How to store kimchi in the fridge without the smell

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It is impossible to imagine Korean food without cabbage—but not the green cabbage eaten raw in coleslaw or steamed as a vegetable. For tens of millions of Koreans, the one vegetable without which almost no meal is complete is kimchi–the peppery, garlicky, overwhelmingly pungent, and delicious pickled vegetable.

You don’t have to be Korean to love to eat kimchi, but if you aren’t familiar with how to store kimchi, you may have a problem with kimchi odor lurking in your fridge.

Simply put, there are a few easy ways to store kimchi in the fridge without the smell overpowering everything:

  • Use glass food containers like Pyrex with secure lids (the sealed lids are the best)
  • Don’t leave the container untouched for too long to allow the fermentation gas to build up
  • Remove the container from the fridge before opening so the gases don’t escape into the fridge
  • Use a deoderant (such as baking soda or activated charcoal) or a deoderizer to neutralize the fermentation odors
  • Get a specialty kimchi refrigerator if you store large amounts of kimchi

In this article, we will discuss some simple household hints for storing leftover cabbage kimchi that keep your fridge smelling fresh.

Simple household hints for controlling kimchi smell

The first thing to understand about keeping leftover kimchi in the fridge is that it isn’t just fermented food. It is a food that is still fermenting.

The fermentation process doesn’t go as quickly at a cool temperature as it does at room temperature as kimchi is being made, but the good bacteria that make cabbage kimchi continue to do their work even in the fridge. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The intense odor of kimchi isn’t mostly due to the odor of the vegetables (cabbage, daikon, spinach, cucumber, or any other 100 more) themselves. It’s due to the smell of the breakdown of the sulfur compounds in garlic, ginger, and fish used to flavor the kimchi.

These protein-bound compounds continue breaking down slowly long after the veggies are already sour and form gas bubbles just waiting for you to open the sealed container or raise the saran wrap to let them escape.

Breathe, don’t burp

The secret to reducing odor in your fridge is making sure all the stinky gasses building up in your kimchi don’t all escape at once. Eat a little kimchi every day, or at least two or three times a week.

Take your tightly sealed containers of the fermented vegetables completely out of the fridge before you open them, and then take each meal’s portion from the bottom of the container, stirring as you go.

This process will release the kimchi odor into your kitchen, where your ventilation system will carry it away, instead of in your fridge. Just reseal the container tightly before you put it back in the fridge, and serve your favorite pickled cabbage again in a day or two.

Baking soda for absorbing kimchi odors

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Last update on 2022-05-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

A tried-and-true method of controlling odors in the refrigerator is leaving a box of baking soda on the bottom shelf. Hydrogen sulfide is heavier than air, so garlicky kimchi odor sinks to the bottom of your fridge. Placing your box of Arm and Hammer lower in your refrigerator does more good than placing it higher.

Odor scientists have made some interesting discoveries about how to use this chemical to control food odor. Baking soda set out in a dish absorbs about 70 percent of sulfur compounds floating around in your refrigerator. That means it won’t eliminate the kimchi smell, but it will help.

The appropriate amount of baking soda to best absorb kimchi odors is about three large tablespoons.

For kimchi, however, more baking soda isn’t always better. The ideal amount to put out in your refrigerator is about 50 grams. That’s three heaping tablespoons. Using more baking soda changes the pH of refrigerator air so kimchi smells actually get stronger, not milder.

And, of course, baking soda has to make contact with air. Just putting an unopened box of baking soda in the fridge won’t do you any real good.

Activated charcoal for getting rid of kimchi smell

Another easy-to-use refrigerator deodorant is activated charcoal. This is the same material you might light up in your grill for a backyard barbecue, only it has been ground down to small particles, so more charcoal comes in contact with the smelly compounds in refrigerator air. (Charcoal briquettes won’t work.)

A single gram of activated charcoal has over three-quarters of an acre (about 32,000 sq ft) of contact space for absorbing odors. In addition to the tiny particle size, activated charcoal is treated with chemicals that oxidize smelly molecules into odorless forms. Look for a product that you can recharge every month or so by placing it in sunlight so it can release absorbed gasses to make room for more.

Consider keeping ground coffee in your fridge

If you don’t want to use baking soda or activated charcoal (or don’t have any around), a great kitchen hack for reducing kimchi smells in the fridge is to use exposed coffee grounds.

Keep an open container of ground coffee on a shelf below the one you use to store your fish sauce and other fermented food. The grounds contain a chemical that sops up hydrogen sulfide gas, the chemical that makes rotten eggs and fermenting garlic (and sewer gas) stinky. 

