Kimchi: What It Is and How to Make It

Kimchi is a Korean ingredient that is perhaps one of the most popular fermented foods. It came about because, in the past, it was not possible to access fresh vegetables year-round. Humans had to invent ways to preserve their vegetables, including cabbage. While the Germans made sauerkraut, Koreans made kimchi.

Due to the fermentation process, kimchi is packed full of potential benefits. Fermented foods are commonly used as probiotics because they contain healthy bacteria, which can be beneficial for gut health.

This article explores some of kimchi’s potential benefits, along with a quick and easy recipe for making it yourself at home.

Kimchi Benefits

There are several potential kimchi health benefits. This includes the nutrient-dense attributes of regular cabbage combined with the additional health properties of fermentation and other ingredients.

Below, we explore the details of what kimchi can do for your health.

Kimchi Nutrition Information

Kimchi is loaded with nutrients from the cabbage, but it’s still low in calories. One cup of kimchi contains just 23 calories, which is ideal for those on a weight-loss mission.

kimchi-what-it-is-and-how-to-make-it

Many of the nutrients come from Chinese cabbage, the primary ingredient. This cabbage variety is packed full of minerals, over 34 amino acids, and vitamins A and C.

Kimchi’s exact nutritional value may vary depending on the precise ingredients used to make it, but here is an approximate estimation of one cup:

  • Carbohydrates: 4g
  • Fat: <1g
  • Protein: 2g
  • Fiber: 2g
  • Sodium: 747mg
  • Vitamin B6: 19% of RDI
  • Vitamin C: 22% of RDI
  • Vitamin K: 55% of RDI
  • Riboflavin: 24% of RDI
  • Iron: 21% of RDI
  • Folate: 20% of RDI
  • Niacin: 10% of RDI

These are all crucial nutrients that can help the body function in various ways. For example, riboflavin is essential for energy production and metabolism, while folate helps form red and white blood cells and is vital for the immune system.

Contains Probiotics

One of the most well-known benefits of kimchi is that it contains probiotics. These are healthy bacteria that are good for the gut and digestive health. The bacteria are created as the cabbage and other vegetables ferment.

Kimchi probiotics are formed through a lacto-fermentation process that involves a bacterium called Lactobacillus. These bacteria break sugars in the cabbage down into lactic acid, which has a sour taste and lends kimchi its classic sour profile.

Kimchi is packed full of beneficial bacteria, produced when the cabbage is broken down by Lactobacillus bacteria, which can positively affect both mental and physical health.

The resulting probiotics could have a range of potential health benefits, including supporting heart health, gastrointestinal health, and even preventing colds. Some people refer to the gut as the second brain, which is why probiotics might also improve mental health.

It’s worth noting that the studies linked above involved high doses of probiotics, so eating kimchi may not provide these effects alone. That said, probiotics are certainly healthy.

Prevent Yeast Infections

Yeast infections occur when the Candida fungus multiplies rapidly, usually within the vagina. It’s a common occurrence, with over 1.4 million cases in the US each year. Although yeast infections can be easy to treat using antifungals, there is concern that the fungus is becoming resistant. As a result, natural forms of treatment are necessary.

It’s unclear whether people could use kimchi for yeast infections. However, some research has indicated that Lactobacillus strains can combat candida fungus. Some researchers have isolated strains from kimchi and found that they both had antimicrobial effects against fungus.

To know for sure, further research is necessary.

May Boost Weight Loss

Probiotics have long been hailed as a weight-loss tool. Specifically, it may be possible to use kimchi for weight loss. In part, this is because kimchi is so low in calories.

In a 2011 study, researchers gave 22 overweight people kimchi over the course of four weeks. The fermented kimchi reduced body weight, decreased body mass index (BMI), and lowered body fat. It also reduced blood sugar levels.

The same study indicated that fermented kimchi provided these effects more than freshly made kimchi.

Although you can eat kimchi fresh, studies have suggested that the fermented variety has more substantial benefits.

More research is required into using kimchi for weight loss to understand what exactly it does and how it could help.

Kimchi Side Effects

Depending on the preparation of kimchi, it may contain high levels of histamine and nitrite. Histamine is typically only harmful to those with allergies, while nitrites are only problematic in large quantities.

In large amounts, nitrites may act as a carcinogen. Levels of these can be reduced by preparing it in specific ways. Make sure to purchase kimchi from reliable sources to minimize risk.

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Another risk is the sodium content. Kimchi tends to be very salty due to the brine it is prepared in. Research from 2014, published in the Journal of Ethnic Foods, found no significant link between kimchi consumption and high blood pressure. Nevertheless, those with a blood pressure issue should exercise caution.

In general, the kimchi safety profile is quite good. That said, there have been some recent links between kimchi and E. coli or norovirus. As a result, food poisoning may be an issue. Generally, fermented foods do not carry pathogens, but the evolution of some food poisoning agents has led to a small risk.

How Is Kimchi Made?

Making kimchi is really straightforward, which is why many kimchi lovers prepare it themselves at home. If you are interested in making kimchi at home, here is a straightforward and easy recipe. All you need is a few fresh ingredients, a couple of store cupboard staples, and a sizeable mason jar.

kimchi-what-it-is-and-how-to-make-it

Cabbages are at their best from late fall to early spring; this includes the Napa cabbage, a Chinese variety from Beijing. Although you can get cabbages all year round, it’s best to make kimchi with fresh, large cabbages that are in season.

Ingredients

  • 6 lb cabbage (Chinese is the traditional variety, but you can use any)
  • ½ cup salt
  • Vegetables of your choice (e.g., carrot, radish, onion), cut into matchsticks or grated
  • Piece of root ginger, sliced
  • 6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp fish/soy sauce
  • 3 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp sriracha or hot sauce

Instructions

  1. Slice the cabbage into thin strips. Add to a mixing bowl with salt and allow it to sit for up to 3 hours. Every 30 minutes, toss it to distribute the salt.
  2. Rinse the cabbage in a strainer to remove excess salt.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar, ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, fish sauce, hot sauce, and chili powder to make a paste. Add as much water as necessary if you need to loosen it.
  4. Toss the vegetables, including the cabbage, in the paste to fully coat them, then pack into a mason jar (or several). Seal the lid tightly and allow it to ferment for at least three days at 39˚F. It’s possible to eat the kimchi right away, though fermented kimchi may have more health benefits.

You will know that the fermentation process is finished when the vegetables smell sour and small bubbles move through the jar. If the cabbage is soft and bulging, don’t worry – this is entirely normal. However, make sure to check for signs of mold, and do not consume if there is a foul odor.

Once the fermentation process is over, you can refrigerate the kimchi for up to a year.

Final Thoughts on Kimchi Benefits

Kimchi is a versatile ingredient that is loved for its flavor and its health properties. It has long been a staple of Korean cuisine but has now become popular in the US for both of these reasons.

As more people realize the benefits of fermented foods, flavor-packed kimchi is becoming a firm favorite among foodies. This fermented cabbage is packed with nutrients and probiotics but remains low in calories.

While you may be able to find kimchi in supermarkets (especially Asian supermarkets) and health food stores, it’s also straightforward to make at home. The above recipe is just one option, but it’s one of the easiest.

Have you ever tried kimchi? Let us know your thoughts on this probiotic powerhouse in the comments below.

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