Tradition is an integral aspect of every culture. And so is the case with cuisines. Every cuisine in the world has a few traditional recipes – it could be a simple steamed dim sum or an elaborate mutton dish. In this article, the traditional food we will be exploring is Kimchi.
Kimchi is an age-old Korean preparation that is made by fermenting vegetables – particularly cabbage, radish, and cucumber – with red hot Korean peppers.
Not only does kimchi have an explosive flavor, but it also has extensive gastro- and cardioprotective effects. To discover the secrets behind kimchi’s goodness, scroll down and get started!
Table Of Contents
- The Story Of Kimchi: What Is It?
- Where Did It All Begin?
- 4 Primary Benefits Of Eating Kimchi
- Nutritive Profile Of Kimchi
- How To Make Kimchi At Home
- Are There Any Adverse Effects and Risks Of Eating Kimchi?
The Story Of Kimchi: What Is It?
Kimchi is a fermented dish that originated in Korea. It is made with a variety of vegetables (predominantly cabbage and Korean red pepper) and various seasonings and spices. It was invented thousands of years ago, and unique kimchi recipes continue to live on over generations in Korea.
Kimchi has long served as Korea’s national dish, and its popularity is on the rise globally. Its very spicy flavor and crisp texture blend well with a wide range of foods. It is enjoyed not only as a side dish but also as a key ingredient in a variety of Korean and Westernized dishes.
Where Did It All Begin?
According to historical records, during ancient times, farmers in Korea developed a storage method in response to the long cold winters that were challenging for agriculture. This method – fermentation – is a way of preserving vegetables by encouraging the growth of natural microorganisms. Thus, kimchi has beneficial lactic acid bacteria that grow with the help of the raw ingredients, i.e., cabbage, red pepper, and spices.
The most common form of kimchi is the one made with napa cabbage. This cabbage is a native of China and chock-full of nutrients. Along with napa cabbage goes the signature spice – Korean red pepper powder (Gochugaru).
Gochugaru gives kimchi its distinctive color, taste, and intensity. This red pepper powder has shown to support the growth of lactic acid bacteria. Gochugaru also increases the production of phytochemicals during fermentation, making kimchi more beneficial (1).
So, what will eating kimchi do to your body? How does a spicy side-dish affect your health and well-being?
Here come the answers!
4 Primary Benefits Of Eating Kimchi
1. Promotes Gut Health And Digestion
Since kimchi is made by fermenting cruciferous vegetables with salt and microbes, it is considered to be highly beneficial for your gut.
While the crucifers have high levels of protein, fiber, vitamins, carotenoids, glucosinolates, and polyphenols, they also contain good lactic acid bacteria (or LAB) that have digestive properties.
Other sub-ingredients (like garlic, ginger, and red pepper powder) undergo fermentation by LAB, rendering kimchi highly functional and tasty.
Probiotic bacterial strains like Leuconostoc carnosum, Leuconostoc plantarum, and Leuconostoc lactis are a few stable microbes present in kimchi, while species such as Leuconostoc kimchi, Weissella koreensis, Weissella cibaria, and Lactobacillus brevis can be found sporadically (2), (3).
No wonder kimchi is one of the five healthiest foods in the world!
2. Lowers Cholesterol And Obesity
The anti-obesity potential of kimchi in humans and mice has been adequately researched. As a part of one study, when rats were fed kimchi-supplemented diet, a significant reduction in serum cholesterol, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, and total cholesterol levels in liver and epididymal adipose tissue was observed (4).
The red pepper powder used in kimchi is rich in capsaicin that can also trigger a loss of body fat. It does so by stimulating the spinal nerves and activating the release of catecholamines in the adrenal glands of the body (3).
Catecholamines then increase body metabolism and decrease the fat content.
Hence, it is suggested that consumption of fermented kimchi may affect obesity, lipid metabolism, and inflammatory processes in humans as well (2).
