Long a favourite of Korean people, kimchi is taking on new popularity in Western cuisine. Understanding of the health benefits of kimchi has been driven by new studies linking probiotic-rich fermented food in gut health to our physical and mental health.
In this week’s article, we’ll look at how kimchi can help you improve your diet and wellbeing. Specifically, we’ll look at the dish’s history and the health benefits of kimchi.
But what is kimchi? And from where does it originate?
What is kimchi?
A staple in Korean cuisine, kimchi is essentially similar to sauerkraut. However, though based on cabbage as a main ingredient, the difference is its more spicy and exotic flavour.
A traditional fermented food favourite, it’s commonly used as a side dish or in soups. It’s usually made from several ingredients, the most common being kimchi (napa) cabbage and radish. It can be made in several ways, however, the traditional method is a spicier dish than the Western sauerkraut. This comes from the zesty paste which includes chilli, garlic, fish sauce, ginger and red capsicum. It may be fermented for days or months, the longer the period, the more intense the flavour.
While napa cabbage is the most common ingredient, there are many other variations of the superb kimchi recipe. They include ones based around mustard leaf and cucumber. As with any popular dishes throughout the world, each region of Korea has developed its version.
The history of kimchi
Like sauerkraut in the West, kimchi appears to have begun as a way to preserve food through salting. This helped preserve the vegetables to last through the winter, the so-called “hungry gap” when staples couldn’t be grown.
According to The Handbook of Vegetable Preservation and Processing, the first recorded origins of kimchi date back to the 3rd century A.D.
Quoting from the Chinese records of the time, the Handbook states the Korean people, “…are skilled in making fermented food such as wine, soybean paste and salted and fermented fish.”
The Handbook adds that various ingredients to add zest and spice were added to the dish over thousands of years to make it the kimchi we know today.
Health benefits of kimchi
While kimchi has a unique taste and texture, its nutrient density and probiotic-rich nature mirror that of sauerkraut. While research is continuing, there have been some early studies which show how fermented foods such as kimchi can help physical and mental health.
Like sauerkraut, the lactobacillus bacteria that causes the trademark sourness of fermented food is beneficial for gut health. This includes helping to alleviate digestion and gastrointestinal problems. Adding a moderate amount of kimchi to the diet will help repopulate your gut with the good bacteria in the digestive tract. This helps change the balance of the bacteria towards those that help improve physical and mental health.
The high fibre nature of the vegetables typically used in making kimchi also means it is excellent as a prebiotic. That is it also helps feed the good bacteria in the gut.
Type 2 diabetes and heart health
Studies show eating kimchi may also help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. Adding it to your diet may help lower cholesterol and improve the level of antioxidants in the body. This may help protect you from damage to your heart.
A limited study found that eating kimchi lowered the level of blood sugar and LDL cholesterol, both necessary for good cardiovascular health. The lowering of blood glucose levels is also helpful in treating Type 2 Diabetes.
Helps maintain the immune system
The nutrient-rich nature of kimchi — as well as the probiotics promoted during the fermentation — may help maintain the immune system. Because a great deal of the immune system begins in the gut, maintaining the balance in favour of good bacteria there is important in regulating the body’s immune system. A study has shown the strain of bacteria typically found in kimchi may help maintain the immune system.
Eating fermented foods — such as kimchi — may help maintain the immune system, though further research is needed.
As with all fermented foods, it is important to source the finest, organic products you can find. At Gutsy, we take great pride in our kimchi, ensuring you get the full health benefits for you and your family.
Not only is our kimchi made from fresh, organic vegetables — fermented in oak barrels — we also source them from local producers. This means we cut down on the carbon footprint of the product as much as possible. It also means we support local farmers and producers.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us should you have queries about our quality fermented foods or if you want more information about the health benefits of kimchi. We’d be very happy to help! Check our full range of fermented foods here.
Also, if you have any favourite recipes that use kimchi, please let us know.