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”)

“MEH”

We know eating fermented food is good for you, right? So we should eat foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and of course kimchi on a daily basis for their probiotic benefits.

Personally I love kimchi. And I confess I’m a bit picky about it. I want the good stuff, meaning kimchi that someone who is Korean would say “that’s good!”. As someone who has Korean in-laws, and happens to love and have eaten a ton of Korean food, I have had the chance to eat a good deal of excellent varieties of Kimchi. I have been taught to taste really good Kimchi from just “OK” kimchi.

Kimchi is tricky to make and sell commercially. It’s a very specific preparation and Korean taste, and let’s face it, the best would probably be made by your Korean “Omma” (mom) if you had one. For commercially made Kimchi to be good, they must get everything right in manufacturing it in bulk, plus it’s a tricky food to distribute as it keeps fermenting. It can build up pressure as it sits on the shelves. I once bought a bottle of a really expensive brand at Whole Foods called Mother In Laws Kimchi that practically exploded like a shook up Coke when we opened it up, and made a real mess all over our kitchen!

Historically Trader Joe’s has tried their hand with Kimchi a few times and in different packages. Over the last few years, I would notice a Kimchi at TJ’s… then it would seem to vanish for a while..? Either they discontinued it for a spell or maybe they were finding other vendors, and changing the packaging, or all of the above. Before TJ’s current version sold in this red plastic jar, they carried kimchi in a soft plastic bag (see link) and also in a glass jar.

Frankly I have never been super impressed when I tried TJ’s Kimchi usually saying “not great but OK”. So my short review of of TJ’s latest kimchi is still “it’s just OK”. It’s decent but not very good kimchi. I think this one is better than the ones they sold previously? It’s better than no Kimchi if you can’t find kimchi elsewhere where you live. I can’t say this latest version of TJ’s kimchi is equal to most that you would find at a Korean supermarket, like H-MART (see how many kinds H-MART has??!) So on the plus side this latest Trader Joe’s Spicy Fermented Napa Cabbage Kimchi does have that tangy kimchi fermented taste (from lactic acid, which interestingly is listed on the label as an ingredient?) It doesn’t list any fish products which many Korean kimchi has for umami (oyster, squid…). So this is a vegetarian kimchi. It does say its “Made In Korea”. Though it says “spicy” I don’t find it terribly spicy though I imagine this is a highly personal opinion. One thing about this kimchi though. By the time we get it, to me it’s already what I would call a bit on the “older kimchi” side. I like my kimchi on the “fresher” side (1-2 weeks) This TJ one tastes like kimchi that’s been around maybe 3-4 weeks? As kimchi ages it gets more fermented, and the taste gets more sour and the kimchi gets softer. In our household we describe kimchi like this as “a little old”. Let’s face it, this was shipped all the way from Korea and then had to be distributed by truck I assume all over the US (don’t get me started on the carbon footprint this must have). When my own homemade kimchi* or any kimchi we buy gets this about this fermented what we do is usually start using it in cooking rather than serving it raw. However some people actually prefer kimchi that is a bit older or even “aged”. In Korea you can even get specially aged kimchi, 1 or even 2 years old (!) and that stuff is quite pricey.

I’m glad TJ is at least trying with selling Kimchi and Korean foods in general (though their pre-marinated package of bulgogi beef I tried once was terrible, as tough as shoe leather).

So to sum up if you can’t get a better Kimchi anywhere else this TJ kimchi is “not bad”. It’s about $4.50 for a 10 oz. jar. At least Trader Joe’s carries kimchi, and maybe eventually they will find a terrific Korean kimchi vendor even one in the US. Until then we can at least make do with this. And definitely try cooking something with Kimchi. Try making kimchi fried rice, which is very yummy, especially with a fried egg on top. Cooking kimchi mellows it out and adds great flavors to whatever you are making. Especially if you’ve had the kimchi for a while and its getting too funky for you as-is.

https://www.thekitchn.com/trader-joes-has-kimchi-here-are-6-ways-to-use-it-183085

Eat some kimchi with your Pot Stickers. Great combo with a little rice.

Besides eating kimchi uncooked you can use it for cooking in some dishes. Kimchi is great as an ingredient. For example “Buta Kimchi (Pork wtih Kimchi)” (recipe: https://uncutrecipes.com/EN-Recipes-Japanese/Buta-Kimchi.html)

You could make a Kimchi Jigae (stew) with pork, tofu, and kimchi.

