Lily Hirasawa is the founder of Yumchi, authentic Korean kimchi recipes that have been passed down 3 generations from Lily’s grandmother to mother to daughter. It’s personal, and it’s super tasty! The product is handmade in Hackney, London using locally sourced organic fresh produce. Yumchi is fermented naturally for 2 weeks, without artificial preservatives or flavour enhancers.

One of the brand's key aims is to empower women, through raising awareness of the key role women have in this process - globally, women are still the primary holder of traditional fermentation knowledge. Lily is a Gung Ho ‘go get em gal’ for sure, and we were so proud to have her showcasing Yumchi at the launch. We caught up with Lily and found out more about the background behind the brand.

Yumchi is a story of family, friendship, tradition and courage. You learnt to make kimchi from your mother, who in turn learnt it from her mother - that is pretty special and one honed down recipe! Family is such an important factor here, but what started this chain reaction love of Kimchi in the first place? 

Kimchi has always been part of my family dining experience – culturally kids are “initiated” at a very early age. The taste is so central to the Korean heritage. I remember my mother used to cut the kimchi into tiny pieces and rinse it in cold buckwheat tea so it wasn’t too spicy for me.

My aunt, my father’s sister, was best friends with my mother, was a second mother to me and really loved the kimchi my mother would send her. When she passed away a few years ago, I started cooking what she used to cook and eat to reconnect with that part of my life and that’s how the concept of YUMCHI began to take form. Having been trained professionally in European cuisines, I until then I only really cooked Western cuisines, but this was part of my healing process that allowed me to celebrate her and what she means to us still.

Seeing as the the recipe has been passed down through generations, has it changed much?

The ingredients are the same and the fermenting process is still as passed down from my grandmother!

Yumchi is a little milder than what we eat in my family to appeal to a European palate though – and having worked at Daylesford Organic and Petersham Nurseries I have prioritised sustainable production methods to be key in the manufacturing.

Using local produce where possible I think gives Yumchi a new dimension to its taste – apples and pears as the base to ferment gives it a complexity that is distinctive to this side of the world. The combination with the particular sweetness of Korean chillies creates Yumchi’s unique blend that is innovative yet authentically Korean.

It seems that culturally in the UK we don't share the same connection through generations of cooking - or have you noticed anything particular whilst being here? Growing up we shared making lasagna and crumbles with my Mum (I s’pose you can't get too much more British than a crumble)! 

Big big fan of the crumble – rhubarb and custard this way!!

The dining table is central to all cultures, it brings people together. The kitchen is always where people hang out in a house isn’t it.

I love the British culture of Sunday roasts and country pubs. It’s very a social and familiar vibe, a time to relax and enjoy each other’s company around hearty food. Cider perhaps? I feel I’ve come across several families who ferment their own brew. Love cider.

Yumchi is organic, how important is this to you? Does it affect the taste?

We recently became organic certified by the Organic Food Federation hurray! Being organic is very important to me and my team for many reasons, for our health and wellbeing but also the environment and a long-term vision for the future of our ecosystem.

Bacteria and single-celled organisms are crucial to biodiversity and being minute as they are, they need to be given a voice. As our oldest living ancestors I believe we have so much to learn about them and from them about survival and long-term co existence with nature. People say that they will long outlive the human species but they live within us and so it makes sense to me that by creating an optimal habitat for them inside our bodies is a sure way to improve our chances of survival.

Empowering women is one of the businesses goals, how do you want to do this?

Our main actions so far have been to raise awareness about the connection between fermented food culture and knowledge women traditionally have of its processes. The UN recognises fermented foods for providing an arena for small enterprises that require little capital costs around the world, promoting gender equality as well as food security.

We are currently looking at charities to partner with in supporting women and children.

Yumchi also strives to inform people who are interested in a lifestyle grounded in self-compassion and mindfulness through meditative activities. I am particularly interested in spreading practices of loving-kindness.

For those who haven't tried Yumchi, or tasted Kimchi, what is your favourite recipe to try?

I am a fan of Yumchi kimchi fritters. Hot, tangy and delicious. It’s suitable for vegans and gluten-free, using mainly carrots and cornflour. Easy to make, perfect to share and combined with a dipping sauce made with another of my favourite fermented foods, aged black Chinese vinegar.

Otherwise Yumchi kimchi quesadillas with lots cheese (vegan and otherwise) have been a BIG BIG HIT with my friends.

Yumchi Traditional Napa and Radiant Radish Kimchi are available across Planet Organic stores and online in London Find out more at Yumchi.co and @yumchikimchi 

Sophie Dunster