There are a number of main ingredients that can be used as the basis for kimchi, but the most popular is napa cabbage. Other main ingredients are scallions, cucumber or radish. Secondary ingredients are water, salt, ginger, garlic, sugar and fish sauce.
Kimchi is the traditional side dish for most Korean meals but is also a foundational ingredient in soups or stews. There are 187 documented varieties, and depending on the Korean region from where it originates, the ingredients and seasonings vary. Northern Korean kimchi tends to be more watery and less spicy, having less salt and chili peppers and no brined seafood. As of 2015, some North Korean kimchi contains nontraditional ingredients to adapt to severe food shortages in the rural areas.
Kimchi's spiciness or mildness depends on the on the amount of red pepper used; this ingredient also gives it its red color. Fish ingredients, such as fish paste, anchovies, or fish sauce, give kimchi its umami, or savory, flavor. When kimchi is made without fish, it tends to be lighter and more fresh-tasting.
Although kimchi is traditionally a Korean dish, it has become popular in America as an easy homemade dish using only a few readily available ingredients.