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Fermented foods have been around for centuries. At first, fermentation was merely used for preservation purposes.
However, scientists have since discovered the probiotic benefits of fermented foods. And one of these probiotic-rich foods is kimchi.
Kimchi is rapidly becoming more and more popular in the Western world due to its health benefits, probiotic properties, mealtime versatility, and delicious flavor.
Are you ready to try something new and tasty for your gut health?
Let’s take a closer look at this Korean cuisine staple and how it can improve your health, one bite at a time.
What Is Kimchi?
Kimchi is a unique and traditional centuries-old Korean side dish. It consists of an assortment of vegetables that have been salted and fermented.
In the Korean culture, kimchi is eaten with almost every meal. It’s especially ubiquitous at lunch and dinner.
Like most fermented dishes, kimchi has a very distinct flavor: sour, salty, and savory. Depending on the vegetables and seasonings used, it can also taste quite spicy.
How Is Kimchi Made?
One way to think of kimchi is that it’s similar to a fruit salad. There isn’t one specific recipe, and every person adds their personal touch to the ingredients.
With kimchi, families often hand down their particular version of the recipe through the generations, adding seasonings and vegetables over the years.
The most popular form of kimchi is known as baechu kimchi, which is made using napa cabbage—also called baechu. Other common ingredients in kimchi include carrots, chili flakes, garlic, ginger, radishes, and scallions. Some kimchi dishes even include fruit.
- You can add Korean chili flakes (gochugaru) or chili paste (gochujang) if you want a spicier kimchi.
- Some kimchi recipes also include fish sauce or salted, preserved shrimp for a more savory flavor. You can substitute this with miso for a vegan version of kimchi with the same umami flavor.
Once the kimchi is prepared to your liking, pack it tightly into an air-tight container and let it ferment, which can take anywhere from 1-2 days to a week.
Freshly prepared kimchi tends to be on the salty side. The longer you let it sit, the more sour it will become. This doesn’t mean your kimchi has “gone bad.” It simply means it’s had more time to ferment.
But what exactly happens to kimchi when it’s fermenting?
What Is Fermentation?
As we mentioned, part of preparing kimchi is allowing it sufficient time to ferment. Let’s take a closer look at just how fermentation works.
Fermentation occurs when one food is broken down and altered in taste, smell, and even texture. This process is carried out by bacteria, yeast, or other microorganisms.
During fermentation, these microorganisms feed off the sugars that either occur naturally or have been added to the original food. As the microorganisms multiply, they can completely transform the original product, creating a whole new food product.
Once fermented, foods and beverages can be completely different from the original product, with a different smell and taste (often slightly sour). For example, fermented milk becomes yogurt, and fermented sweetened tea becomes kombucha.
Depending on the product and recipe, fermentation time can vary greatly.
For kimchi, fermenting it at room temperature can take place in as little as 1-2 days. However, for food safety reasons, it’s better to ferment it in your refrigerator. In this case, it can take slightly longer, up to 10 days.
Is Kimchi Good for Gut Health?
Are you a fan of this Korean dish? If so, we have good news.
Kimchi, like most fermented foods, is known for its incredibly gut-friendly properties.
And it’s all due to… bacteria.
As part of its fermentation and transformation into kimchi, the bacteria within the cabbage proliferates.
But that’s actually a good thing! And we’ll explain why.
Kimchi and Your Gut Microbiome
Your gut microbiome is already home to two types of bacteria: beneficial (“good”) bacteria and pathogenic (“bad”) bacteria.
In a gut-healthy scenario, the colonies of good bacteria are thriving and crowding out the colonies of bad bacteria.
Unfortunately, this isn’t often the case. Usually, pathogenic bacteria are present in higher numbers, leading to poor gut health—a condition known as dysbiosis.
But when you eat kimchi or other probiotic-rich foods, the bacteria they contain join forces with the good bacteria already present in your gut.
