April 23, 2012

Low-Sodium Kimchi Umami Burger

Did you ever think you’d see all those words together in the same sentence?

Well believe it. Because it’s here. The low-sodium, salt-free kimchi umami burger. A creation that takes any notion that low-sodium food has to be tasteless and boring and gives it a karate chop in the pants.

But let’s back up. Because I can’t take complete credit for this tower of power. Although I did make everything — from the buns to the BBQ ketchup — by hand. Just for the record.

Before these burgers landed in my kitchen, their journey began in LA, where one dude named Adam Fleischman decided to give the old beef patty a fancy makeover.

I’m not talking blue cheese inside the burger. That had been done. Or caramelized onions. That’s called “animal style,” people. Or even horseradish, fresh herbs, lamb, or avocado.

I’m talking umami. The elusive fifth taste that comes from little magical food fairies called glutamates, which may seem impossible to recreate without sodium.

That’s because umami is usually associated with soy sauce and fish sauce, Teriyaki and Miso. All asian flavor boosters that can skyrocket your sodium intake.

But here’s something amazing: these glutamates occur naturally in food. Meaning umami can be found beyond the bottles, without the sodium. And that’s exactly what Adam Fleischman put into his burger.

If you went to his joint, you’d see that his classic patty is topped with shiitake mushrooms (umami)

caramelized onions (umami), roasted tomatoes (umami),

a parmesan cheese crisp and a soy sauce ketchup (umami, but very salty).

So to keep this savory treat and cut back on the sodium, I replaced these last two toppings with umami-filed salt-free kimchi and a spicy asian BBQ sauce (recipes below).

Beyond being a juicy crowd pleaser, this burger is also proof that even on a low-sodium diet, you can enjoy the kind of food that drips with all the sweet, spicy, bitter, savory, and even umami flavors out there.

So the next time someone says to you, “low sodium? how boring,” point them this way. Then give them a karate chop in the pants.

And if this knocked even your socks off, then remember to tell your neighbor, your neighbor’s mom, and your neighbor’s mom’s cousin to vote for SodiumGirl.com as SAVEUR Magazine’s Best Special Diet Blog. Right. Here.

The last day to vote is Thursday, the 26th…so get clicking.

And chow on. Umami style.



  • 1 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons hot chili paste (according to your heat preference)
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 6 cups Napa cabbage, washed and chopped into large chunky piecs
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced

NOTE: For Chili Paste, I used Costa Peruana Organic Aji Limo Chili Paste, which I just found at Whole Foods with 0mg of sodium


In a large pot combine the vinegar and sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the chili paste, ginger, and garlic and stir. Then turn the heat to medium and add the cabbage, stirring and cooking until it the leaves begin to soften, about five minutes. Take the pot off the heat and allow it to cool, at least 15 minutes.

Add the scallions to the mixture and put the cabbage and all the kimchi pickling juices into a sterilized glass jar, pacing the cabbage down; add extra water as needed to cover.

Close the jar and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. This is spicy and gets spicier the longer it sits – add or subtract chili paste to your taste.

+ Sodium Count: Cabbage (general variety): 13mg per cup shredded




  • 1/2 cup no-salt-added tomato puree
  • 2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses

NOTE: For the sweet chili sauce, I like to use either Ginger People’s Sweet Ginger Sauce or Robert Rothschild Farm Hot Pepper Raspberry Chipotle Sauce


In a small bowl, mix. You’re done. You’re welcome.

+ Sodium Count: No-salt-added tomato paste: 10mg per 2 tablespoons, depending on brand; Molasses: 10mg per 1 tablespoon

Oui, Chef April 24, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Who knew kimchi was an umami bomb. Love the idea of the shroom burger, and the dehydrated tomatoes….oh la la!

jessg23 April 24, 2012 at 4:07 pm

Thanks, Chef! It’s classy.

Susan Tweeton April 24, 2012 at 8:03 pm

I want to try the kimchi recipe. Sounds like something my husband would like since he’s loves hot stuff. Thanks for referencing your grocery store & brand sources. A Whole Foods opened up near me about two months ago, so I’ll be searching for the chili paste brand you mentioned. If I can’t find it, what would be a good substitute? Chili oil — the kind with seeds?

jessg23 April 25, 2012 at 8:55 am

I’ve also used salt-free chili oil (the kind you’ll find in the Asian aisle that looks like runny, red olive oil) as long as it has a label that reads ZERO mg sodium. Or even make your own chili paste with recipe, just leave out the salt: http://tinyurl.com/7w5t7pt

Gilberto Gaulding April 30, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Did you ever think you’d see all those words together in the same sentence?

No, I was actually a bit surprised. Kimchi and burger, in particular, don’t seem to fit. I’ve tried both separately and they taste great. I wonder how this one does. Nice idea!

Aranka May 1, 2012 at 9:39 am

Hi, This really sounds utterly delicious!

I also eat low sodium because of a kidney disease, which has been stable for the last few years, and write about my low sodium cooking on my blog ( in Dutch) and am always looking for more delicious ideas!

Keep up the good work!

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