#KINNShip Series with Lily Hirasawa, founder of YUMCHI!

Written by Sophie Barrow

#KINNShip Series with Lily Hirasawa, founder of YUMCHI!

At KINN we love kimchi, it's delicious, a fabulous addition to almost any meal and it's good for you! So when we discovered YUMCHI, a delicious Kimchi company founded by Lily Hirasawa we knew we had to share her story, and delicious products with you!

So for this months KINNShip series we sit down and talk with the lovely Lily Hirasawa and discuss heritage, fermentation, what the benefits of Kimchi are and how she found her way to launching YUMCHI!

When you wake up what are the first three things you do? 

Wash, moisturise, tea – usually Rooibos or green. A matcha latte if I’m treating myself.

What does your average day look like?

I always start my mornings with a substantial savoury breakfast. I love to eat – I need to eat to get my brain going. I’ll have a look at my daily planner then too.

Work and meetings in the morning, light lunch, production work or afternoon off doing exercise. Love jogging around the river or park and weight training. Love heading to the gym for steam/sauna but sadly not during the quarantine. After supper, I find I’m very productive so get into a good workflow.

Before bed, I do something to relax like streaming in the bath or reading with facemasks. I always journal and schedule tomorrow’s work/to-dos in my planner before sleep.

I tend to do the bulk of my work between Sunday and Wednesday, so Thursdays and Fridays have for inspiration, strategising and visualising the next steps and the bigger picture.

What is your one 'pass it on' piece of advice?

You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just the first step. Do one meditation session, enter one competition, give one talk, eat one meat-free meal. Just take the first step and see where you are then and importantly, how you feel after that.

Often in setting the bar too high before you start, you set yourself up for “failure”. Slow progress is still progress and giving yourself a hard time because of a “mistake” or “shortcoming” in your eyes is unproductive and ineffective in achieving your goals.

Alter your mindset into developing long-term thinking and perspective, with the value placed in incremental progress. At YUMCHI, we are trying to do exactly this. Billions of bacteria are involved in the creation of wonderfully flavoursome and healthy, functional foods like kimchi – that’s generations and generations of tiny living things working together to accomplish a goal. Over the two weeks, we take to ferment YUMCHI kimchi, what’s happening in each batch isn't obvious to the naked eye but it’s definitely changing little by little, becoming more nutritious and more flavoursome each day. We can’t force fermentation to speed up – it’s a totally natural process and we intentionally honour this pace of nature. That is what YUMCHI in its essence is about: putting back value in time and your own pace. We’re encouraging people to do things slowly, thoughtfully, intentionally and to celebrate each step forward in the journey no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time.

How would you describe your personality in three words?

Adventurous, positive, introvert

Personal success. What does that look and feel like to you?

Finding out and living through your personal values, sharing them with the world

What's your favourite thing about your home? OR What says 'home' to you?

My bed <3

Where do you go or what rituals do you have for those moments you need to feel inspired or energised?

Anything involving the natural world, particularly the sea – hiking, swimming, skinny dipping, sailing.

Meditation – currently exploring loving-kindness meditation involving the heart chakra whereas previously I did a lot of body-scan exercises to calm the mind and be present in your physical self.

Hot / Cold therapy – I swear by it! Steam and sauna for 15 mins, ice-cold shower, repeat 2-3 times.

Favourite podcasts and other digital inspiration?

Tara Brach for meditations, Embodied astrology for guidance, Tim Ferris Show, How I Built This and Scale Up Your Business. I’ve felt I’ve been taking things too seriously for my health and listen to comedies like My Dad Wrote A Porno and No Such Thing As A Fish too.

Docuseries currently watching The Last Dance about Michael Jordan. The Defiant Ones are great. The many many fabulous female and gender empowered options out there like Marvellous Mrs. Maisel, Killing Eve, Drag Race spin-offs. The best sailing show is Sailing a la Vagabond.

Instagram accounts include Morgan Harper Nicholls, The Sweet Feminist, Young Pueblo, Daily Stoic, Lisa Olivera Therapy, The Wellness Society Org, The Holistic Psychologist. Foundr.

Which five sites are always in your browser history?

Amazon, Quickbooks, Instagram, Netflix, Vestiare Collective

What inspired you to launch Yumchi? 

I started out as a baby eating kimchi and now I’m making it to sell. The irony is too good to be true. I started out wanting to be a lawyer and then Deliciously Ella and now it’s more like Jeon Kwan in the house (as in Chef’s Table haha not quite but dare to dream).

I have always been interested in organic and sustainable methods so it was important that YUMCHI and my kimchi upheld these principles. I came across slow food when I worked at Daylesford Organic in Notting Hill straight after culinary school. I wanted to create something that brought together Eastern taste with Western production methods, perhaps it was another way for me to reconcile my two identities. Eventually, I learnt about wild fermentation and its power to heal not only the body but the mind. It’s so sustainable, so therapeutic, so organic. It’s about incremental progress and long-term thinking. We need this kind of value system right now. In this age of quick fixes and instant gratification, we want a real connection with people and with the natural world, because we are wild, natural creatures.  


Kimchi for female empowerment makes sense because Kimchi-making is a UNESCO heritage activity that is traditionally passed down through women, facilitating social cohesion and advocating community over competition. It’s origins lie in Buddhist monasteries preserving food for the blistering cold Korean winters. I journeyed to South Korea to learn to make it at the source, from a group of women who volunteer at this one temple in Seoul of Korean Chan Buddhism. These women cook all the food, and they make kimchi every month to cater to the 50 monks residing there. You can’t usually go into this monastery like that – my mother was able to call in a favour because she is actually ordained herself. It was a surreal and poetic but grounding experience, especially people gather at that temple to celebrate their lotus flowers – water lilies like my name.