That’s because the bacteria in kimchi is a very specific type of bacteria, known as probiotic bacteria. This bacteria is similar, or even identical, to the beneficial bacteria currently living in your gut.
The addition of kimchi’s probiotic bacteria helps existing colonies of good bacteria grow in both strength and numbers.
In the end, consuming probiotic-rich kimchi can:
- promote colonies of good bacteria
- reduce or even eliminate colonies of bad bacteria
- rebalance your gut microbiome
- lead to a healthy gut
Kimchi and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Along with supporting the beneficial bacteria in your gut microbiome, kimchi has one other important gut-healthy benefit.
Thanks to its fiber content and anti-inflammatory properties, studies show that kimchi can help alleviate symptoms of IBS such as bloating, stomach pain, and irregular bowel movements.
Health Benefits of Kimchi
We’ve seen what kimchi can do for your gut, but what about the rest of your body?
Let’s take a look at some of the other health benefits you may get from eating kimchi.
Provides Necessary Plant Nutrients
Kimchi is made with nutrient-packed vegetables. Regardless of which veggies you choose, you’re adding vitamins, minerals, plant-based fibers, and other nutrients.
In fact, kimchi is an excellent source of:
Improves Cardiovascular Health
There are a couple of ways in which kimchi can be heart-healthy.
For one, studies show that kimchi can lower your cholesterol levels. This reduces your likelihood of developing heart disease.
And, kimchi has the potential to reduce or even eliminate atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque on the walls of your arteries. Over time, this narrows or even blocks your arteries, reducing blood flow throughout your body. Atherosclerosis, untreated, can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Boosts Immune System
Over 80% of your immune system is housed in your gut. This means that your gut health has an enormous bearing on your immune health.
Because of this amazing connection, by restoring your gut microbiome, kimchi also helps restore your immune health.
Kimchi also boosts your immune system by fighting inflammation, which damages healthy cells and can lead to chronic illnesses. But some of the nutrients in kimchi, such as vitamin C and ginger, have anti-inflammatory properties. This can reduce both inflammation and the risk of it developing into something more severe.
We mentioned earlier that kimchi contains vitamin C. Vitamin C is a valuable nutrient that your body uses for a number of functions, including producing collagen, growing and repairing tissues, healing wounds, and more.
But vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant. It fights and repairs cellular damage caused by free radicals, including tissue damage, premature aging, and chronic health conditions.
Have you decided to add kimchi to your diet? If so, here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your favorite new side dish.
Kimchi can be made at home or found in most grocery stores, Korean markets, and specialty stores.
If you decide to make your own kimchi, pick fresh, organic produce for your kimchi. And the larger the variety of vegetables you use for your kimchi, the more variety of nutrients—and their benefits— you’ll enjoy.
If you’re buying prepared kimchi, look for the unpasteurized version, which contains the probiotics you want for your gut health. And don’t be surprised if your kimchi bubbles; it’s a good sign that it’s fermenting properly.
Storing Your Kimchi
Stored properly—in an airtight container in your refrigerator— kimchi can last from several days to over a week.
Store-bought kimchi should have an expiration date. For homemade kimchi, look for changes in texture (less crisp), flavor, or odor. Although kimchi becomes more sour as it ages, it shouldn’t ever be sour to the point of tasting pungent or “off.”
When to Eat Kimchi
Koreans eat kimchi with almost every meal. But what’s the best time to eat kimchi for gut health?
Here’s the secret: there is no “best” time. You can eat kimchi for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a midnight snack, and it’s equally beneficial.
- Try it for breakfast mixed with hash brown or as an omelet filling.
- Use it as a topping for sandwiches or tacos.
- Add kimchi to fried rice, noodles, stews, and meat dishes.
- Fill lettuce leaves with kimchi for a nutrient-packed wrap.
- Or simply eat it on its own!
Adding Probiotics to Your Kimchi
For an added boost, you can add a probiotic supplement to your kimchi.
