kimchi shelf life

Kimchi Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

Kimchi is getting more and more popular these days. You’ve heard that this Korean delicacy also has some health benefits, so you decided to give it a try.

Since you’re entirely new about these fermented vegetables, here comes the big questions: How long does kimchi last? Does kimchi go bad?

Keep reading to find out some basic knowledge about kimchi, its shelf life, storage guidelines, and signs of kimchi going bad.

What Is Kimchi?

Kimchi has a longstanding history in Korean culture, making it a representative of authentic Korean food. Kimchi is similar to pickles in terms of production method—both are fermented food.

Kimchi is made by fermentation of vegetables (usually Napa cabbages and radish). The vegetables are salted and seasoned with chili powder (gochugaru), garlic, some other spices, and aromatics.

With the significant presence of the Korean-American community, kimchi has become a trendy food in the US. Kimchi is also getting more popular worldwide with the rise of Korean pop culture and its health benefit in promoting gut health.

Traditional fermentation of kimchi takes place in a large earthenware pot that is effective in blocking the light. The pots are then left outside to ferment for a few weeks to several months.

When perfectly fermented, kimchi has a complex flavor—a combination of sour, sweet, tangy, and pungent. It has a crisp texture from the cabbage.

How To Store Kimchi

Remember that kimchi is a fermented food, like pickles and sauerkraut. Fermentation continues to occur over time, particularly at a warm temperature. That means refrigeration is required to slow down the fermentation process.

Depending on your preference, you can keep it right away in the fridge or leave it overnight or up to 2 to 3 days to ferment and create a more intense sour, tangy flavor.

If you are a kimchi lover, you probably prefer to buy in a big container. It’s recommended to take a sufficient amount for a week, place it into a sealed airtight container. Keep the vegetables soaked in the brining liquid to prevent them from drying out.

You can keep the rest in its original container and keep refrigerated. The same method applies for kimchi bought in bulk.

Always tightly seal the package after each use and use a clean spoon or cutlery to take it out. Avoid using your hand, especially if you recently touched other foods. These small habits are trivial but can determine the longevity of your food.

How Long Does Kimchi Last?

Kimchi is not a single, specific item. Instead, it has so many varieties in terms of vegetables used, spices, and preparation methods. All of these determine the shelf life of kimchi, as well as storage methods.

That means different kimchi brands may have a different shelf life. On average, the shelf life is between 6 to 12 months, indicated by a “best before” or “best by” date stamped on the package. Respect this date to guide your consumption. It means kimchi should be in its peak flavor and taste before this suggested date.

As you’ve probably known, an expiry date refers to quality rather than safety. When properly stored, you can expect that kimchi lasts a little longer, possibly a few weeks to months past the date.

Again, kimchi is a fermented food. In it, there are live lactic acid bacteria that continue the fermentation while kimchi is in your storage. Continuous fermentation is slowed down at chilling temperatures.

Kimchi stays fresh for up to 3 to 6 months after opening. When fermentation occurs at a faster rate or when kimchi is kept for too long, there comes the point when kimchi is over-fermented.

Although some people find this as normal circumstances and continue enjoying kimchi, some may find it less palatable. The flavor is more intense, it gets more acidic, and the vegetables lose the crispiness. Korean people usually use over-fermented kimchi for a cooked dish instead of a side dish.

Kimchi (unopened)6 to 12  months
Kimchi (opened) or bought in bulk3 to 6 months

This table is a general estimate for commercially-prepared kimchi.

Since kimchi differs significantly in terms of ingredients, preparation methods, and length of fermentation, it’s always suggested to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Kimchi may remain edible after these periods, but changes in flavor and taste may occur.

How Do You Tell If Kimchi Go Bad?

Kimchi is naturally sour, it is fermented food after all. Determining if it’s already bad or spoiled can be a little challenging for inexperienced eyes. Let’s make this task as simple as possible.

As mentioned earlier, kimchi contains live organisms that continue fermentation over time. Slowly over time, it becomes more and more acidic.

Depending on your preference, you may want to toss it out if it becomes too ripened. At this point, kimchi becomes sourer, and the texture is much softer.

As long as the smells are not terribly sour or molds are taking over, kimchi should be fine to eat. When in doubt, it’s always best to stay on the safe side.

Next to that, there are several symptoms that typically indicate spoilage in other packaged foods, but not in kimchi. These are fizzy or bubbly liquid, bulging caps, or squirted liquid (like champagne). Naturally-occurring bacteria are behind all these unusual occurrences.


Does kimchi go bad if not refrigerated?

Warm temperature supports the fermentation process. Unless you want to ferment the kimchi, it’s best to keep it refrigerated.

Can bad kimchi make you sick?

Past studies found that several pathogenic bacteria may survive in commercially-prepared kimchi. Hence, eating spoiled kimchi may cause food poisoning. (*)

If you see spoilage signs of kimchi, better trash any leftover.

How do you eat kimchi?

The most popular use of kimchi is a side dish with rice. Next to that, kimchi is also a common ingredient in Korean cuisine. You can use kimchi into cooked dishes such as stew (kimchi jjigae), fried rice, etc.

Kimchi is an excellent replacement for pickles. Use it for burgers, sandwiches, hotdog, and many more. Let your creative side take over!

Is kimchi spicy?

Traditional preparation of kimchi includes chili powder. It can be quite spicy if you’re not used to spicy foods. But, as kimchi is getting a wider audience, you can rest assured that less spicy kimchi is not very difficult to find these days.

Final Thoughts

Kimchi is dubbed as a Korean superfood due to its health benefits. Like fermented foods, kimchi is naturally sour and tangy. During storage, fermentation continues. Refrigeration is vital to slow down this fermentation process.

Storage conditions and good hygiene are also essential to keep contaminants away and maintain their shelf life.

When the kimchi is kept too long, it becomes much more acidic, and the texture is softer. At this point, it’s a matter of preference. As long as kimchi is not too sour or grows molds, it should be safe to eat.

kimchi goes bad

*Photo by amazingmikael/depositphotos

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