It’s the caffeine that does the work of odor removal. Decaf won’t absorb kimchi odor. And there are two things to remember about using coffee grounds to eliminate refrigerator odors:

  • Coffee grounds can’t remove odors unless they are kept in an open container, and
  • You probably won’t want to use coffee grounds once they get rid of odors from your fridge.

What about a refrigerator deodorizer?

Baking soda, coffee grounds, and activated charcoal aren’t the only things that can absorb the kimchi odor in your fridge. There are a number of commercial refrigerator deodorizers that will do a better job.

For instance, consider something like NonScents Refrigerator Deodorizer. Activated when you attach it to an inside surface of your refrigerator with a suction cup, NonScents clear out a variety of stinky food odors.

Last update on 2022-05-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

NonScents uses a mineral component called zeolite to absorb the odor chemicals in your fridge.

Some other deodorizers remove kimchi smell and other food odors with common chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, sodium hypochlorite (the active ingredient in Clorox), and potassium permanganate. These chemicals “burn” the odor-causing sulfur in the volatile gasses emitted by stinky and decaying food.

Electric refrigerator deodorizers (ozone generators) for kimchi odor

Electric deodorizers–or ozone generators–are different from regular deodorizers in one important way: Electric deodorizers generate ozone that goes out to the odor and neutralizes it, while deodorizers often wait for odor molecules to drift over to them. 

Kimchi deodorizers aren’t cheap, but they work

Battery-powered deodorizers generate ozone that doesn’t just destroy kimchi odor, it also eliminates mold and bacteria. They cost $30 to $50 and more, but they are a permanent solution to kimchi odor without any chemicals that could get into your food.

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Last update on 2022-05-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This model from Benks is a fantastic option with a massive 4500mAh rechargeable battery and a Type-C charging port (as should all charging ports be!), and will fit easily in any fridge while lasting up to 15 days on the automated maintenance pattern.

Choosing the right container for getting rid of fermented food odor in your fridge

Should you keep your kimchi in a kimchi jar?

What about Pyrex or Tupperware? How about plastic bags or a dish covered with plastic wrap?

Glass or stainless steel over plastic and stoneware

Not everyone knows this, but glass food containers like Pyrex hold fewer odors than either plastic like Tupperware or a stoneware kimchi jar.

Glass food containers are less porous than plastics and stoneware, meaning odors can’t penetrate deep into the container. These are our favorite food containers as they are easy to clean, and odors don’t cling to them.

Stainless steel is also a great option as it’s much less porous than plastic and does a good job of containing the fermentation odors while cleaning easily.

Airtight vacuum-sealed fermentation containers

Popular among those who make their own kimchi and other fermented foods, airtight vacuum-sealed kimchi containers are also great for storing your kimchi in addition to making your own.

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Last update on 2022-05-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

These containers are insulated double-layered and clamp closed to create a vacuum seal to keep the air from affecting the fermentation process as well as keeping the gases from escaping into the room.

While these may not be for most people they are a great option if you frequently need to store–or make–kimchi.

Plastic wrap is not enough to prevent kimchi smell

If plastic food containers are a less efficient method of containing fermented food smells, plastic wrap is even worse. Where plastic containers can snap closed and many fit quite snug, plastic wrap–no matter how tightly you apply it–just can’t create a good seal.

The thinner material of plastic wrap also means that odor can go through the material itself much easier as well. All of this makes plastic wrap barely better than having an open container of kimchi in your fridge.

Consider a kimchi fridge

But there is one more way to deal with kimchi odor that doesn’t involve your existing refrigerator. If you love kimchi, why not keep it in its own refrigerator?

Specialty refrigerators can heat and cool your kimchi to keep it at a more consistent temperature for depth of flavor—and no kimchi stink in your main refrigerator!

LG LRKNS1400V 30 Inch French 4-Door Kimchi/Specialty Food Refrigerator with 14.3 cu. ft. Capacity, 14 Total Bins, Cooling Care, Multi Storage Mode, Freshness Guard Cover, Multi-Air Flow™ System, and Energy Star Certified
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Last update on 2022-05-28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Kimchi refrigerators aren’t cheap, but if you frequently store large amounts of fermented foods and want to keep those separate from your non-fermented items a specially designed refrigerator is a great option.

Final thoughts

We love kimchi and enjoy the fermented veggies frequently, so being able to keep the fridge (and everything else in it) free from the overpowering odor–as delicious as it is.

We hope that this article has helped you out with solving this problem. Do you have any questions? Any great tips we’ve missed? Leave them in the comments below and let us know!

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