Probiotic supplements contain beneficial strains of bacteria, much like kimchi. However, the probiotics in kimchi are difficult to measure, and it’s next to impossible to know how much of the actual probiotic makes it to your gut microbiome.
Our favorite probiotic supplement from Just Thrive is guaranteed to make it past your body’s harsh stomach acids, enzymes, and bile, making it all the way to your gut, 100% alive and ready to get to work. Paired with kimchi, you’ll get optimal probiotic benefits.
And all you have to do is open a capsule of your probiotic supplement and sprinkle it into your homemade or store-bought kimchi.
An Easy and Delicious Kimchi Recipe
Ready to try your hand at kimchi? Here’s how to make kimchi right in your own kitchen, with a top-rated traditional kimchi recipe from My Korean Kitchen.
- 8.8 pounds napa cabbage, thick outer leaves removed
- 16 cups water
- 1.5 cups Korean coarse sea salt or natural rock salt
- 1/2 cup cooking salt
- 2 Tbsp glutinous rice flour (sweet rice flour)
- 1.5 cups water
- 1.5 cups gochugaru (Korean chili flakes)
- 19 ounces Korean radish or daikon radish, julienned
- 1 Tbsp fine sea salt
- 3.5 Tbsp of Korean fish sauce
- 2 Tbsp salted fermented shrimp (saeujeot), minced
- 3.2 ounces Korean chives, cut in 2-inch lengths
- 4.9 ounces carrots, julienned
- 1/4 cup minced garlic
- 1/2 Tbsp minced ginger
- 2 Tbsp raw sugar
- 2.5 ounces onion, blended or finely grated
- Cut cabbage into quarters and rinse under running water.
- Dissolve coarse salt in water. Dip each quarter of cabbage into the water, then place each on a tray for further salting.
- Pinch some cooking salt (1/2 cup total for all pickled cabbages) and rub over the thick white part of the cabbage. Open each leaf gently and sprinkle the salt over the thick white part. Reserve the saltwater from soaking cabbage for later use.
- Put the salted cabbage in a large food-grade plastic bag or large bucket (wedge side of the cabbage to be facing up) and pour in the reserved saltwater from step 2. Close the plastic bag. If using a bucket, get something heavy on top of the cabbage to press down.
- Set the cabbage aside for 6 hours to pickle. Rotate the cabbage upside down every 2 hours.
- Once the soaking process is finished, rinse the cabbage in running water, especially the thick white part of the cabbage, to get rid of the salt. Place them in a colander and allow them to drain for 1 hour.
- While waiting, prepare the rice paste. Mix glutinous rice flour with the water (1.5 cups) in a saucepan and boil it over medium heat for 5-8 minutes, until it thickens. Once ready, transfer the rice paste to a medium-sized bowl and allow to cool. Once cooled, add Korean chili flakes and combine well.
- Prepare a large mixing bowl and add radish, fine sea salt, Korean fish sauce, and salted fermented shrimp. Let sit for 10 minutes. Add Korean chives, carrots, minced garlic, minced ginger, sugar, blended onion, and the Korean chili flakes mixture from Step 7. Mix well.
- Place a quarter of a cabbage on a tray. Leave cabbage leaves attached to the stem and spread seasonings over each leaf, one side only. 1 to 2 small fistfuls of seasoning is enough per quarter of cabbage.
- Transfer the kimchi into a kimchi container or an airtight container (and put the lid on). Leave it out at room temperature for 24 hours, then move it to the refrigerator.
Your kimchi will be ready to eat once it’s chilled, but you may want to wait 3-4 days for a more intense flavor.
If you’re considering eating kimchi for gut health, consider this to be your green light!
This versatile, flavorful Korean side dish is an excellent addition to almost any meal.
More importantly, kimchi comes chock-full of nutrients and health benefits.
And the biggest health benefit of all is for your gut health. Loaded with probiotics, kimchi can help balance your microbiome and support gut health, one delicious bite at a time.
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