Kimchi is a traditional Korean food, consumed daily by Koreans (and now some Ragi lovers too). It has been recognized as a food for health due to its benefits. Since it is fermented with plant foods and seasonings, it is rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, and most importantly, lactic acid bacteria (LAB). These active compounds are found in the base ingredients, such as Nappa cabbage, radish, garlic, ginger and chilli. Scientific studies have supported that the biological compounds in kimchi boost immune function, contain many antioxidants, and may help fight heart disease, chronic diseases, and certain cancers.
Kimchi as a Probiotic Food
During the process of fermentation in kimchi, probiotic lactic acid bacteria flourish. Many bacteria are involved in this fermentation. LAB dominates while putrefactive and pathogenic bacteria are suppressed during the salting of the cabbage and during fermentation. This process increases the functionality of the kimchi. That's why kimchi can be considered a plant-based probiotic food that provides health benefits, including gut health. By modifying the intestinal microbiota and promoting the host's nutrition, kimchi can help reduce intestinal inflammation, symptoms of chronic gastrointestinal diseases and certain food intolerances.
Moreover, the main ingredients of kimchi are cruciferous vegetables along with other functional foods such as garlic, ginger, and chilli pepper as seasonings. Functional foods are those that have an additional function in combination with new ingredients or more of the existing ingredients. All these seasonings, which have a strong anti-inflammatory action enhance the functionality of kimchi, which is considered a good source of LAB.
Kimchi, a nutritious food
The characteristics of kimchi differ according to its varieties, the raw materials used, the process, the fermentation and the preservation methods. However, kimchi has typical biochemical, nutritional and organoleptic properties with health-related functions.
The most important characteristics are changes in the composition of sugars and vitamins (especially vitamin C), the formation and accumulation of organic acids, and the degradation and softening of texture. Nutritionally, kimchi is an important source of vitamins, minerals, dietary fibre and other nutrients.
The vitamins and minerals in kimchi vary depending on the vegetables used. A kimchi made with Nappa cabbage will contain plenty of vitamin C and vitamin K, as well as small amounts of iron, calcium, copper, and potassium. A kimchi recipe with carrots will contain a significant amount of vitamin A, and one with radishes will provide folate (vitamin B9), potassium, and riboflavin.
Fermented kimchi for metabolic diseases, certain cancers and weight loss
The fermentation effect of kimchi is proven to be more beneficial to the health than that of raw cabbage, in particular on metabolic parameters like body weight variables, blood sugar management, and cholesterol, which are linked to cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome risk.
Fermented kimchi has a positive effect on various factors associated with metabolic syndrome, including blood pressure, body fat percentage, fasting blood sugar, and total cholesterol. Thus the fermentation of kimchi has all its importance on obesity, lipid metabolism and inflammatory processes.
In addition, some active compounds in kimchi (β-sitosterol and the linoleic acid derivative) have anti-cancer activity, especially in gastric cancer, colon cancer and leukaemia. These compounds are mainly present in kimchi made from Nappa cabbage.
How to store kimchi?
Unpasteurised kimchi (which means it hasn't been exposed to high temperatures that kill the good bacteria) should be kept cool, which is why it is traditionally made in late fall or winter. When it's made and stored with care, kimchi will keep for a long time. The longer you leave it, the sourer your kimchi will get, and the less crunchy. If you're consuming kimchi for its probiotic effect, remember to run away from kimchis that are not refrigerated, and to check the label to make sure it is not pasteurised.
How to consume kimchi?
On its own: As a snack or served as an aperitif, kimchi is a dish on its own. Picking one piece at a time with a fork or chopsticks makes it even better and tastier.
With rice: Served with steamed rice is a tradition in Korea. It will give your rice a nice tangy touch full of flavour.
In a healthy bowl: The traditional Korean bibimbap is very similar to the rice or quinoa bowls that are so trendy here. Kimchi can elevate your bowls in beauty, flavour, and nutritional value.
Make a stew: Kimchi can add spice and a nutritional punch to any soup or tofu stew, a dish that will help you fight off any cold or flu.
Turn it into pasta sauce: Add kimchi to your bolognese sauce to enhance the flavour of the tomatoes. You can also replace the tomatoes with kimchi: finely chop it to caramelize it with vegetable oil and chili paste, then pour in some of the kimchi juice, for a flavorful umami sauce.
Add to mashed potatoes: Mashed potatoes are traditionally made with butter and cream, but why not try with kimchi!
Do not throw away the kimchi liquid from the jar: Considered liquid gold, from a flavour point of view, it can be incorporated into your salad dressings/sauces, as a cooking liquid for all types of grains and soups, or just as a base to enhance a dish.
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Article written by certified nutritionist Aurelia Corbaz