Diet and Nutrition

Kimchi's Health Benefits and More

Kimchi Health Benefits

Key Takeaways

  • Kimchi is a Korean side dish made with salted and fermented vegetables. 
  • It is estimated that each Korean eats about 40 pounds (20 kilos) of kimchi a year.
  • Kimchi promotes overall health and wellness.

Kimchi is a Korean side dish made with salted and fermented vegetables. This Korean staple side dish usually has cabbage, radish, garlic, ginger, and various seafood, with spices and seasonings. In the past, kimchi was stored in jars and buried in the ground to stay at a certain temperature suitable for fermentation. However, these days, kimchi can be preserved in the refrigerator. There are hundreds of kimchi varieties, depending on the ingredients. However, it usually contains cabbage and radish. It is a low-calorie but very spicy condiment that contains a lot of fiber. It is served with every meal, usually with rice, fish, potatoes, or noodles. However, kimchi can be added to any food, such as pizza and hamburgers, soups, stews, sandwiches, and even pancakes. It is estimated that each Korean eats about 40 pounds (20 kilos) of kimchi a year. 

Kimchi is fermented at low temperatures and then mixed with chili pepper, garlic, ginger, radishes, and spring onions. Its color is red because it contains chili peppers. Today, Koreans cannot imagine a diet without kimchi, along with rice and soy.

Name origins

In ancient times, kimchi was called “ji,” or in Korean, “dihi.” Today, the term “gimchi” is accepted in North and South Korea. The name was derived from the word “shimchae,” or salting of vegetables, which was a logical translation, considering the way it is made. Kimchi is the national dish of North and South Korea. This Korean staple dish dates back to the period of the Three Kingdoms (57 BC to 668 AD), but it didn’t contain garlic or red peppers before the 16th century. Koreans started to make kimchi because it was impossible to grow vegetables during winter. Adding chili peppers to kimchi became widespread in the 19th century. The noted kimchi recipes from the 19th century are very similar to today’s kimchi recipes. Nowadays, kimchi is prepared using the same ingredients but with a modern fermentation method, that is, using a kimchi refrigerator.

Kimchi ingredients

Kimchi's most important ingredients are cabbage and radish. For the cabbage, Napa cabbage, headed, and bomdong are used. The radishes used are mainly the Korean, young summer, gegeol, and ponytail radishes.

Other kimchi ingredients that may be used are the following:

  • Chili peppers
  • Tomatoes
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Korean parsley
  • Eggplant
  • Aster
  • Perilla leaves
  • Radish greens
  • Scallions
  • Cress
  • Cucumbers
  • Potatoes
  • Lotus roots
  • Pumpkin
  • Rapeseed leaves
  • Spinach
  • Celery
  • Onions
  • Balloon flower roots
  • Burdock roots
  • Crown daisy green
  • Korean wild chive
  • Mustard greens
  • Soybean sprouts
  • Sweet potato vines

It can also contain sesame, salt, walnut, sugar, and salted fish.

Kimchi variations

It is an unwritten rule that kimchi should have five tastes: sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and bitter. There are a lot of variations of kimchi, but every kimchi usually contains chili peppers and garlic, which are in charge of giving it its spicy taste and fine aroma. Kimchi should be kept in the fridge and eaten within a period of one month after opening a jar.

The following are kimchi variations:

  • White kimchi (baek-kimchi)
  • Bossam-kimchi
  • Korean radish kimchi (chonggak-kimchi)
  • Napa cabbage kimchi (baechu kimchi)
  • Unfermented napa cabbage kimchi (baechu-geotjeori kimchi)
  • Green onion kimchi (pa-kimchi)
  • Korean radish kimchi (kkakdugi kimchi)
  • Cucumber kimchi (oi sobagi)
  • Radish water kimchi (dongchimi and nabak kimchi)

Kimchi by region

Kimchi can also be classified according to the following regions:

  • Pyongan-do – all of North Korea except Pyongyang, which uses non-traditional kimchi ingredients due to food scarcity.
  • Hamgyeong-do – the Upper Northeast region that adds fish and oysters to kimchi.
  • Hwanghae-do – the Midwest region that uses pumpkin but does not add chili peppers, making their kimchi paler.
  • Chungcheong-do - between Gyeonggi-do and Jeolla-do, which uses more salt in the kimchi.
  • Gangwon-do in South Korea or Kangwon-do in North Korea – the Mideast region that does not add salted fish.
  • Jeolla-do – Lower Southwest region that uses salted fish (yellow corvine and butterfish).
  • Gyeongsang-do - Lower Southeast region that makes salty and spicy kimchi.
  • Foreign countries – People from other countries who use Western cabbage and other vegetables in their kimchi recipes.

Gwangju International Kimchi Festival 

Every year, Gwangju International Kimchi Festival is held in the city of Gwangju, where you can attend classes and learn how to make kimchi. Plus, there are fun and rich entertainment programs to see during the festival. There is a saying that if you haven't tried kimchi in Korea, you have never even been to Korea.

