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Tomato and durian Kimchi are some of TikTok fans’ variegated Kimchi challenge

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South Korean kimchi exports are at an all-time high thanks to the Korean wave (Hallyu). And now, the surge in demand is leading to the creation of some unexpected and unusual variations.

Unlike the traditional kimchi made with vegetables such as cabbage, radish, and cucumber, exotic varieties made with asparagus, tomato, kiwi, strawberry, durian, and other ingredients are attracting attention on social media (SNS) for their unique flavors.

The popularity of kimchi in America has increased with exports to the U.S. reaching $30.64 million last year, according to the Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation. This represents a 41.2% increase from the previous year’s exports of $21.71 million, with the U.S. accounting for 26% of Korea’s total kimchi exports of 44,041 tons in 2023. With the popularity of kimchi on the rise, a variety of unique flavors using fruits and new ingredients have been trending on social media lately. However, individual tastes may vary regarding exotic kimchi.

As the demand for kimchi from non-Korean consumers has been increasing due to the Hallyu, exotic versions have also emerged. Pictured from left are tomato kimchi, durian kimchi, and mango Cubed Kimchi. [Images captured from TikTok]

Unique Texture
Asparagus kimchi became famous from a recipe posted on YouTube by renowned culinary researcher Lee Hyejung (Big Mama). It’s made by lightly pickling asparagus in boiling salt water, seasoning it with kimchi spices, and letting it sit at room temperature for a day. Known for its crunchy texture and savory flavor with a spicy kick, many fans have reacted positively, with comments such as, “It goes well with ramen,” “I live in an overseas area where cabbage is not widely available, so this recipe helped me,” and “It’s easy and tastes luxurious.”

Tomato kimchi was created by culinary researcher Paik Jongwon. He was tasked with creating a fusion Korean dish to utilize the tomatoes in his warehouse, discovering that the freshness of the tomatoes and the spiciness of the kimchi were an unexpected combination. The sweetness and juiciness of tomatoes soften the spiciness of the kimchi, making the dish enjoyable even for those who do not favor spicy food. Additionally, people who tried tomato kimchi said that it tastes similar to the Thai dish, som tam (papaya salad).

Neutralizing the Spiciness with Sweetness
Fruit kimchi is especially popular among people of younger age and from non-Koreans who don’t favor spicy flavors. The refreshing and sweet flavors of the fruit are said to blend well with the kimchi seasoning.

Fruit watery kimchi is made with sliced apples, pears, kiwi, carrots, beets, strawberries, and other fruits that are pickled with sugar, salt, and other ingredients. It’s popular especially in the summer because it’s sweet and cool, resembling Radish water kimchi in shape. The sweet and sour flavor of the fruit combined with the fragrant scent offers a different flavor profile from traditional watery kimchi.

In particular, many use glass jars to store kimchi, saying that fruit watery kimchi is relatively easy to try because it has beautiful colors, is easy to store, and does not have the characteristic kimchi smell. In addition to watery kimchi, it is also eaten as fresh fruit kimchi with kimchi seasoning.

Pineapple kimchi combines the sweet and sour flavors of pineapple with the spiciness of kimchi seasoning. One subscriber to YouTuber Trystan Petrash, who made the pineapple kimchi video, commented, “I never thought to try kimchi because I don’t like spicy food,” saying, ” but I could eat kimchi made with fruit because it wasn’t that spicy at all.”

Diced mango kimchi is a great combination of sweet and sour that even children can try. If eaten immediately after making, it tastes like fresh kimchi; after three days, it resembles traditional diced kimchi. The crunchy and chewy texture pairs well with the kimchi seasoning, says YouTuber Jay Jay. He noted that the mango flavor was not overpowering, but rather sweetened the kimchi. However, he advised using unripe green mangoes to avoid becoming a watery kimchi.

Exotic kimchi recipes have appeared on social media as challenges, attracting much attention. Particularly, kimchi using durian, known for its intense flavor and scent, has caught the eye of many. Durian kimchi is said to have a unique flavor and scent, combining the sweet taste and tangy scent of durian with the spicy flavor of kimchi. While some praised the aromatic flavor of durian for pairing well with kimchi, others were deterred by its strong smell and taste of both durian and kimchi. Many recipes for durian kimchi can be searched up on many social media platforms.

Additionally, kimchi with other ingredients such as mandarins, blueberries, basil, paprika, and broccoli are being researched. “As interest in Korean food grows, ‘exotic kimchi’ is emerging in many countries with various ingredients and recipes that fit the local flavors of each, expanding the new possibilities of kimchi,” said Sangwon Jung, Director of the Korean Cultural Center Los Angeles.

BY HAEUN CHUNG, JUNHAN PARK    [chung.haeun@koreadaily.com]