Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, yogurt, and kefir, are loaded with gut-healing probiotics. Kimchi is the epitome of a superfood. It benefits the gut, the immune system, and so much more. This fermented dish is loaded with fiber, low in fat, low in calories, and rich in flavor. So, is kimchi good for health? The answer is a resounding—YES!
What Is Kimchi?
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish that is made by fermenting cabbage and other vegetables with spices, ginger, onions, chili powder, chili peppers, and garlic over a few days or even weeks. Kimchi ingredients aren’t foreign to American palates, they are just morphed through fermentation into a delicious dish that is at once tangy, hot, salty, and sweet.
For hundreds of years, kimchi has been enjoyed in Korea at each meal with a bowl of steamed rice. Is kimchi good or bad for you? It really depends on your health condition and the kimchi recipe. Kimchi contains a significant amount of salt and may not be appropriate for individuals on a low-salt diet.
Is Kimchi Good for Health?
Let’s talk for a minute about probiotics vs. prebiotics. Prebiotics are particular types of plant fibers that act as fertilizers in the gut. They stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria. Prebiotics are non-digestible complex carbohydrates that feed existing friendly bacteria in the stomach. Asparagus, yams, dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, bananas, barley, oats, and apples are all rich in prebiotics.
Probiotics, on the other hand, come from fermented foods that contain live cultures of bacteria that have been proven to be helpful to the human body. These live organisms of specific strains of friendly bacteria aid in gut health, digestion, and so much more.
Kimchi’s nutrient profile varies widely depending upon the recipe used. When purchasing commercially produced kimchi, read the package carefully to determine the amount of sodium and sugar per serving. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you also need to examine the label, as many kimchi brands and recipes contain fish sauce, anchovy extract, or brined shrimp to add traditional umami richness.
Generally speaking, kimchi is low in fat, very low in cholesterol, and high in dietary fiber. If you’ve never eaten kimchi before and you are wondering if kimchi can make you gassy—the best advice is to eat kimchi at home the first time to see how your digestive system reacts.
Is Kimchi Good for Weight Loss?
Maybe! If you adjust your diet and remove high-calorie side dishes from your meals and replace it with low-calorie kimchi, the calorie deficit created could help you lose weight. Additionally, researchers from the Department of Endocrinology and Metabolism at Ajou University School of Medicine in the Republic of Korea have found that fermented kimchi reduces body weight and improves metabolic parameters in obese patients. The clinical study tested fermented kimchi vs. fresh kimchi for two 4-week phases. The group that consumed the fermented kimchi experienced improved metabolic syndrome markers, lowering of blood pressure, a reduction in body fat, and reduced cholesterol levels.
Health Benefits of Kimchi
According to a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, researchers from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Pusan National University have identified the following health benefits of kimchi:
- Supports weight loss and demonstrates anti-obesity characteristics
- Reduces cholesterol levels
- Treats diarrhea, especially after a round of antibiotics
- Relieves constipation due to probiotics
- Manages irritable bowel syndrome symptoms
- Fights yeast infections and infections in the intestinal tract
- Improves gut health
- Stimulates the immune system
- Counteracts fat and sugar that feed harmful bacteria in the gut
- Demonstrates anti-cancer properties
- Fights aging
How to Make Kimchi
Kimchi is one of the easiest healthy dishes you can master. Every Korean home has a secret recipe that tweaks the level of heat, acidity, and pungent flavors of the garlic and ginger. Use the following recipe as a jumping off point to create the kimchi recipe you and your family adore.
- 1 head of Napa cabbage
- 3/4 cup Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3 quarts water, distilled or spring
- 1 large carrot cut into matchsticks
- 8 ounces Daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch links
- 2 heads of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1 3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 cup fish sauce*
- 1 cup Korean dried red chili flakes
- 2 tablespoons brined shrimp, do not drain*
- 1 to 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar
*Note: For vegan kimchi use 1/2 cup of water instead of fish sauce, and add 3/4 teaspoon of kelp powder mixed with 3 tablespoons of water instead of the brined shrimp.
- Cut the Napa cabbage lengthwise into quarters and place in a very large bowl.
- Sprinkle with 3/4 cup of Kosher salt and 1/4 cup of granulated sugar.
- Pour in 3 quarts of distilled or spring water and submerge the cabbage. Weigh the cabbage down with a plate to keep the cabbage submerged and refrigerate overnight.
- Remove Napa cabbage from the refrigerator and drain well.
- Squeeze out the excess salty brine.
- Rinse the Napa cabbage thoroughly under cold running water and drain again.
- Prepare the spice paste by combining 2 heads of garlic, chopped ginger, 1/2 cup fish sauce, 1 cup of Korean dried red chili flakes, 2 tablespoons brined shrimp, and up to 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar in a food processor. Blend until smooth. Add water to make a loose paste.
- If you are sensitive to peppers, wear food service gloves to rub the spice paste over the cabbage. Be sure to cover each leaf fully with the spice paste.
- In the large bowl, mix the spice paste-covered Napa cabbage, the 8 ounces of Daikon radish, the large carrot, and the bunch of scallions together until well combined.
- Pack a large glass jar tightly with the Napa cabbage mixture, and leave at least 1 inch of headspace at the top. Place the lid on the jar, but do not screw the top all the way down.
- During the fermentation process, gases and bubbles will develop, and it is essential to keep the jars of fermenting kimchi on a rimmed baking sheet to catch any brine that may seep out.
- The kimchi needs to ferment in a cool room, out of direct sunlight for anywhere between 4 and 10 days. Cook’s Illustrated explains that kimchi that is stored at too cool a temperature will have a difficult time fermenting before it molds. Their test kitchen found the ideal temperature for the room was 65 ℉ and it took nine days to reach optimal taste and texture.
- Once a day, you will need to use a chopstick to push the vegetables down into the developing brine to keep them submerged throughout the fermentation. The process also helps to release excess gas produced during the fermentation cycle. If at any time you notice mold growing on the top, throw that batch away and try again—storing the kimchi in a warmer room.
10 Ways to Include Kimchi in your Diet
Are you ready to try kimchi? Here are 10 delicious ways to introduce this probiotic-rich crunchy, sweet, salty, and acidic condiment to your family. As kimchi is naturally salty, limit the salt you add to your regular recipes and adjust the salt level after tasting.
- Start your day with poached eggs and a side of kimchi.
- For a quick lunch, spoon kimchi on top of a baked sweet potato.
- As a delicious side dish, mix kimchi with wilted Swiss chard or spinach and serve with grilled fish or vegetables.
- Redefine your favorite grilled cheese and make a kimchi grilled cheese sandwich with sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack cheese, or your favorite vegan cheese.
- Create a new family favorite by mixing kimchi into your favorite deviled egg recipe to create kimchi deviled eggs that pack a punch in the flavor department.
- Instead of potato cakes for dinner, try kimchi pancakes that burst with texture and flavor.
- Do you love a noodle bowl? Try this healthy recipe for Buckwheat Noodles with Kimchi and Eggs that is loaded with protein, texture, and crave-worthy flavor.
- Is your go-to hummus recipe in need of a makeover? Try this recipe for a kimchi-sesame hummus that is bright, a touch hot, and really delicious.
- Kimchi nachos? Yes, please! Kimchi is ripe with flavor and is an inspired topping for your favorite tortilla chips. This vegan-friendly recipe from Whisk and Two Wands adds black beans, guacamole, sweet red peppers, and shredded cheese.
Whip up a quick kimchi and avocado quesadilla for lunch. It may sound odd combining traditional Mexican flavors with traditional Korean flavors, but this is fusion cuisine at its finest.