In part, that store-bought kimchi disappointment comes down to shelf-stable versus refrigerated pickle availability, as the later by its chilly nature keeps produce crunchier and fresher tasting. There's also the natural fermentation (or not) side of the equation, which makes the real flavor difference (not all refrigerated pickle products are naturally fermented).
Yes, Granny Choe's version is expensive. We found it for $6.99 a jar at our local Whole Foods; a few dollars from their online shop. But unless you're truly going to make your own, in which case please do share with us (get our step-by-step here with EJ Jeong of Cham Korean Bistro), the bracing naturally fermented tang and the searing red pepper heat in Granny Choe's version is pretty hard to beat.
The two-woman company is headed by Oghee "Granny" Choe, a South Korean native who grew up making kimchi the old-fashioned way -- burying earthenware pottery filled with the fermented vegetables for winter fuel -- and her granddaughter, Connie Choe-Harikul (her description of being a first generation Korean-American prodigy and failing miserably on all doctor/lawyer/piano accounts is a pretty hilarious Monday morning must-read).And consider yourself forewarned: If you've never naturally fermented your own pickles, kraut or kimchi, you're in for some real jar-opening fun here. "Live" naturally fermented products are exactly that -- still very much alive in that postmortem vegetable garden sense. The kimchi literally bubbles and gurgles as you open it, then starts to swell over the lip of the jar. It's the sort of bright red, oozing thing you'd expect to find in the props toolbox of a horror flick makeup artist, not in the green grocery cart of a yoga-bound mom. All the more reason we dig it.
We also love that a local small biz touting its all-natural, vegan sensibility -- you know, the sort of buzzwords that land you on the shelves at Whole Foods -- has this great "How Kimchi is Made" YouTube video featuring sparring "Ninja peppers." Those vegan peppers go for some serious blood, goring fat cloves of garlic, decapitating knobby pieces of ginger, and standing by as those Napa cabbage become suicide bombers on a Kimchi-making mission. Just your typical weeknight international news recap on aisle five.
All the more reason it's wise to heed the jar's clever warning label (we did not and have the kimchi blood stains on our new t-shirt to show for it): "Pungent contents under pressure. Open with extreme common sense."
Granny Choe's Original Kimchi. (805) 750-0888; www.grannychoe.com; twitter.com/ConnieKimchi. Available in the refrigerator aisle of many Southern California Whole Foods and specialty shops, also online.