Trader Joe’s KIMCHI

Trader Joe’s KIMCHI (Spicy Fermented Napa Cabbage) Ingredients: Napa Cabbage, Radish, Onion, Red Pepper Powder, Salt, Garlic, Vinegar, Lactic Acid (Made in Korea)

Rated “Meh” (5/10)

Yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi are all fermented foods with lots of probiotic benefits.

I am not Korean but I love me some kimchi, good kimchi that is, and by “good” I guess I mean some that someone who knows it well, probably of Korean background, would tell you this is good kimchi. So let’s start with this. I’m think few Koreans would tell you that this kimchi from Trader Joe’s is good. Trader Joe’s kimchi is just OK. It’s not terrible. I buy it if I cant get kimchi from a Korean market. To me TJ’s kimchi problem is, its already a bit old by the time we get it. It’s nothing like really fresh kimchi you can find at any Korean supermarket. That kimchi made from Napa cabbage is still fairly green and it’s crunchy. It was probably made 4-5 days ago at most. Trader Joe’s kimchi is neither green, nor crunchy and it is already a bit soft when you open the jar. This is normal, because over time kimchi ages and ferments more and and gets softer as it sits in the fridge. I am guessing basically its taken much longer to get this Trader Joe’s (made in Korea) brand into all TJ’s stores than some locally made stuff. Again it’s not bad. Trader Joe’s kimchi is OK in a pinch. In our house we say it’s better than not having kimchi around. It will do in a pinch if we can’t get good kimchi at a Korean/Asian market. The main thing is this. My wife (Korean) and I think Trader Joe’s kimchi is best to cook something with. Perhaps that’s how you should think of it too, though of course you can just eat it as-is.

The reality of selling kimchi is its a tricky product to mass produce and and sell commercially. Of course the best kimchi is probably something made by a Grandma or Mom if you had one of those! In the past in fact kimchi was almost typically all home made, though modern Korean families probably mostly buy it ready made these days. They can buy good commercial, and fresh, kimchi. Here in the US you can find very good kimchi at many Asian markets and of course at a Korean market such as H-Mart. Kimchi is tricky to distribute because it is “alive” and it keeps fermenting in the jar. We once bought a jar at Whole Foods of an expensive brand called “Mother In Law’s Kimchi” that actually exploded all over the kitchen when we opened the jar like a shook-up can of Coke! Seriously. It made a huge mess all over our kitchen and it took an hour to clean it all up (don’t worry the Trader joe’s stuff won’t explode on you) On top of which I didn’t find it at all worth the high price.

Historically Trader Joe’s has tried their hand selling Kimchi a few times, in different packages (see pics). Over the last few years, I would notice some version TJ’s, but it changed or vanished? Either they discontinued it for a spell or maybe they were finding other vendors, changing the packaging, or all of the above. Before TJ’s current version sold in this red plastic jar, they sold kimchi in a plastic pouch (see link) and then in a glass jar. This is the third incarnation/package I recall but I have never been too impressed with TJ’s Kimchi usually giving it a “well its OK”. My short review of this TJ’s latest kimchi attempt remains that: “well it’s OK”. In reality TJ’s kimchi is nowhere near to kimchi you will find at almost any Asian market, like H-MART (wow, see how many kinds H-MART has?!) If you have the chance to buy some at an Asian market, that would be a good base line to compare this to. On the plus side Trader Joe’s Spicy Fermented Napa Cabbage Kimchi does have a tangy fermented taste (from lactic acid, which interestingly is even listed as an ingredient?) It doesn’t list any fish products (oysters, squid, or fish sauce) for more Umami like many brands have, meaning TJ’s kimchi is VEGETARIAN. “Spicy”? I don’t find it so like most “real kimchi” is, though I imagine this is a highly personal taste. To my taste Trader Joe’s kimchi is kind of already what I would call on the “old side” meaning it’s like a Korean supermarket kimchi that we bought say 2 weeks ago and its now gotten a bit more fermented as it sits in our fridge. As kimchi ages it is always fermenting and the taste gets more sour, it gets softer and the green color fades (like at Trader Joe’s). In our house when it gets like this we say say this it should be sued to cook with, like in kimchi fried rice. W will use it for a that or maybe “Soon Du Bu” (kimchi tofu stew) or Kimchi Pork. Let’s face it, this kimchi was shipped (by air?) all the way from Korea, probably landed in California, then it has to be distributed by truck all over the US.

I’m glad TJ’s is at least selling Kimchi and Korean foods like the TTeok Bok Ki. And Jap Chae (both are not bad) or the rice cakes. So to sum up if you can’t get a really good Kimchi from a Korean store, Trader Joe’s kimchi will do. Do try to use this kimchi as an ingredient to cook with. Try making kimchi fried rice, which is good especially with a fried egg on top. Eat some kimchi with your Pot Stickers.

