What’s The Difference Between Kimbap and Sushi?

Over the past few years, there has been a growing interest in Japanese and Korean culture worldwide. As CNN notes, East Asian culture has dominated various industries including film, music, and beauty, thanks to social media that allows these global exchanges to occur. And of course, food is one of the mainstay exports.

In fact, both South Korea and Japan share similar items in their menus: sushi and kimbap. According to SCMP, both countries started wrapping rice rolls into dried seaweed around the same time, as a practice shared through trade and commerce. However, that’s where the similarities end; in terms of flavors, textures, and fillings, sushi and kimbap have unique charms to offer.


Sushi can trace its origins back to the 2nd century, where fish was stored in fermented rice and preserved for later consumption. Fresh fish was served over vinegared rice and nori (dried seaweed) during the Edo period (1603-1868); rolled sushi (norimaki) as we know it didn’t appear until 1716.

What makes sushi different from kimbap is the rice, which is prepared with vinegar for a sour flavor. Sushi fillings are usually raw seafood like tuna, salmon, or chopped scallops, so it should be consumed fresh. Most sushi chefs consider the preparation of sushi to be an art, but it can also be enjoyed at home, prepared with ordinary kitchen equipment.

With sushi, it’s crucial to get the rice exactly right; it should be fluffy with a firm bite, and sticky but retains its shape. Fortunately, it’s not so difficult to perfect sushi rice. We Know Rice details how modern rice cookers have multiple settings that allow you to cook any variety of rice, so you can cook white, Japanese short-grains without any difficulty. Some rice cookers also have induction heating that prevents the rice from undercooking or overcooking.

Once the rice has been prepared, a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt is added. If you’re trying to DIY sushi at home, it helps to have a bamboo roller mat for a good shape. Place a sheet of nori on the mat, add an even layer of rice, then place your fillings before rolling and slicing your sushi.


In Korean, ‘kim’ (or gim) means edible seaweed sheets, while ‘bap’ describes cooked rice. While modern kimbap arrived around the same time as Japanese sushi, Koreans have been preparing ‘bokssam’ — cooked rice wrapped in ‘kim’ — since the Joseon era (1392 - 1897). Kimbap is usually served sliced in restaurants, but you may see them as unsliced rolls when sold in markets.

Kimbap can be made with white rice, brown rice, black rice, or even quinoa for health-conscious eaters. Unlike Japanese sushi, kimbap is sweeter because it’s mixed with sesame oil, rather than vinegar. The dried seaweed can be plain (like sushi) or brushed with more sesame oil. Instead of raw fish, cooked ingredients are used to fill the kimbap.

Common fillings include ham and cheese, canned tuna, kimchi, eggs, or fishcakes. You can easily customize your kimbap according to your taste, which is why people also add vegetables like carrots, pickled radish, or perilla leaf. As mentioned in our Foraging Series: Perilla Leaves post, the perilla leaf is an herb with an earthy, minty, cumin-like flavor; it’s often added to tuna-filled kimbap to minimize the fishy taste.

Kimbap is a popular snack among school children and office workers alike because it’s easy to eat with your hands if you’re in a hurry. It’s also a favorite of mothers and wives to prepare because they only need to steam rice in a rice cooker, lay out the ingredients on a plastic wrap, and roll everything up to enjoy.

Written by Alysha Venus Coghill
Exclusive for qialchemy.com

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