still edible even when it’s super sour. So if the kimchi is too sour for your taste, you can use it in stir fries and stews.

As time goes by, the cabbage can lose its crunch, and that’s perfectly normal too. If that happens, once again, try using the kimchi in dishes that don’t depend on that crunch to taste great. Or simply cook or sautée it.

Even though kimchi technically shouldn’t ever spoil, life happens. If there’s any mold in the jar (possible if some veggies weren’t fully submerged), or it smells off, throw it out. If the vegetables are too sour, you can use them in one of the mentioned ways, or discard for quality purposes. It’s up to you really.