A local favorite, kim chee or kimchi, has been spicing up Hawaii meals since the days of plantations. Believed to have been developed more than 1000 years ago as a way for Koreans to preserve vegetables during the cold winter months, “kim chee” is a derivative of the Korean word “shimchae” which means “salting of vegetables.” Some Korean communities participated in an annual kimjang communal preparation ritual where they shared ingredients and chopped, salted, and prepared vegetables to ferment underground for months in clay pots. Luckily for us in Hawaii, local producers like Halm’s Enterprises make preparing kim chee as simple as heading to the grocery store!
In 1985, company owner Mike Irish purchased Park’s Brand Products—his first kim chee company. Soon after, he acquired the Halm’s brand and earned a reputation for buying kim chee businesses. Today, Halm’s operates nine different kim chee companies – as well as other local food brands– and makes 60% of the pickled vegetables and kim chee in the state.
“When these families found out that I would buy kim chee companies, they would ask me to buy them,” Irish says. “Some of the kids grew up with it every day, they didn’t want to make it, or the business just got harder to run, and we could do things more efficiently. But we do each family’s recipe the same exact way they used to—the same way they cut, salted and soaked it. This way, we keep Hawaii’s flavors alive. When I see those families, I say: ‘I didn’t buy your company; I’m managing it. This is your company. This is your recipe.’”
Irish and Mike Yonemura, Halm’s Enterprises President, know their kim chee and happily shared some of their 32 years of collective kim chee knowledge with us:
Count those Veggies: Halm’s Enterprises has 30-plus people devoted to making kim chee in its Liliha factory, and the company uses four tons of 100% local vegetables every day across all brands. About one pound of raw vegetables goes into each bottle of finished product!
Good Anytime: “Kim chee is like Hawaii’s peas and carrots,” Irish says. “It goes with everything. Anytime you’d use lettuce and tomatoes—use kim chee! This morning, I had kim chee and tuna fish on toast!”
Perfect Pairings: Yonemura treats his kim chee as a condiment, matching it up with food according to flavor and texture. “Stew goes well with Kohala, Hi-Max with my steak. I like saimin with head cabbage kim chee,” he says. Both Mikes agree that white wines —pinot grigio or chardonnay in particular— pair well with the spiciness of kim chee.
Island Style: Hawaii’s kim chee is unique, a cousin to traditional Korean kim chee. While traditional Korean kim chee undergoes a long fermentation period, Halm’s pickles its kim chee for just one day. The result is a less-sour, very crisp-textured product. “Our goal is to get the public the freshest vegetables,” explains Irish.
Plenty Good: Believe it or not, kim chee is healthy and good for you! It contains probiotics, antioxidants, iron, fiber, and other nutrients that promote digestion, regulate cholesterol, aid in weight loss, boost the immune system, prevent cancer and more. It is even said to have anti-aging properties! So eat up, enjoy, and feel good
Did You Know?
South Korea sent its first astronaut to space in 2008 with kim chee. Used for food and research, the specially designed product helped scientists better understand how to slow the fermentation process so kim chee could be shipped world wide!
This spicy, comforting tofu soup is a popular Korean dish for good reason—it’s full of flavor and easy to make! The secret is to use good kim chee! Choose one that has a deep red color as lighter-colored varieties won’t develop a flavorful soup.
1 tablespoon canola oil
½ pound pork butt (or pork shoulder), cut into bite-sized strips
2 cups Halm’s won bok kim chee
2 tablespoons chili paste
1 teaspoon sugar
5 cups chicken broth or stock
2 stalks green onions, sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 package soft tofu, cut into bite-sized cubes
Squeeze juice from kim chee and reserve. Chop kim chee.
Heat a heavy-bottomed pot, add canola oil and lightly fry the pork strips. Combine the kim chee and juice, chili paste and sugar with the pork and cook for 2 minutes.
Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a slow simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Add tofu, reduce the heat to low and cook until the tofu is heated through, about 5 to 10 more minutes.
Add green onions and remove from heat.
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