3. Anti-inflammatory Properties
Kimchi is a treasure chest of phytochemicals. Indole compounds – including ß-sitosterol, benzyl isothiocyanate, and thiocyanate – are the essential active ingredients found in kimchi.
The onions and garlic that are used in making kimchi are also known for their abundant anti-inflammatory flavonoids, particularly quercetin glucosides.
Additionally, some species of LAB (Lactobacillus paracasei LS2) have been shown to treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and colitis. These bacteria in kimchi caused a reduction in the pro-inflammatory compounds (interferons, cytokines, and interleukins).
4. Anti-Aging And Neuroprotective Properties
Studies done on mice have shown that kimchi has neuroprotective properties (6). It may also have a significant role in delaying aging due to its antioxidant effect.
The phytochemicals present in kimchi (including caffeic acid, coumaric acid, ferulic acid, myricetin, glucoalyssin, gluconapin, and progoitrin) can eliminate the reactive oxygen species (ROS) from the bloodstream.
Thus, they protect the neurons from the attack of ROS. This means no or minimal neurodegeneration and better memory!
Optimally ripened kimchi can also inhibit lipid peroxidation and associated inflammation.
Therefore, the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, lipolytic and neuroprotective properties of kimchi can protect your brain from aging and memory loss (7).
You must be wondering – what does kimchi have that makes it so healthy?
Nutrients and phytochemicals, of course!
Want to take a closer look at their numbers? Read on!
Nutritive Profile Of Kimchi
|Dietary Fiber||1 g|
|Total Sugars||1 g|
|Total Fat||0 g|
|Saturated Fat||0 g|
|MonounSaturated Fat||0 g|
|PolyunSaturated Fat||0 g|
|Linoleic Acid||0 g|
|α-Linolenic Acid||0 g|
|Omega 3 – EPA||8 mg|
|Omega 3-DHA||11 mg|
|Vitamin A||94 ug RAE|
|Vitamin B6||0.1 ug|
|Vitamin B12||0.2 ug|
|Vitamin c||28 mg|
|Vitamin D||0 ug|
|Vitamin E||0.15 mg AT|
|Vitamin k||28 ug|
|Folate||32 ug DFE|
Kimchi’s fame is attributed to not only its unique taste and flavor but also its notable nutritional and health benefits. Napa cabbage kimchi (the most traditional and popular kimchi) is a low-calorie, low-fat, no-cholesterol source of nourishment.
It is also abundant in phytochemicals, which vary with the vegetables it is made from. Garlic, onions, Napa cabbage, radish, and cucumbers are commonly used to make kimchi.
Accordingly, it contains active ingredients like caffeic acid, coumaric acid, sinapic acid, ferulic acid, vanillic acid, flavonoids (quercetin derivatives), thiosulfates, anthocyanins, and glucosinolates such as glucoerucin, sinigrin, and glucobrassicin (1), (2).
Isn’t it amazing that just fermented cabbage and radish have all these phytochemicals that can protect your brain, heart, and gut?
So haven’t you made it a part of your daily meal yet? Let’s do it right away!
Check out the simple recipes given below to make delicious kimchi.
How To Make Kimchi At Home
First things first, making kimchi requires good hygiene practices – including proper hand washing and using clean utensils and countertop – and following all the directions in the recipe carefully.
General paraphernalia include a sharp knife, a cutting board, a large mixing bowl, a colander, a glass storage container with a tight-fitting lid, and disposable food handler gloves (to protect your hands from Korean red pepper powder).
What You Need
- Napa cabbage: 2-3 medium heads (about 6-7 pounds total – pick up green-colored Napa cabbage for best taste)
- Coarse salt: 1 cup for dissolving in water + 2/3 cup for sprinkling on cabbage (use the same amount if you are using table salt)
- Sweet rice/“mochiko” flour: 2 tablespoons (if you can’t find sweet rice/”mochiko” flour, you can use a mixture of water and a few tablespoons of sugar as a substitute)
- Minced garlic: 2 tablespoons (as per your taste)
Minced ginger: 1 tablespoon
- Korean red chili pepper powder (gochugaru): 1-1½ cups
- Korean radish: 1.5 pounds
- Green onions (scallions): 5-6 g
- Fish sauce (optional): 3-4 tablespoons
Let’s Make It!
Wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food. Wash all the necessary utensils and containers before making kimchi.
Step 1: Preparing Napa Cabbage
- Rinse the heads of Napa cabbage under cold water and drain. Trim the cabbage leaves that are sticking out.
- Cut the cabbage lengthwise into quarters by cutting the stem end in half until only about 3-4 inches in and then pulling apart to separate into two pieces by hand.
- Do the same for each half to make quarters (You can also cut them all into bite-sized portions).
Step 2: Salting The Cabbage
- In a large mixing bowl, dissolve 1 cup of salt (coarse or table salt) in 8 cups of cold water.
- Dip the cabbage quarters in the saltwater, one at a time, and place them in another bowl.
- Sprinkle the other ⅔ cup of salt (coarse or table salt) over each trunk of cabbage equally. Allow them to sit at room temperature for about 4 hours.
- Rinse the cabbage quarters three times thoroughly with cold water to wash away the salt.
- Place the cabbage quarters in a colander for about 30 minutes to drain out excess water.
Step 3: Preparing The Seasonings
- To a small saucepan, add water and sweet rice flour (or the sugar mixture) and simmer over low heat until you obtain a thin paste. Set it aside to cool.
- Wash, peel, and finely mince garlic and ginger.
- Mix the minced garlic and ginger into the cold sweet rice flour paste, and add Korean red pepper powder.
- Wash, peel, and shred the radish.
- Wash and clean the green onions, and cut them into 1-inch long pieces. Set aside.
- Using disposable food handler gloves, mix the above seasoning paste and vegetables in a large mixing bowl.
- Mix in the fish sauce. Combine all the ingredients well.
Note: Those who cannot handle a lot of spice can omit red pepper powder to make white kimchi. To compensate for the lack of the bold flavors of red pepper powder, you can add pine nuts, chestnuts, and/or shredded pears to white kimchi.
Step 4: Spreading Kimchi Paste And Packing
- Place the cabbage (cut side up) in a clean container.
- Spread the kimchi paste mix onto each cabbage leaf. Smear the paste onto each leaf and pack some of it in between the leaves (do not overstuff the leaves to prevent them from being unevenly flavored).
- When every leaf in a quarter of the cabbage is covered with kimchi paste mix, wrap the outermost leaf around the rest of the leaves to secure them. Place each bundle in a clean container.
- Tightly pack all the finished cabbages into the container. Press down hard and squeeze out excess air between the leaves.
Step 5: Fermenting
- Place the sealed container at room temperature for 18-24 hours.
- Note: After 18 hours, open the lid of the container to see if bubbles are forming in the broth.
- For best taste, place the kimchi in the refrigerator after bubbles start forming. Store it in the refrigerator to keep the fermentation going.
Step 6: Store And Enjoy!
- Store the fermented kimchi covered tightly in the refrigerator.
- Kimchi begins to sour 1-2 weeks after its preparation.
- In Korea, people use a kimchi refrigerator that maintains optimal temperature. It prevents over-fermenting and souring of kimchi.
- Keep tasting the leaves every now and then. Once it reaches the desirable taste and pungency, you can start cooking with it or serve it as a side dish.
If you have successfully made a batch of kimchi, and are wondering how to use it in your daily cooking, I’ve got a simple and quick solution for you. How about cooking some fried rice with this kimchi?
Sounds fun? Let’s get into the kitchen!
A Simple and Quick Way To Eat Kimchi: Kimchi Fried Rice
What You Need
- Kimchi: ½ cup
- Onion: ½ medium-sized, white, yellow, or red
- Green onion: 2 bundles, fresh
- Cooked rice: ⅔ cup
- Kimchi “juice”: 1 teaspoon
- Hot pepper paste (gochujang): ½ teaspoon
- Miso: ½ teaspoon (optional)
- Sugar: ½ teaspoon
- Soy sauce: ⅛th teaspoon
- Sesame oil (or vegetable oil): 1 teaspoon
- Toasted sesame seeds (as desired)
- 1 egg (optional)
Let’s Make It!