Aside from the health benefits, kimchi has an important social and cultural role because it has become a part of Korean tradition. Kimchi fermentation is a big family event, and Korean family members usually gather for a couple of days in October to do cabbage fermentation. Family recipes are transferred from generation to generation.

Kimchi health benefits 

1) Excellent source of vitamins

Kimchi was made for the winter season because vegetables couldn’t be grown during long cold winter months. Preserving vegetables to eat during winter was a great idea because kimchi provided an excellent source of vitamins during the winter months. Eating kimchi prevents flu, which explains how healthy this dish is.

2) Contains lactobacilli

Kimchi contains healthy bacteria called lactobacilli, which can help with digestion and is good for preventing and halting yeast infections. Aside from kimchi, other fermented foods like yogurt also contain lactobacilli. Kimchi is very good for gut health because of the probiotics and cabbage it contains. Eating cabbage is known to help the body release toxins. Moreover, because it contains fiber, it prevents constipation and improves bowel movements.

Lactobacillus bacteria can also help treat atopic dermatitis by reducing skin inflammation.

3) Prevents cancer and digestive problems

Recent studies show that fermented foods, especially cabbage, can help prevent cancer. Kimchi can also help with peptic ulcer disease caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria as well as gastritis. Moreover, kimchi prevents the occurrence of gastric cancer cells. 

4) Promotes overall health and wellness

Besides helping with digestion, it can improve the cardiovascular system and has a positive effect on the immune system. Ingredients like garlic, chili pepper, and ginger are protectors of the immune system as they can help with the flu, colds, and other infections. Kimchi is rich in antioxidants, which can have a great impact on cancer, obesity, gastric diseases, diabetes, and dermatitis, as well as help against aging.

Kimchi can also keep one's appetite under control since it contains a lot of fiber. Moreover, it helps control blood sugar levels, which is beneficial for people with diabetes. It contains high levels of vitamin C alongside antioxidants, which are very powerful weapons against aging.

It also helps prevent colds and the flu since it contains cabbage and garlic, which help strengthen the immune system. Such ingredients can help ease the effects of infections. The ginger in kimchi can also help deal with a cough and cold. But the real power of kimchi lies in its fermentation process, which produces probiotics that can boost the immune system and shorten the course of any type of disease.

Napa cabbage in kimchi is rich in vitamins and minerals. It can help treat atherosclerosis, normalize blood cholesterol levels, eliminate toxins, and prevent cancer. Garlic, also one of the main kimchi ingredients, contains allicin and selenium, which help lower both bad cholesterol and excess glucose in the blood.

Kimchi is wonderfully healthy because of its ingredients. Many even rank it as one of the world’s healthiest foods.

Kimchi nutrition facts

Kimchi is high in dietary fiber but low in calories, fat, and sugar. It also contains high levels of carotene, vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamins B1 and B2, isothiocyanates, and flavonoids. It also contains amino acids and minerals such as calcium, iron, and lactic acid bacteria. These bacteria may be the biggest health benefit from kimchi, and are also present in other fermented foods like yogurt. Kimchi contains strong antioxidants and probiotics, so many people are encouraged to eat kimchi as they believe it helps balance the bacteria in the digestive system. On the other hand, kimchi contains some carcinogens and could increase one's risk of getting a stomach cancer. Doctors suggest consuming it in moderation to avoid increasing the risk. Like any other food, kimchi can cause harm if it is consumed excessively and without combining it with fresh fruits and vegetables.

100 grams of kimchi contains:

  • Calories – 32 calories
  • Proteins – 2 g
  • Sugar  –  1.3 g
  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine)  – 0.03 mg
  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) – 0.06 mg
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin) – 2.1 mg
  • Vitamin A - 492 IU
  • Vitamin C - 21 mg
  • Phosphorus – 28 mg
  • Ash – 0.5 g
  • Water – 88.4 g
  • Lipid – 0.6 g
  • Fiber – 1.2 g
  • Calcium - 45 mg

Make your own kimchi

To make your own kimchi, you will the need the following ingredients:

  • 1 napa cabbage 
  • 2 large carrots (sliced)
  • 4 tablespoons of salt
  • 4 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 or 2 large leeks
  • A piece of chili pepper
  • A quarter teaspoon of chili powder
  • A piece of ginger root
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • A quarter teaspoon of turmeric powder

Instructions:

  1. Pour the water and salt into a bowl and stir until the salt is dissolved.
  2. Cut the cabbage into strips and put it in the water along with the sliced carrots.
  3. Mix it and press with a plate or other heavy object, so that the vegetables are soaked in the water.
  4. Leave it for six hours or overnight.
  5. Wash the leeks and chop them into strips, chop ginger into cubes, and chop the chili peppers and garlic.
  6. Add turmeric powder with 2 tablespoons of water and stir until everything is thoroughly mixed.
  7. Drain the vegetables and set the water aside.
  8. Mix the vegetables with the mix of spices and add the water.
  9. Press with something heavy until the vegetables are soaked with water. If the vegetables are still not fully submerged, add some more water.
  10. Leave it in a cool place for 7-20 days until the vegetables become really soft. 
  11. Transfer the kimchi into jars with its water.