Looking back I had spent much of my teenage and early twenties denying my roots – wanting to blend in with standards of beauty and values of the community I was surrounded by, coming to England at the age of 9. Releasing that conditioning and stepping into my heritage and my authentic self I have come to find peace within myself. I struggled a lot with who I really was, my identity and I felt very torn between my Western and Asian values. This work with kimchi has helped me reconcile these seemingly opposing forces within me. Fermented food cultures are idiosyncratic, wacky, it’s counterculture. It’s about the misfits and I relate to and support that act of self-expression. 


My kimchi is about that peace, coming back to ourselves, making time and space for oneself in the most ordinary but still powerful way. What better medium than food to help us do that – it’s our most basic need, it levels the field. My mother was a Buddhist nun and I struggled with that growing up. Religion made me very uncomfortable, especially growing up in Christian communities I thought Buddhism was very wacky. I remembered I first had the idea to become a lawyer when I was 11 because I thought it brought order into my life which was chaotic and much of the Japanese and Korean traditions I found I didn’t understand and perhaps even feared. Law was and is respectable, logical, stable. In 2007 I began at UCL as a law student and completely threw myself into this ideal I had only to find I was really very unhappy. I deeply struggled for the next 10 years with my identity and my values. I found my love for cooking along the way but even there I struggled to find my niche.


And then my aunt passed away and it changed everything. I felt the only way I could be close to her was to cook the food she always cooked for me so lovingly as a child. They weren’t extravagant meals, just simple Japanese recipes – Japanese curry, fried rice, soba noodles. And she loved kimchi. She loved my mum’s cooking. She is from my father’s side of the family but they were best friends. She wasn’t too used to spicy food but I remember she would eat all the Korean spicy food my mum would make with tears coming out her eyes because they were so spicy! So began my journey with YUMCHI in 2015.


I am so grateful that I have finally found something that aligns with who I am – or rather came back to it. It’s amazing to be doing work that truly speaks to my values. I believed I wasn’t a good student, a good employee, a good daughter; now I know that I just didn’t care about the things I was told to care about – and you’re just never going to be your best doing things you don’t enjoy.


This is going to sound very left field but please bear with me – I feel the ideas in fermentation are meant for me. My Japanese name Sayuri means lily. Lilies are funeral flowers, signifying death. My birthday is the 9thof April. In Japanese and Chinese characters, phonetically the numbers 4 and 9 can signify death and suffering respectively. Fermentation is a process of decay – but intentional and something that creates a beautiful and delicious end-product through the workings of generations of microorganisms. It reveals this beautiful and powerful truth about doing something together with purpose. I always grew up feeling it took me longer to do things and figure stuff out, that I was slower than other people, and that was detrimental or negative. Now the slowness is a character I have come to value, as something positive because it means taking the time to do things carefully, thoughtfully, like in slow food. Experiences aren’t perfect and real produce with all its natural variables aren’t perfect, or rather homogenous which has come to mean perfect in our modern world. That is what fermentation culture celebrates – it’s a celebration of life and our differences.


What is your favourite recipe to pair Kimchi with?

Kimchi quesadillas! Kimchi goes so well with cheese (including vegan cheese) – or with hummus on crackers. YUM!

What are the benefits of eating Kimchi? 

Gut health, mental health, being present, sustainability – it’s everything! Breaking it down…

SUSTAINABILITY: Zero food waste values really drive the team and our work forward in a practical sense. We’re very passionate about preserving foods but also culture, small localised pockets of culture indigenous to particular geographical locations. Fermented foods often have this built-in its origins like kimchi in Korea with its many varieties of vegetables, even fish and fruit, miso that are centuries of years old in Japan, cheese, wine and keffir in the West.

GUT HEALTH IS MENTAL HEALTH. Our intestines boast the same number of neuroreceptors as our spinal cord and our moods are directly affected by this infrastructure, according to scientific research. The 100 trillion species of bacteria in our guts constantly interact with this system. Kimchi is full of gut-friendly bacteria, it’s totally natural with no added sugar or fat so a great and versatile addition to balance a meal. For people who are concerned about salt content as well, it’s amazing to find out that there’s something about the fermentation process that stops the body from absorbing the salt in the same way, rather it just unlocks nutrients in food that otherwise remains indigestible. Fermented cabbage is better for you than raw cabbage.


KIMCHI AND FEMALE EMPOWERMENT: “Kimchi-making, known in Korea as Kim-jiang, is mainly transmitted between women, from mothers to daughters or mothers-in-law to daughters-in-law, or among housewives. It is at its essence a neighbourly endeavour, encouraging communities to work collectively, contributing to social cohesion, bringing patrons a sense of joy and pride, as well as respect for the natural environment, encouraging them to lead their lives in harmony with each other and with nature.” — UNESCO 2014. YUMCHI strives to raise awareness of the value of fermentation activities and the ways in which fermented foods can offer a more responsible, accessible and harmonious food culture.


What’s the best piece of advice you have ever given and received?

Go for it! Surrender, let life live through you.


Kimchi on toast with humus!

Chickpea Savory Pancakes with YUMCHI Organic Traditional Napa Kimchi by Nourishing Amy @nourishing.amy


Lily is wearing Gung Ho by Sophie Dunster @gung_ho_london , photo by Ariana Ruth @ariana_ruth

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