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Meet the Korean woman who has a PhD in kimchi

Manjo Kim was turned down by 11 American universities when she wanted to do further research on the dish

Published on Apr 9, 2014 6:53 AM

When Dr Manjo Kim told her chemistry professor that she was keen to pursue research on kimchi, he scoffed.

The then-Korean marine biochemistry undergraduate at Pusan University, and later Seoul University, was interested in her country's national condiment.

Undeterred, she decided to apply for PhD fellowships at 11 American universities to do research on kimchi, but was turned down.

Finally, she was accepted into Leeds University in Britain, where she wrote her doctorate dissertation on the topic in the 1960s.

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Background story

“The kimchi was alive. There were so many living organisms that I saw under the microscope.”

Dr Manjo Kim about the kimchi stain on her trousers which led her to do her PhD on the fermented vegetable



2.5kg of Napa cabbage

250g rock or sea salt for brine

300g Korean radish, julienned

21/4 tsp sea salt for radish

1.5 litres water


25g rice flour (for porridge water)

60ml water (for porridge water)

100g coarse Korean red chilli powder, from Korean grocery stores such as Sol Mart and Shine Korea

60g garlic, finely chopped

35g ginger, finely chopped

80ml fish sauce or minced Korean fermented baby shrimp, from Korean grocery stores

6g sugar

30g large spring onions, cut diagonally into pieces about 5 to 8mm long

20g chives, cut diagonally into pieces about 5 to 8mm long (optional)

Other items to prepare

Four one-litre glass jars with lids or one wide-mouth medium-sized earthen pot with a cover


1. Trim and discard the discoloured outer leaves of the cabbage. Cut the heads of cabbage into half lengthwise and remove the roots. Rinse the cabbage and drain.

2. In a large tub, prepare the brine by dissolving the salt in the water.

3. Fully submerge the cabbage into the brine in an upright position. Place a light object such as a large plate on top to make sure that it remain submerged. Leave it in the brine for at least 14 to 18 hours. During the brining process, turn the cabbage upside down twice to ensure that it will be evenly salted.

4. When you are going to make the kimchi, add 21/4 tsp of salt to the julienned radish. Set aside.

5. Meanwhile, prepare the porridge water, which is used to encourage fermentation. Bring the rice flour and water to a boil, then leave to cool. Set aside.

6. Rinse the cabbage that has been soaking in the brine in cold water. Do this three times. Drain upside-down in a colander.

7. In a large mixing bowl, combine the chilli powder, garlic, ginger, fish sauce or fermented shrimp, sugar and 35ml of the porridge water. Mix into a paste. Add radish, spring onion and chives. Mix well.

8. Put on a glove. Spread the mixture between the cabbage leaves and on the outside parts of the cabbage. Fold the cabbage in half. Using the outermost leaf, tightly bind and wrap the folded cabbage so that it becomes compact. Place in a glass jar.

9. Repeat until all the cabbage halves have been layered with seasoning and have been placed into the jars.

10. Use the remaining porridge water to wash off any excess seasoning on your glove and into the mixing bowl. Divide the liquid among the jars of cabbage.

11. Cover the glass jars and leave to stand at room temperature in a cool, clean and dark area to ferment for 24 hours.

12. After 24 hours, place the jars in the refrigerator and leave to ferment for about eight weeks before eating.

Makes 3kg or four 750g jars of kimchi.