Ideas here:

Stir Fried Pork with Kimchi –

(recipe here:

You could make a Kimchi Jigae (stew) with pork, tofu, and kimchi. Tip: you can use TJ’s pork tenderloin


DIY Kimchi! No, seriously! There are easy kimchi versions that are not terribly to hard to make. If you buy a few ingredients at a Korean grocer (like Kochugaru, Korean ground red pepper) you can make your own cabbage kimchi and I bet the result will be better than TJ’s kimchi not too mention you will feel like a star when you impress people casually tossing out “You like it? I made this kimchi myself”. Aaron & Claire on YouTube have a great “easy kimchi” recipe using regular cabbage (it’s a kind of “summer kimchi”). I made it and my (Korean-Japanese) wife who has always said the TJ kimchi is no good told me the cabbage kimchi I made based on Aaron& Claire’s recipe was the best kimchi she had in the U.S. It’s great one day later and will be improve more and more, tasting pretty amazing in a week or two as it ferments in the fridge. Seriously, if you want good kimchi, you will be surprised that you can make really good stuff on you own! Thanks Aaron & Claire for a super recipe.

You can find toasted Sesame Oil at Trader Joe’s as well as GOCHUJANG (red chili paste) It’s a must have ingredient to do Korean cooking. As well as Korean Red Pepper Flakes (Gochugaru) – needed for making kimchi

Good luck and Kamnisamnida! (thank you)


Trader Joe’s Kimchi Fried Rice


TJ’s Kimchi Fried Rice

Disclaimer: I only tried this at the Sample Station. In fact I confess the Sample Station is the locus where I usually gravitate to almost immediately after I enter Trader Joe’s. I check out if they have something interesting to taste that day, and of course to grab myself a little cup of free coffee. Don’t you? Truly the Coffee Station is one of the best things about Trader Joe’s, isn’t it? Every supermarket should copy them; going shopping would be much more fun.

Kimchi Fried Rice is a fairly new item and TJ’s seemed to be promoting it quite a bit. Recently it was the product “on sample” 2 or 3 times that I had been to TJ’s of late. What I found funny was they had a sign next to the samples: Its said something like, “Warning: Spicy! Try at your own risk! If you can’t take spicy food, be careful!” Then I tasted it and my first thought was “Huh? This is spicy?”. Seriously to me it was about as spicy as baby food (I can take the heat). I started discussing this disconnect of the “WARNING” sign with the TJ employee who was in charge of the Sample Station at the time. He was of the same opinion – the Kimchi Fried Rice is not spicy at all! He cracked me up when he told me however how many people actually complained “Jeez this is so spicy” after they tasted the Kimchi Fried Rice on sample. So many that they put up the “warning, spicy” sign!

So here is what I thought after tasting the Kimchi Fried Rice. My wife is Korean-Japanese. So I knows me some Kimchi Fried Rice (the authentic Korean kind). I adore it. I can even cook a decent version myself. So if I compare that taste to this stuff, I just have to say this is a pretty bland, insipid version. The two times I tried it was soft and fairly mushy, plus it had barely any kimchi taste; To me, its flavor profile was just weak, which I attribute to an industrial production of such a “homey” dish. For one, truly Kimchi Fried Rice needs real garlic flavor, as well as Kimchi. This barely even had any garlic nor Kimchi flavor for me. The real thing is a fantastic dish, and this? Frankly to my tastes perhaps it would be suitable for babies (ok maybe Korean babies). Now having said that – Trader Joe’s does have a decent “ethnic” fried rice. TJ’s JAPANESE FRIED RICE is actually pretty good. In my years,  I’ve eaten tons of both Kimchi fried rice and Japanese fried rice and know what these should taste like, and I can cook decent versions of both.

So, sorry Trader Joe’s but in my opinion your KIMCHI FRIED RICE is a big miss!

If you try it, also try the JAPANESE FRIED RICE next time and see which you prefer. Pretty much same as TJ’s another new “Korean” addition, Trader Joe’s Kimchi, which I found such a poor product I actually “returned” it! Perhaps those who don’t live in a city where you can buy real kimchi sold at a Korean market, might think “so this is kimchi, tasty”.  Actually if you had real Kimchi you would know this stuff is not even close to being as tasty as a real Korean-made kimchi – for example this brand (Tobagi) of Napa cabbage kimchi I get at H-MART supermarket on 32nd Street (Manhattan’s Korea Town). If you A/B taste tested this prepared kimchi vs. the Trader Joe’s version? It would be almost a joke, its just no comparison! Anyone who’s been to a Korean restaurant will know the real taste of kimchi. At $1.99 (10 oz) you can try TJ’s version and see for yourself. Let me know what you think.


Kimchi bokkeumbap, kimchi fried rice in Korean...

Kimchi bokkeumbap, kimchi fried rice in Korean cuisine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)