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Posted by on Feb 20, 2013 in Korean Food, Product Reviews | 9 comments

Review: Trader Joe’s kimchi

Review: Trader Joe’s kimchi

A  friend recently tipped me to Trader Joe’s addition of a new Korean item to its grocery store shelves: 김치 kimchi.

Baechu kimchi is the most well-known Korean food. Until the last few years, it also struck fear into many with non-Korean palates, thanks to horror stories passed down by Korean War-era grandfathers. That wasn’t helped by the popular euphemism “deep kimchi” for being mired in post-digestion waste.

I found Trader Joe’s private-label kimchi in the refrigerated section of one of its San Francisco Bay area stores. The sealed, laminated package held 10 ounces of kimchi and retailed for $1.99. Although the kimchi is sold under the store brand, it is labeled as being made in Korea.

This is not your Korean grandma’s kimchi: It’s vegan, which means no shrimp paste, fish sauce or raw oysters. Replacing that umami flavor role is shiitake mushroom powder. Other than that, key TJ kimchi ingredients are stereotypically Korean: garlic, ginger, radish, red pepper flakes, rice paste and green onion.

I’ve been spoiled by being able to buy fresh-made kimchi from a local Asian foods grocer. Despite having two oxygen absorbers inside the sealed package, TJ kimchi was ripe enough — tangy from fermentation — to be 김장 kimjang.

Kimjang is winter kimchi. At the end of the growing season in late November or early December, Koreans gather up the last of the cabbage, radishes and other veggies then process as much of it as quickly as possible into kimchi. That provides vegetables to eat until spring. Yet by that time, the kimjang is quite sour.

Just as the tongue center of Gu Jun Pyo’s accident-rattled brain couldn’t forget the taste of Geum Jan Di’s 계란말이 gyeranmari (rolled omelette) in the 2009 K-drama Boys Over Flowers, I can’t forget the taste of kimjang.

By comparison, when our family makes it to the bottom of our one-gallon jar of custom kimchi after a few weeks, the remainder is pretty sour and ready for 김차찌개 kimchi jjigae (stew).

It takes a very, very long time for kimchi to truly go bad. [See “Faster fermentation: Does kimchi primed make kimchi before its time?” and “Interview with Delilah Snell of Project Small on kimchi-making.”]

Trader Joe’s kimchi is simply well-fermented. For the least-sour experience, look for a package with a “best by” date on the package as far in the future as possible. If it’s too sour for you, consider using it along with some broth to make kimchi jjigae.


  1. Great review, thanks. Since I go to the Korean Market as often as TJs, I&#39;ll probably continue to purchase it at the market, but good to know they carry it, in a kimchi emergency.<br />LL

    • You just have to remember to eat it. I had a friend tell me yesterday that she bought a pack and left it in the refrigerator and it exploded. LOL! People forget that kimchi is a naturally fermented product.

  2. I&#39;ve just come across your blog this morning. I&#39;ve been watching Kimchi Chronicles on Hulu and thought, &quot;Hey, I&#39;d love to learn to make something Korean but I think Kimchi is yukky.&quot; I had never tried it, but Kimchi&#39;s reputation snuck it&#39;s way into my psuedo memory banks. As I was shopping at Trader Joe&#39;s the other day, I came across the package of Kimchi – for

    • I just tried it and, even though it&#39;s hard for fermented vegetables to be bad, this does not have the tang and spice of most kimchi I&#39;ve had. I have written to Trader Joes to find out if it&#39;s pasteurized. I used to eat Bubies sour kraut and then one of the store owners told me it is pasteurized. What purpose is pasteurization when you are using clean vegetables and are fermenting it

    • I don&#39;t think the Trader Joe&#39;s kimchi is pasteurized. One of my friends who bought a pack, put it in her fridge and forgot about it and the bag exploded all over her fridge about a month or so later.

  3. I&#39;m not Korean, but I have eaten a lot of kimchi izn restaurants and from Korean stores, to my paper Trader Joe&#39;s is some of the best I have had.

  4. As a Korean I was not impressed with TJ&#39;s kimchi. It lacks not spice but the punch reason being the vegan ingredients. No disrespect but great article.

    • I&#39;m a person who does not eat shellfish for religious reasons so I appreciate a good vegan kimchi, but I totally understand it wouldn&#39;t satisfy everyone.

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