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Posted by on Mar 13, 2013 in Product Reviews | 3 comments

Review: Trader Joe’s Dried Kimchi

Review: Trader Joe’s Dried Kimchi

I  recently bought a package of Trader Joe’s Dried Kimchi, which is 0.7 ounces of dehydrated 배추 김치 baechu kimchi that retails for $2.99.

But is that centuries-old red chili-and-cabbage spicy-sour staple of the Korean dining table being marketed by this Western U.S. grocery chain as 반찬 banchan — a side dish that accompanies the meal — or as seasoning, a condiment or snack?

That explains why I had a hard time finding it at first in the north San Francisco Bay–area store I visited in early March. It reportedly was advertised as a seasoning or a condiment, so I pored over the spice section for several minutes before giving up to complete my shopping list. Then I happened upon it in the snack aisle, sharing space with the potato, kale and pita chips. So, this is supposed to be a snack?

I wonder if this product is the result of Kim Soon-ja’s labor? Back in 2009, the Los Angeles Times interviewed this owner of Han Sung Food, based in Bucheon near Seoul, about her idea of developing baechu kimchi without a pungent smell. She believed that freeze-drying it would encourage non-Koreans to appreciate kimchi.

Five years later, we find a dried kimchi as Trader Joe’s latest packaged Korean food preparation. The chain has offered Korean staples such as 갈비 kalbi (grilled beef ribs), 불고기 bulgogi (marinaded sauteed beef), roasted seaweed snacks, 김치복음밥 kimchi fried rice and 비빔밥 bibimbap for some time. The company just recently started selling traditional baechu kimchi in the refrigerator section.

But the crispy kimchi is not the same as the chilly kimchi. The dried product has all the basic ingredients of regular baechu kimchi: cabbage, red chili, garlic, ginger, salt, onion and radish. Yet it is very “fish-forward” — to hook a wine country term — from both shrimp paste and anchovy in the paste. Usually, paste for baechu kimchi contains one or the other.

The nutrition label says 0.7 ounces of dried kimchi is enough for four people. That’s basically one or two pinches of dried kimchi per person — ludicrous. That’s the kind of serving size I’d expect from a seasoning or condiment, not a snack.

The conversation about whether this product is a snack, dish ingredient or topping started in Koreafornian Cooking‘s social media circles. One of the Facebook feeds I follow had sent out a brief blip on the product launch, so I sent out a quick comment via Facebook and Twitter:

Trader Joe’s newest snack: dried kimchi. fb.me/1NRNbWeOO
— Koreafornian Cooking (@Koreafornian) March 2, 2013

Demi Dang, one of my Twitter followers, pounced on it pretty quickly:

@koreafornian oh wow haha
— Demi Dang (@demidang) March 2, 2013

But I wasn’t ready to make any kind of comment beyond letting people know of its existence.

@demidang I haven’t tasted it yet so I can’t vouch for it.
— Koreafornian Cooking (@Koreafornian) March 2, 2013

A few days later, Demi got back to me with her opinion on the dried kimchi:

@koreafornian 2 out of 5 stars twitter.com/demidang/statu…
— Demi Dang (@demidang) March 6, 2013

@demidang so you tried it, eh! What does 2/5 stars mean to you? Inquiring minds must know.
— Koreafornian Cooking (@Koreafornian) March 6, 2013

@koreafornian Has the dry freeze taste that comes in the kimchi flavored ramen noodles. The kimchi itself is a bit bland surprisingly.
— Demi Dang (@demidang) March 7, 2013

I wouldn’t call it “bland,” but I would say that the flavors are not well-balanced. To me, the dried kimchi was very fishy and salty with just a dash of heat and spice. That’s what you’ll get from a double dose of shrimp paste and anchovy and a double dose of salt from regular salt and the aforementioned shrimp paste.

My recommendation is to treat this product as a condiment:

  1. Open the bag, let as much air out of it as possible then reseal the bag.
  2. Crush the dried kimchi as much as possible with a rolling pin.
  3. Sprinkle it on pizza as a substitute for crushed red pepper flakes that are common fare in Italian restaurants.

3 Comments

  1. I got some at Trader Joe's and was thinking it would be snack-ey, like kale chips. You described the furikake (slightly fishy) taste perfectly.

    • I see I wasn&#39;t the only one who thought the dried kimchi was a snack. I found it in the snack aisle. <br /><br />Thanks for the Japanese lesson, too. 🙂

  2. Your recommendation on how to use it sounds perfect. I want to try…<br />LL

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