Kimchi is a living things, so it can vary quite a bit over time, even from a careful maker. However, I thought I would compare the kimchi made by artisanal foodie hipsters (Farmhouse Culture) vs standard kimchi sold in the Korean grocery store.
Now, is it fair to call the Farmhouse Culture team artisanal foodie hipsters, well, I don’t personally know the people who make it. However, they make it in Santa Cruz, and sell it out of wooden barrels at high end farmers markets in the San Francisco Bay Area. Even if the people at Farmhouse Culture are not hipsters, they are certainly making it for and selling it to, hipsters.
Anyway, I digress.
The two different kimchis are quite different; you can see right away that the color and overall look is quite different. The Farmhouse Culture version is much greener with visible carrot. The Cham Kimchi is much redder, with visible red pepper flakes. This difference is recapitulated in taste, with the Farmhouse kimchi having a much more green vegetable flavor, perhaps because of the leeks. The Farmhouse also had strong ginger notes. They were roughly equally spicy, but the Cham Kimchi tasted of more red pepper flavor. You can buy giant bags of red pepper flakes at a Korean grocery, and in addition to the piquancy of the capsaicin, there is a very distinct pepper flavor. It’s a lot less sweet than some of the other popular pepper types (e.g. jalapeño) and more astringent. The Farmhouse also had more of the effervescence of a fermented food (but that might have more to do with timing of eating relative to packaging). The Cham Kimchi had more fresh and rigid, chewy texture of the cabbage.
In terms of production, the Farmhouse seems to be entirely vegan, while the Cham Kimchi does use some shrimp flavoring.
I think if I were cooking with kimchi, I’d prefer the Cham, as it is more structurally robust and will add spiciness to the dish. For just eating and snacking on kimchi, the Farmhouse has more complex and sweet flavors, adding to something else you are preparing (e.g. a fried rice) might add unexpected flavors and remain a less distinct element of the dish.
It’s worth noting at the Farmhouse Culture also makes a smoked jalapeño sauerkraut which is a little spicier than their kimchi. It has a lovely, rich smoky favor that would be a complement to many other dishes, although it’s a bit too spicy (for me at least) to eat on its own. I could see it as a great way to combine with something fairly bland (like a bowl of rice) to make a really tasty meal.
Happy probiotic snacking!