I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of kimchi substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
The best substitute for traditional kimchi is another type of kimchi like radish kimchi. Sauerkraut is another great option and you can add a touch of gochugaru or gochujang to bring it closer to the taste of kimchi. Pickled vegetables are an easy swap.
I spent a delightful evening eating steamed rice with all my different kimchi substitutes to see which ones worked best.
Kimchi is a vibrant fermented dish traditionally made from napa cabbage. It has a complex flavor profile, blending spicy, tangy, and umami notes. Some people say it’s like a fusion of pickles, sauerkraut, and hot sauce.
It’s a staple in Korean cuisine, and it’s getting more and more popular in Western foods as a condiment in things like tacos and burgers. But if you don’t like it, or just can’t find any don’t worry – there are a few decent alternatives.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Emergency kimchi||A quick version of kimchi||10/10|
|Sauerkraut||Also fermented cabbage||9/10|
|Other types of kimchi||Radish kimchi is popular||9/10|
|White kimchi||Kimchi without the spice||9/10|
|Korean pickled vegetables||For tanginess||7/10|
|Regular pickled vegetables||And easy alternative||6/10|
|Achaar (Indian pickle)||Different, but just as flavorful||6/10|
|Other banchan||e.g Korean seasoned spinach||5/10|
|Curtido||Lightly fermented slaw||5/10|
Caught in a kimchi craving but don’t have any on hand? Don’t fret! There’s a quick fix that I’ve called “emergency kimchi.” While it won’t fully replicate the deep, fermented flavors of traditional kimchi, it’ll give you a close enough taste to tide you over.
Start with fresh cabbage or radish, thinly sliced. Toss it in a mix of gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes), a splash of fish sauce or soy sauce, minced garlic, a sprinkle of sugar, and a dash of vinegar. Let it sit for about 30 minutes to an hour to meld the flavors. Voila! You have a makeshift kimchi to satisfy that craving.
How to substitute: Replace kimchi in a 1:1 ratio with emergency kimchi.
Ever had a German hotdog? Then you’ve probably tasted sauerkraut, that tangy, fermented cabbage delight from Central Europe.
It’s like kimchi’s European cousin, bringing that crunchy, tangy zing to the table. But while kimchi dances on your tongue with its spicy notes, sauerkraut is more about that pure, sour punch.
It’s great in sandwiches, salads, or as a quirky side with your BBQ meats. And if you’re missing the kimchi kick, mix in some garlic, fish sauce, and gochugaru.
How to substitute: Replace kimchi in a 1:1 ratio with sauerkraut.
Other types of kimchi (e.g Kkakdugi, Radish Kimchi)
Next, meet Kkakdugi, the radish version of kimchi.
Kkakdugi offers a simpler approach than traditional napa cabbage kimchi. Because of radish’s high water content, there’s no need to brine the vegetables for as long and the fermentation process is quicker.
Psst… for a quick hack, quarter some red radishes and mix them with ssamjang. And radish kimchi isn’t the only kimchi alternative around, there’s loads. Some of my favorites are cucumber kimchi and water kimchi, both of which are really refreshing.
How to substitute: Replace kimchi in a 1:1 ratio with another type of kimchi.
White kimchi (Baek Kimchi)
Anytime you’re craving that kimchi flavor without setting your mouth on fire, white kimchi should be your go-to.
It’s fermented just like regular kimchi, so you still get that tangy crunch. But there’s no red pepper flakes, so it’s not spicy.
Missing the heat? Sprinkle in some gochugaru or a dab of gochujang (Korean red pepper paste).
How to substitute: Replace kimchi in a 1:1 ratio with white kimchi.
Korean pickled vegetables
Korean pickled vegetables are another fantastic alternative to kimchi. Like with kimchi, there’s loads of variety.
Take mu saengchae, for instance, a pickled radish that’s both sweet and tangy, often with a hint of spiciness. Then there’s oi muchim, pickled cucumbers that are refreshingly crisp with a subtle sweetness, making them a perfect palate cleanser. And let’s not forget my favorite Korean pickled onions, which are pickled with soy sauce for an extra umami kick.
You might not be able to find these in your local supermarket, but luckily they’re mostly easy to make at home.
How to substitute: Replace kimchi in a 1:1 ratio with a kind of Korean pickled vegetables.
Regular pickled vegetables
If you can’t face making Korean pickles, regular pickled vegetables are the next best thing. They couldn’t be more convenient! Chances are, you already have a jar or two tucked away in your fridge or pantry so there’s no need for a special trip to the grocery store.
Among the variety of pickled veggies, jalapeños stand out as a top choice, especially if you’re after that spicy kick reminiscent of kimchi. But other pickles, like dill cucumbers or pickled onions, can also work, and you can throw some chili powder in to replicate the heat of kimchi.
How to substitute: Replace kimchi in a 1:1 ratio with regular pickled vegetables.
Achaar (Indian pickle)
Achaar is like the Indian version of kimchi in that it’s served as a vibrant side dish that packs a punch of flavor in every bite.
While kimchi captivates your palate with its fermented, spicy crunch, Achaar offers its own unique blend of tang, spice, and sometimes even sweetness. Made from a variety of fruits and vegetables like mango, lime, or even carrots, Achaar is seasoned with a rich variety of spices including mustard seeds, fenugreek, asafoetida, and red chili powder.
The result is just as complex as kimchi but dances to its own tune. Think of this as less of a substitute and more of an alternative.
How to substitute: Replace kimchi in a 1:1 ratio with your choice of achaar.
Kimchi is a type of banchan (or side dish), so if you’re not a fan you can pretty much swap it for any banchan you want! While they won’t have the fermented kick of kimchi, they will complement any Korean-style dish beautifully.
You can stick with the spicy theme with spicy stuffed steamed eggplant, which is excellent with rice. Or go more mild with Korean-seasoned spinach.
For something vaguely similar to kimchi, try sweet and sour radish salad or Korean coleslaw. Both of these use similar seasonings to the ingredients in kimchi.
How to substitute: Replace kimchi in a 1:1 ratio with your choice of banchan.
Hailing from the sunny lands of El Salvador, Curtido is a lightly fermented cabbage relish with a hint of carrot and onion.
While kimchi is deeply fermented, Curtido has a simpler flavor profile with a tangy crunch and a touch of heat from chilis (although the chilis are optional). You can choose to eat it fresh or ferment it for a few days. The fermentation gives this side a more sour edge.
Psst… if you’re a fan of substitutes from around the world, try sambal matah – an Indonesian raw, spicy shallot salsa. It’s delicious with grilled meats.
How to substitute: Replace kimchi in a 1:1 ratio with Curdito.
Substitutes to avoid
While I was researching, I came across a few substitutes that I didn’t think were good suggestions.
Miso paste and gochujang: While both of these are flavorful fermented products, their smooth, pasty texture and umami-rich profile make them quite distinct from the crunchy and tangy nature of kimchi. They might be able to replace some of the flavors, but you can’t really use them in the same way as kimchi.
Fermented Drinks: Beverages like kombucha or kefir might share the fermented trait with kimchi, but again you can’t use these in the same way as kimchi.
Read Next: What To Serve With Kimchi
Kimchi Substitutes + 3 To Avoid
- 1 portion Emergency kimchi
- 1 portion Sauerkraut
- 1 portion Other types of kimchi radish kimchi, cucumber kimchi, water kimchi
- 1 portion White kimchi
- 1 portion Korean pickled vegetables
- 1 portion Regular pickled vegetables
- 1 portion Achaar
- 1 portion Other banchan e.g korean seasoned spinach
- 1 portion Curdito
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen kimchi substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.