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Historically, it hasn't always been possible to grow fresh vegetables throughout the year.
Therefore, people developed methods of food preservation, such as pickling and fermentation — a process that uses enzymes to create chemical changes in food.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made with salted, fermented vegetables. It typically contains cabbage and seasonings like sugar, salt, onions, garlic, ginger, and chili peppers.
It may also boast other vegetables, including radish, celery, carrot, cucumber, eggplant, spinach, scallions, beets, and bamboo shoots.
Though usually fermented for a few days to a few weeks before serving, it can also be eaten fresh, or unfermented, immediately after preparation.
Not only is this dish delectable, but it also offers many health benefits.
Here are 9 unique benefits of kimchi.
1. Nutrient Dense
Kimchi is packed with nutrients while being low in calories.
On its own, Chinese cabbage — one of the main ingredients in kimchi — boasts vitamins A and C, at least 10 different minerals, and over 34 amino acids.
Since kimchi varies widely in ingredients, its exact nutritional profile differs between batches and brands. All the same, a 1-cup (150-gram) serving contains approximately.
- Calories: 23
- Carbs: 4 grams
- Protein: 2 grams
- Fat: less than 1 gram
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Sodium: 747 mg
- Vitamin B6: 19% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin C: 22% of the DV
- Vitamin K: 55% of the DV
- Folate: 20% of the DV
- Iron: 21% of the DV
- Niacin: 10% of the DV
- Riboflavin: 24% of the DV
Many green vegetables are good sources of nutrients like vitamin K and riboflavin. Because kimchi often comprises several green veggies, such as cabbage, celery, and spinach, it's typically a great source of these nutrients.
Vitamin K plays an important role in many bodily functions, including bone metabolism and blood clotting, while riboflavin helps regulate energy production, cellular growth, and metabolism.
What's more, the fermentation process may develop additional nutrients that are more easily absorbed by your body.
Kimchi has an excellent nutritional profile. The dish is low in calories but packed with nutrients like iron, folate, and vitamins B6 and K.
2. Contains Probiotics
The lacto-fermentation process that kimchi undergoes makes it particularly unique. Fermented foods not only have an extended shelf life but also an enhanced taste and aroma.
Fermentation occurs when a starch or sugar is converted into an alcohol or acid by organisms like yeast, mold, or bacteria.
Lacto-fermentation uses the bacterium Lactobacillus to break sugars down into lactic acid, which gives kimchi its characteristic sourness.
When taken as a supplement, This bacterium itself may have several benefits, including treating conditions like hayfever and certain types of diarrhea.
Fermentation also creates an environment that allows other friendly bacteria to thrive and multiply. These include probiotics, which are live microorganisms that offer health benefits when consumed in large amounts.
In fact, they're linked to protection from or improvements in several conditions, including:
- certain types of cancer
- the common cold
- gastrointestinal health
- heart health
- mental health
- skin conditions
Keep in mind that many of these findings are related to high-dose probiotic supplements and not the amounts found in a normal serving of kimchi.
The probiotics in kimchi are believed to be responsible for many of its benefits. Nonetheless, more research is needed on the specific effects of probiotics from fermented foods.
Fermented foods like kimchi offer probiotics, which may help prevent and treat several conditions.
3. May Strengthen Your Immune System
The Lactobacillus bacterium in kimchi may boost your immune health.
In a study in mice, those injected with Lactobacillus plantarum — a specific strain that's common in kimchi and other fermented foods — had lower levels of TNF alpha, an inflammatory marker, than the control group.
Because TNF alpha levels are often elevated during infection and disease, a decrease indicates that the immune system is working efficiently.
A test-tube study that isolated Lactobacillus plantarum from kimchi likewise demonstrated that this bacterium has immune-enhancing effects.
Though these results are promising, human research is needed.
A specific strain of Lactobacillus found in kimchi may boost your immune system, though further research is necessary.
4. May Reduce Inflammation
Probiotics and active compounds in kimchi and other fermented foods may help fight inflammation.
For example, a mouse study revealed that HDMPPA, one of the principal compounds in kimchi, improved blood vessel health by suppressing inflammation.
In another mouse study, a kimchi extract of 91 mg per pound of body weight (200 mg per kg) given daily for 2 weeks lowered levels of inflammation-related enzymes.
Meanwhile, a test-tube study confirmed that HDMPPA displays anti-inflammatory properties by blocking and suppressing the release of inflammatory compounds.
However, human studies are lacking.
HDMPPA, an active compound in kimchi, may play a large role in reducing inflammation.
5. May Slow Aging
Chronic inflammation is not only associated with numerous illnesses, but it also accelerates the aging process.
Yet, kimchi possibly prolongs cell life by slowing this process.
In a test-tube study, human cells treated with kimchi demonstrated an increase in viability, which measures overall cell health — and showed an extended lifespan regardless of their age.
Still, overall research is lacking. Many more studies are needed before kimchi can be recommended as an anti-aging treatment.
A test-tube study indicates that kimchi may slow the aging process, though more research is necessary.
6. May Prevent Yeast Infections
Kimchi's probiotics and healthy bacteria may help prevent yeast infections.
