Kimchi was first developed as a means to be able to preserve vegetables for when they couldn’t be grown fresh. But, as it turned out, the fermentation process used in this traditional Korean dish has also given it a plethora of health benefits.
Typically made with Chinese cabbage and seasonings like sugar, salt, garlic, onions, ginger and chili peppers, kimchi can also be made with other vegetables. These include radish, celery, carrot, cucumber, eggplant, spinach, scallions, beets, and bamboo shoots.
While kimchi can be eaten fresh and unfermented after fermentation, it’s usually fermented a few days to a few weeks before serving. This fermentation process helps contribute to the dish’s health benefits.
If you’re still on the fence about eating Korean kimchi, here are nine health benefits of kimchi that may convince you to take a bite.
1. Kimchi is nutrient-dense
Kimchi is packed with nutrients thanks to the vegetables it uses, while at the same time being low in calories.
A one-cup (150 gram) serving of kimchi only 23 calories, but provides around 19 percent of the daily value (DV) of vitamin B6, 22 percent of the DV of vitamin C and 55 percent of the DV of vitamin K, alongside significant amounts of folate, iron, niacin and riboflavin.
Take note that these amounts can differ between brands and batches. But it’s still packed with nutrients, whichever way you slice it.
What’s more, the fermentation process may also develop additional nutrients.
2. Kimchi is packed with probiotics
The fermentation process undergone by kimchi provides it with another benefit – making it full of probiotics. Specifically, the lacto-fermentation process involved in making kimchi uses the bacterium Lactobacillus to break down sugars into lactic acid, giving kimchi its characteristic sourness.
As a probiotic, Lactobacillus may have several health benefits. These include the ability to prevent and reduce diarrhea, improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, as well lower your cholesterol levels.
In addition, the fermentation process also encourages the growth of other helpful probiotic microorganisms.
3. Kimchi may boost your immune system
The Lactobacillus bacterium in kimchi may also have the ability to strengthen your immune system.
An animal study found that mice injected with Lactobacillus plantarum – a strain common in fermented foods – showed lower levels of the inflammatory marker TNF alpha. The latter is usually found in elevated levels during sickness, a decrease means that that the immune system is working efficiently.
Another study that isolated L. plantarum from kimchi also showed that it had immune-enhancing effects.
4. Kimchi may reduce inflammation
The active compounds and probiotics found in fermented foods like kimchi may help fight inflammation.
One study in mice found that HDMPPA, one of the principal compounds in kimchi, suppressed inflammation in blood vessels, improving their health. Another study has confirmed that HDMPPA is able to block the release of inflammatory compounds.
5. Kimchi may slow aging
Inflammation, especially chronic inflammation accelerates the aging process. Kimchi, on the other hand, may be able to prolong cell life by slowing this process.
Researchers found that human cells treated with kimchi demonstrated increased viability, showing an extended life span regardless of their age.
6. Kimchi may help prevent yeast infections
The probiotics and helpful bacteria in kimchi may help prevent yeast infections. Yeast infections are caused when the Candida fungus, which is normally harmless, multiples inside the vagina.
Studies have shown that certain strains of Lactobacillus can fight this fungus. In particular, one study found that multiple strains isolated from kimchi showed antimicrobial activity against Candida.
7. Kimchi may aid weight loss
Studies show that kimchi may be good for you if you’re trying to lose weight, and not just because it’s low in calories.
One study involving people with excess weight found that eating both fresh and fermented kimchi helped reduce body weight, body mass index (BMI) and body fat. On top of that, the fermented variety also helped decrease blood sugar levels.
What properties of kimchi are responsible for weight loss are unclear, though its low calorie count, high probiotics and high fiber content likely all play a role.
8. Kimchi may support heart health
Research shows that kimchi may be able to reduce your risk of heart disease by limiting the accumulation of fat in the blood vessels and liver.
One animal study, involving mice fed a high cholesterol diet, found lower fat levels in the blood and liver of those given kimchi extract. The kimchi extract also seemed to suppress fat growth.
9. Kimchi is easy to make on your own
For all its health benefits, kimchi is surprisingly easy to make at home. As the recipe below demonstrates, all you need is a bit of time and some space to store the kimchi for a few days while it ferments.
- 1 medium head napa cabbage (about 2 pounds)
- 1/4 cup iodine-free sea salt or kosher salt
- Water, preferably distilled or filtered
- 1 tablespoon grated garlic (5 to 6 cloves)
- 1 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce or salted shrimp paste, or 3 tablespoons water
- 1 to 5 tablespoons Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru)
- 8 ounces Korean radish or daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 4 medium scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
- Cut the cabbage lengthwise through the stem into quarters. Cut the cores from each piece. Cut each quarter crosswise into 2-inch-wide strips.
- Place the cabbage in a large bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Massage the salt into the cabbage until it starts to soften a bit. Add enough water to cover the cabbage. Put a plate on top of the cabbage and weigh it down with something heavy. Let stand for 1 to 2 hours.
- Rinse the cabbage under cold water 3 times. Set aside to drain in a colander for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Make the spice paste. Rinse and dry the bowl you used for salting. Add the garlic, ginger, sugar, and fish sauce, shrimp paste, or water and stir into a smooth paste.
- Stir in the gochugaru, using 1 tablespoon for mild and up to 5 tablespoons for spicy. Set aside until the cabbage is ready.
- Combine the vegetables and spice paste. Gently squeeze any remaining water from the cabbage and add it to the spice paste. Add the radish and scallions.
- Mix thoroughly using your hands. Gently work the paste into the vegetables until they are thoroughly coated. Gloves are optional but highly recommended to protect your hands from stings, stains and smells.
- Pack the kimchi into a 1-quart jar. Press down on the kimchi until the brine (the liquid that comes out) rises to cover the vegetables, leaving at least 1 inch of space at the top. Seal the jar.
- Let it ferment. Place a bowl or plate under the jar to help catch any overflow. Let the jar stand at cool room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for 1 to 5 days.
- Check the kimchi once a day, opening the jar and pressing down on the vegetables with a clean finger or spoon to keep them submerged under the brine. This helps release gases produced during fermentation. When the kimchi is ripe enough for your liking, transfer the jar to the refrigerator.
Take note that iodine in iodized salt will inhibit fermentation. So to can the chlorine in chlorinated tap water.
The fish sauce gives the kimchi an umami flavor. If you want a more vegan-friendly alternative, you can use 3/4 teaspoon of kelp powder instead.
Kimchi is a versatile superfood that can provide you with many health benefits. Its fermented nature also means that you can continue to experience its benefits all year long. With this in mind, try making some kimchi today so you can experience the many benefits it can bring.
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