Here's everything to know about this probiotic-rich fermented food's shelf life.
person placing kimchi on their meal
Credit: Getty Images

Full of probiotics, kimchi is a fermented favorite that has been a must-have in Korean kitchens for generations. There are hundreds of kimchi recipes, varying from region to region in Korea—or wherever the kimchi is being made—and depending on what is seasonally available. But typically it contains vegetables like cabbage, radish, turnip or carrots, plus additional flavoring like garlic, green onion and ginger. Gochugaru (red chile flakes) or gochujang (fermented red chile paste) is also often added, providing that spicy kick. The raw mixture is salted and fermented until it's tangy, fragrant and gains it characteristic pungency (anywhere from three days to three weeks).

Eating kimchi may help improve your cholesterol and even help keep your brain sharp, among other health benefits. But if you were under the impression that this beloved condiment can't go bad, think again. Here's everything you need to know about why kimchi goes bad.

Does Kimchi Go Bad?

Just because it's fermented doesn't mean kimchi won't go bad eventually. However, the signs of it going "bad" might not be as obvious as with fresh veggies and other refrigerated goods.

"Fermented foods like kimchi are typically fermented until they reach an acid level that is microbiologically safe and spoilage resilient," says Wildbrine co-founder Chris Glab. "If properly stored and refrigerated, the time frame for good crunch and optimal taste is within the stated shelf life on the package."

The shelf life of many store-bought kimchi brands is around eight months to a year. But, rely on your common sense. If you see any mold, toss it. If the smell changes from the usual expected sourness and pungency, to the point of being unpleasant, it may be time to get rid of it and buy more or start a new batch.

How to Store Kimchi

Warmer temperatures can accelerate spoilage, so storing kimchi in your refrigerator at a temperature around 39°F is the best way to keep it fresh. Here are a couple other important storage practices:

  • Make sure all the solids in the kimchi are submerged in brine so nothing dries out.
  • Use clean utensils when scooping from your jar or tub to ensure you don't introduce unwanted bacteria and contaminate the kimchi.

Does Store-Bought Kimchi Last Longer Than Homemade Kimchi?

Kimchi dates back centuries, and is one of the most important fermented foods in Korea. Making kimchi at home only takes a few ingredients and a bit of patience.

But according to Glab, sanitation practices and quality-control advancements typically not found in the average home kitchen can make store-bought kimchi last longer than your homemade version.

Otherwise, any other differences (like ingredients and total fermentation time) are entirely up to the chef. "There are many different recipes for kimchi driven by seasonality of ingredients, regional preferences, and/or occasion. So, differences in kimchi are driven by recipe choices," he says.

How to Tell If Kimchi Is Bad

Like veggies that soften as part of the natural rotting process, even fermented foods can lose their crunch with time. Glab says, "Over time, a fermented kimchi will lose its crunch, and flavors will dull, so there is a specific time frame within which kimchi is at its best."

Kimchi will continue to naturally ferment even when properly stored, but the flavor can grow dull or even sour. But not all "old" kimchi is bad! More sour, older kimchi can shine in dishes like this One-Pot Kimchi Jjigae.

Uses for Kimchi

Kimchi is incredibly versatile, and it's frequently enjoyed with most meals in Korea. But don't limit yourself by only using it as a side. "I love kimchi served over rice or noodles. I also love using kimchi as an ingredient, pureed and added to the filling for kimchi deviled eggs or as a marinade for kimchi fried chicken," says Glab.

It can also be snacked on straight out of the jar, or you could try adding it into these Turkey Burgers with Gochujang & Kimchi or a flavorful Forbidden Rice & White Kimchi Steak Salad.

Bottom Line

Yes, kimchi can go "bad" in the usual ways, like if it is contaminated and grows mold. But "bad" can come down to a matter of preference. If you no longer enjoy the way your kimchi smells or tastes, toss it and buy more or make your own. Kimchi will last a long time when stored properly in your fridge, but if you work it into your regular meal planning, you won't have to worry about it going bad, plus you'll reap the health benefits.