Vaginal yeast infections occur when the Candida fungus, which is normally harmless, multiplies rapidly inside the vagina. Over 1.4 million women in the United States are treated for this condition each year.
As this fungus may be developing resistance to antibiotics, many researchers are looking for natural treatments.
Test-tube and animal studies suggest that certain strains of Lactobacillus fight Candida. One test-tube study even found that multiple strains isolated from kimchi displayed antimicrobial activity against this fungus.
Regardless, further research is necessary.
Probiotic-rich foods like kimchi may help prevent yeast infections, though research is in the early stages.
7. May Aid Weight Loss
Fresh and fermented kimchi are both low in calories and may boost weight loss.
A 4-week study in 22 people with excess weight found that eating fresh or fermented kimchi helped reduce body weight, body mass index (BMI), and body fat. Additionally, the fermented variety decreased blood sugar levels.
Keep in mind that those who ate fermented kimchi displayed significantly greater improvements in blood pressure and body fat percentage than those who ate the fresh dish.
It's unclear which properties of kimchi are responsible for its weight loss effects — though its low calorie count, high fiber content, and probiotics could all play a role.
Though the specific mechanism isn't known, kimchi may help reduce body weight, body fat, and even blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
8. May Support Heart Health
Research indicates that kimchi may reduce your risk of heart disease.
This may be due to its anti-inflammatory properties, as recent evidence suggests that inflammation may be an underlying cause of heart disease.
In an 8-week study in mice fed a high cholesterol diet, fat levels in the blood and liver were lower in those given kimchi extract than in the control group. In addition, the kimchi extract appeared to suppress fat growth.
This is important because the accumulation of fat in these areas may contribute to heart disease.
Meanwhile, a weeklong study in 100 people found that eating 0.5–7.5 ounces (15–210 grams) of kimchi daily significantly decreased blood sugar, total cholesterol, and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels — all of which are risk factors for heart disease.
All the same, more human research is needed.
Kimchi may lower your risk of heart disease by reducing inflammation, suppressing fat growth, and decreasing cholesterol levels.
9. Easy to Make at Home
Though preparing fermented foods may seem like a daunting task, making kimchi at home is fairly simple if you adhere to the following steps:
- Gather ingredients of your choice, such as cabbage and other fresh vegetables like carrot, radish, and onion, plus ginger, garlic, sugar, salt, rice flour, chili oil, chili powder or pepper flakes, fish sauce, and saeujeot (fermented shrimp).
- Cut and wash the fresh vegetables alongside the ginger and garlic.
- Spread salt in between the layers of cabbage leaves and let it sit for 2–3 hours. Turn the cabbage every 30 minutes to evenly distribute the salt. Use a ratio of 1/2 cup (72 grams) of salt to every 6 pounds (2.7 kg) of cabbage.
- To remove the excess salt, rinse the cabbage with water and drain in a colander or strainer.
- Mix the rice flour, sugar, ginger, garlic, chili oil, pepper flakes, fish sauce, and saeujeot into a paste, adding water if necessary. You can use more or less of these ingredients depending on how strong you want your kimchi to taste.
- Toss the fresh vegetables, including the cabbage, into the paste until all of the veggies have been fully coated.
- Pack the mixture into a large container or jar for storage, making sure to seal it properly.
- Let the kimchi ferment for at least 3 days at room temperature or up to 3 weeks at 39 F (4 C).
To make a version that's suitable for vegetarians and vegans, simply leave out the fish sauce and saeujeot.
If you prefer fresh over fermented kimchi, just stop after step 6.
If you choose fermentation, you'll know that it's ready to eat once it starts to smell and taste sour — or when small bubbles begin to move through the jar.
After fermentation, you can refrigerate your kimchi for up to 1 year. It will continue to ferment but at a slower rate due to the cool temperature.
Bubbling, bulging, a sour taste, and a softening of the cabbage are all perfectly normal for kimchi. However, if you notice a foul odor or any signs of mold, such as a white film atop the food, your dish has spoiled and should be thrown out.
Kimchi can be made at home using a few simple steps. Typically, it needs to ferment 3–21 days depending on the surrounding temperature.
Does kimchi have any downsides?
In general, the biggest safety concern with kimchi is food poisoning.
Recently, this dish has been linked to E. coli and norovirus outbreaks.
Even though fermented foods don't typically carry foodborne pathogens, kimchi's ingredients and the adaptability of pathogens means that it's still vulnerable to foodborne illnesses.
As such, people with compromised immune systems may want to practice caution with kimchi.
Although people with high blood pressure may have concerns about this dish's high sodium content, a study in 114 people with this condition showed no significant relationship between kimchi intake and high blood pressure.
Kimchi has very few risks. Nonetheless, this dish has been tied to outbreaks of food poisoning, so people with compromised immune systems may want to use extra caution.
The Bottom Line
Kimchi is a sour Korean dish often made from cabbage and other vegetables. Because it's a fermented food, it boasts numerous probiotics.
These healthy microorganisms may give kimchi several health benefits. It may help regulate your immune system, promote weight loss, fight inflammation, and even slow the aging process.
If you enjoy cooking, you can even make kimchi at home.
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