And especially KIMCHI FRIED RICE. This would be excellent use for this kimchi.

Tip: you can use TJ’s pork tenderloin

https://food52.com/recipes/80922-what-to-do-with-old-sour-kimchi-kimchi-fried-rice

HOMEMADE KIMCHI

Think about making your own DIY Kimchi! It’s actually not terribly to hard to make an easy version. 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 plus make you 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 most amazing 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 Sesame Oil at Trader Joe’s. If you can’t find Korean GOCHUJANG (red chili paste) easily where you live, you can at least find it on AMAZON : https://amzn.to/3lf7IYg

It’s a must have ingredient to do any Korean cooking. As well as Korean Red Pepper Flakes (Gochugaru) – needed for making kimchi

https://amzn.to/2UYxh5p

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.

RANT

Kimchi bokkeumbap, kimchi fried rice in Korean...

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

TJ’s Roasted Seaweed Snacks


nori

RAVE

Wow, these are good. “Trader Joe’s Roasted Seaweed Snacks” are made from edible seaweed, and are similar buy different from Japanese nori (seaweed dried into sheets). These are “yaki-nori” (roasted) however these are not Japanese but from Korea. Korean ‘nori’ have other ingredients, like sesame oil, which gives a wonderful aroma and nutty taste. They are also much more delicate and not as dense structurally as Japanese nori, so break apart very easily. Therefore they are harder to roll stuff up in, the way you would do with sushi for example. But I do find the Korean kind tastier, and TJ’s “Roasted Seaweed Snacks” are delicious. Yes you can eat them as “snacks” as named; eaten like this, a package will vanish FAST! They are addictive. However they are good any way you would employ nori. I have made sushi hand-rolls with them (very carefully so they don’t fall apart). Fantastic.

A pack of these goes for the magical TJ price of 99 cents (and yes I’ve seen better prices for similar ones at Korean supermarkets but you might not have one of those near you) Its still not a bad deal at all as they give you a good number of these small square sheets.

Now I have read this is a “polarizing Trader Joe’s product” meaning you either love it or hate it. Huh? Me, I love them and would say if you haven’t tried these, pick up a pack and check them out for yourself. They are a “healthy snack”. As with so many TJ items, you may be instantly hooked and grab them every time you see them (and no I don’t get paid for this folks, or get free samples. I wish!) My local TJ’s is actually putting them right by the Checkout line… next to the chocolates! That must mean something!

Do as the Japanese do: Try making thin strips of them. Take 2 or 3 sheets. Cut into strips as thinly as you can. Sprinkle strips on top of…. well almost anything. They will add interesting flavors to: rice, salads, fish, chicken, meats…experiment! Try wrapping some food in them too, instead of bread or a taco (maybe two together for added strength?) I love them with “Spicy Tuna” and some sushi style rice. Put a sheet in your hand, top with some rice and top that with some Spicy Tuna. Gently fold into a tube and pop that tasty morsel into you mouth. Yum Yum Yum!

I found a very good post about them on this blog; take a look.

If you are want more information including the Nutrional Info, I found TJ’s product description for them online (PDF) – turns out I was right about guessing Korean origin.

Here’s what TJ’s has to say:

THE ROASTED SEAWEED SNACK STORY

It all started under the sea with an edible red algae (genus Porphyra), which is now commonly known as nori. Around the 8th century, evidence of nori surfaced in Japan as a type of culinary paste. It wasn’t until the Edo period (1603-1868) that sheets of nori were invented through a method of paper-making. Skip forward a few hundred years, and nori becomes a sensation across the globe—for sushi, snacking and seasoning. So Trader Joe’s knows, it’s now or nori. Our Roasted Seaweed Snack features nori from Korea that is roasted with a touch of oil (sesame & canola) and sea salt, then cut into strips. That’s it. It’s light, crunchy, ocean-salty and nuanced with an intriguing nutty flavor. It’s so good, it proves hard to keep in stock. Especially at 99¢ for a package.

UPDATE!

PS – I found this and had to add it…. this is hysterical!

“Korean flavored nori is increasingly popular in Japan, also as a topping for white rice. You could also eat flavored nori just on its own, but you should resist the urge to do it when in polite company: eating flavored nori as a snack is considered fairly vulgar (which doesn’t mean people don’t do it!)”

 see mid page about flavored nori ; original post:    http://kanakoskitchen.com/whatyouneed/seaweed/