- Cut the kimchi into small pieces and finely chop both the onions.
- Mix gochujang, miso, soy sauce, and the “juice” from the kimchi to make a sauce.
- In a pan, warm half of the sesame or vegetable oil over medium heat.
- To the warm oil, add the kimchi and stir-fry until it turns relatively soft and mushy.
- Add the onions and continue to cook.
- When the onions turn transparent, add the rice and stir well. Press down the rice slightly with a spatula while continuing to cook.
- Pour in the sauce and mix well until the rice is no longer white and evenly coated with all the ingredients.
- Turn off the heat, drizzle some sesame or vegetable oil onto the rice, and mix well.
- Sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds over the rice.
- Pop a sunny-side-up fried egg over the rice just before you serve.
- Serve hot with some fresh veggies, chilled beer or soju.
- Working weekend’s dinner is set!
Now that you’ve gotten the much-needed starting push, you can go on and incorporate kimchi in various dishes – pancakes, noodles, pasta, sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers…it’s all up to your creativity!
That is how versatile kimchi is! It goes well with many dishes as an ingredient or as a side dish. Does that mean we can have kimchi in every meal of the day?
What can happen if you overeat kimchi? What are the possible risks that come with kimchi? Scroll down for answers.
Are There Any Adverse Effects and Risks Of Eating Kimchi?
Well, this aspect of kimchi has not been studied much because foods like kimchi are traditional and have been passed on through generations. Not many anticipate the possible side effects of such age-old recipes.
Though this field needs extensive research, the following points have been well documented:
- Can Cause Gastric Cancer: The salts in kimchi and similar foods can be carcinogenic to your stomach, especially in combination with red pepper. Individuals that have certain changes in specific genes (CYP1A1, CYP2E1, GSTM1, GSTT1, and ALDH2 genes) and are on kimchi-rich diets are at a higher risk of suffering from stomach cancers (8).
- Can Worsen Hypertension: This is more of a risk. Since making kimchi involves a lot of salt, people with hypertension and sodium imbalance should stay away from it. They can also consult a physician for suitable portion size and corresponding medication if they wish to eat kimchi.
- Can Upset Your Stomach: Sometimes, kimchi can upset your stomach. Store-bought kimchi, very old kimchi, or kimchi eaten in a particular food combination can cause flatulence, gas, or nausea. Consult a physician if such symptoms persist.
There is nothing like kimchi when it comes to taste and health. Kimchi delivers probiotic microbes, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals enveloped in exploding flavor.
You can add kimchi to almost any dish you cook to enhance its taste, flavor, texture, and nutritive value. You can also replace the cabbage used in kimchi with radishes, cucumbers, or carrots.
So, drawing inspiration from our recipe, try making a small batch of kimchi these holidays. I’m sure it will turn out excellent.
Use the comments section below to share your feedback, suggestions, and kimchi-making experiences with us.
- “Taste of Korea: Kimchi” College of Agriculture & Life sciences Cooperative Extension, The University College of Arizona
- “Kimchi and Other Widely Consumed Traditional…” Frontiers in Microbiology, US National Library of Medicine
- “Health benefits of kimchi (Korean fermented…” Journal of Medicinal Food, US National Library of Medicine
- “Characterization of starter kimchi…” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, US National Library of Medicine
- “A lactic acid bacterium isolated from kimchi ameliorates…” Journal of Microbiology, US National Library of Medicine
- “A Review of Fermented Foods with Beneficial Effects on Brain…” Preventive Nutrition and Food Science, US National Library of Medicine
- “Anti-aging effects and mechanisms of kimchi during fermentation…” Health & Environment Research Online, United States Environmental Protection Agency
- “Kimchi and soybean pastes are risk factors..” World Journal of Gastroenterology, US National Library of Medicine
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