Gastric cancer is the commonest malignant neoplasm in Southwest Korea. The possibility of carcinogenic dietary factors led to the investigation of exposure to N-nitroso compound precursors among residents of the City of Chonju and of two outlying rural townships in North Cholla Province. Two traditional and widely consumed home-prepared food products, salted pickled cabbage (kimchi) and salted seafood sauce (chut-kal) were analysed (a) for nitrite, nitrate, total secondary amines and pH in these food products prior to nitrite incubation and (b) for volatile nitrosamines and total N-nitroso compounds before and after incubation with nitrite in simulated human stomach conditions. Nitrate levels were significantly higher in kimchi (median 1550 mg/kg) than in chut-kal (median 140 mg/kg) (P < 0.001). Secondary amine levels in non-nitrosated samples of kimchi (median 5.5 mg/kg) were significantly lower than secondary amine levels in non-nitrosated chut-kal (median 56 mg/kg) (P = < 0.001). Analyses of nitrite-incubated kimchi revealed high levels of total N-nitroso compounds (median 1173 micrograms/kg); the increase with nitrosation was significant (P = 0.001). The concentration of N-nitroso compounds in nitrite-incubated kimchi was significantly greater than that found in nitrite-incubated chut-kal (P = 0.015). The combination of high levels of nitrate in the kimchi, the demonstration of high levels of total N-nitroso compounds in this food after nitrosation, and the volume of kimchi consumed in the traditional diet suggest that salted pickled cabbage may play a role in gastric carcinogenesis in Southwest Korea.