True Kimchi: How a Korean staple is spicing up northeast Indiana
By Lauren Caggiano | Input Fort Wayne
By now you’ve likely heard of kombucha, a fermented and bubbly tea that originated in Asia and is known for its gut-healing properties.
Now, kimchi is the new superstar of superfoods, and one local woman is capitalizing in its popularity in the Midwest.
Enter True Kimchi, a purveyor of artisanal, handcrafted, and small-batch kimchi. This food, a staple in Korean cuisine, is traditionally made from salted and seasoned fermented vegetables and seafood.
The company is aptly named, as its founder, Samantha Yim, was born in Seoul, South Korea, and raised in the country until she was 10 years old.
“I got to watch my mom make kimchi about once a year, and I was sort of the taste tester, which meant I was eating a lot of kimchi," Yim says.
As a result, she developed an affinity for the salty and spicy side dish—so much so that she developed a bit of a reputation for her advanced palate.
“I remember when I was in preschool, and one of the teachers was having all the kids sample kimchi,” she says. “The other kids couldn’t eat kimchi because it’s too spicy, but I really loved it so much that my teacher arranged for me to take home a Tupperware container (full of kimchi). That's how much I loved it, I guess."
Fast forward to February 2018 when Kim had moved to Fort Wayne from Arizona and was on the hunt for a good kimchi in town. Her search came up empty. Put simply, she saw an opportunity and acted on it later that spring.
“I started making it at home, and I thought, “Hey, maybe I'll sell it at the (YLNI) Farmers Marketand see how it goes,” Yim says. "We ended up selling out on our very first day, which was not something I was expecting at all.”
It wasn’t long before market-goers sought out True Kimchi by name and wanted more ways to get its products into their hands. They asked, and Yim delivered.
In addition to having a presence at farmers markets and other events, she says partnering with local businesses like Bravas, Bird + Cleaver and the Health Food Shoppe, has served her well. The same goes for her commercial kitchen at Jukebox Ice Cream Parlor, where she hand cuts the ingredients for kimchi.
Overall, she has found the local entrepreneurial community to be welcoming and supportive, inspiring her to see room for growth in the near future.
“We really love collaborating with local restaurants around town, so we're hoping to work with a few more,” she says. "We already have a few new locations in the works, so we'll be revealing that soon, and our long-term goal is to have our kimchi in the bigger stores like Kroger and Whole Foods.”
Another important point of distinction with True Kimchi relates to its recipe. While kimchi traditionally contains fish sauce and salted shrimp, Yim wanted to create a product that nearly everyone could enjoy. Thus, four of her five varieties of True Kimchi contain a vegan "fish" sauce, she says.
The good news is: This ingredient modification doesn’t negate the superfood's health benefits. In fact, kimchi, in general, is a food that packs a mean nutritional punch.
“The fermentation process preserves and enhances all the vitamins and minerals in the vegetables,” Yim says. “And of course, it's great for your gut health. It helps with digestion, and it's also known to even fight off infections. So it's really good for you.”