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Since my personal experimentation with fermentation tends to result in biological hazards and minor explosions, I tends to buy my fermented foods. I recently discovered a brand of store-bought jarred kimchi that tastes exactly right... the only problem is that it's not spicy at all. (It might actually have some spice, but I have a very high heat tolerance.)

How can I make my kimchi spicier, hopefully in an authentic fashion? Different varieties of pepper have different characteristics and flavors, and I'm trying to figure out the best technique and the variety/varieties which will give me heat without compromising on the flavor.

As an example or what I mean -- earlier today I was using the kimchi as a condiment and I mixed it with some sliced jalapenos. Jalapenos taste a lot like green bell pepper, so that was an unfortunate choice, and it wasn't very spicy at all.

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    As @Sneftel has said, kimchi generally isn't that spicy - In fact too much heat could be considered a negative, as it limits the flexibility of its usage. Also, while Korean food does tend to be red, historically it isn't that hot, due to the traditional (insofar as mid-late second millennium is traditional) main source of heat and the color (gochugaru) being at the mild end w.r.t peppers. A lot of the perceived Korean obsession with heat is actually quite recent AFAIK, with the breakout success of Samyang Fire Noodles really kicking it into high gear.
    – mantra
    Jun 14, 2021 at 7:30
  • I'm not looking for it to set my mouth on fire -- I just expect there to be some heat. I'm working from my experience with real homemade kimchi that a friend (illicitly) brought back from a visit ... I think at in addition to the cabbage there were actual peppers being pickled as well, which gave everything a low-grade sort of heat. Jun 14, 2021 at 16:25

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I'd go for finely chopped red cayenne or bird's eye or similar. Supermarkets often don't properly distinguish between these & they are quite similar, but the bird's eye is generally smaller & smoother, the cayenne being more of a 'finger' chilli with an uneven skin. Neither have a particularly strong flavour, but they do have a lot of heat.
At a push, cayenne powder, though the heat of powder doesn't come through so well in a cold dish. It should be fine enough, though, to not add any gritty feel to the kimchi.

I really wouldn't go with anything as distinctive as scotch bonnet or habanero, they'll really change the flavour profile of the kimchi.

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    Thanks, I'll try this. My local grocery store has "thai chilis" which I'm 95% certain are prik nu/bird's eye. (I've actually never seen a fresh cayenne.) Jun 14, 2021 at 16:27
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You can add hot pepper flakes.

Some advice on what brand from My Aunt’s Homemade Kimchi with a Vegan Kimchi Option:

We’re also pretty particular about the brand of Korean red pepper powder (or hot pepper flakes), gochugaru that we use. We recommend buying Wang Korean gochugaru.

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Of course, gochugaru is only mildly spicy. A spicier substitute would be Gochujang, a traditional chili paste which in terms of spice level can range from mild to very hot.

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    Gochujang might throw off that perfect flavor that they think they’ve found (as there can be a little sweetness or other qualities in some of them), but it’s the approach that I would take. I’d probably add sambal before I tried using a dried pepper, unless I was going to let it sit for a while
    – Joe
    Jun 16, 2021 at 22:50
  • Sambal is an interesting suggestion -- I actually do have sambal olek on hand. Do you want to add that as a separate answer @Joe? Jun 17, 2021 at 15:31
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If all you want is More Heat, just use finely minced habanero or scotch bonnet peppers. (Use appropriate practices for handling extremely spicy peppers.) After adding the peppers, stir well and let sit for a day or two to let the flavors disperse. While those peppers are not common in Korean cooking, their concentrated capsaicin makes their other flavor contributions relatively small.

Incidentally, though, authentic kimchi is generally not very spicy (particularly by the insane standards of Korean cuisine). You might consider, as an alternative, having it with spicier food, or adding more spiciness to the dish you’re using it in.

What spice there is in kimchi, is usually entirely gochugaru, a dried and finely flaked or powdered chili. But adding gochugaru at this late stage is not a good idea, since it won’t have as long to hydrate so it could give an unpleasant texture.

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  • Similarly, you could just use some cayenne powder to add heat with very mild flavor.
    – kitukwfyer
    Jun 13, 2021 at 20:26
  • At this point I'm looking for any heat. ;) I'm going to try Tetsujin's suggestion of bird's eye chillis first, but if that doesn't work out I'll try the habaneros. (I've never seen scotch bonnets in my local groceries.) Jun 14, 2021 at 16:28

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