The Health Benefits of Kimchi

by lydia on July 21, 2010

If I have inspired you at all this summer, in any way, I hope that convincing you to consume fermented foods was one item you have now decided to include in your daily diets. If you have followed my blog you know how much I talk about and promote gut health. And, I have been on a journey this past year to heal my gut from a lot of stress and health ailments. Learning about fermented foods has been key in my healing and I have been seeing the evidence play out in my body!! So I am here today to briefly share with you the benefits of consuming fermented foods, kimchi in particular.

First off, Kimchi is a traditional Korean, usually  fermented, dish made of vegetables with varied seasonings. There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi but the most common varieties are fermented and made with a main vegetable ingredient such as napa cabbage, radish, green onion or cucumber.The oldest references to kimchi can be found from 2600 to 3000 years ago. The first text-written evidence of its existence can be found in the first Chinese poetry book, Shi Jing (詩經). In this book, kimchi was referred to as jeo (菹). The term ji was used until the pre-modern terms chimchae (hanja: 沈菜, lit. soaked vegetables),dimchae, and timchae were adopted in the period of the Three Kingdoms of Korea.The word then was modified into jimchi, and is currently kimchi. Early kimchi was made of cabbage and beef stock only. In the twelfth century other spices, creating flavors such as sweet and sour, and colors, such as white and orange, were added.  Red chili, a New World vegetable not found in Korea before European contact with the Americas, was added to kimchi recipes some time after 1500. Red chili pepper flakes are now used as the main ingredient for spice and source of heat for many varieties of kimchi (source for last paragraph).

The definition of fermentation is “breaking down into simpler components.” Fermentation makes the foods easier to digest and the nutrients easier to assimilate. In effect, much of the work of digestion is done for you. Since it doesn’t use heat, fermentation also retains enzymes, vitamins, and other nutrients that are usually destroyed by food processing. The active cultures that pre-digest the food as part of the fermentation process actually generate nutrients. So there are more vitamins–especially B-vitamins–and minerals like iron are released from the chemical bonds that prevent them from being assimilated. In effect, the nutritional value of a food goes up when it has been fermented.

The fermentation process also preserves the food. You start with a wholesome, raw food and preserve it in a way that leaves its nutrients intact. This alone is crucial in this day and age of processed foods and improperly prepared foods in which people are getting so little actual nutrition in their foods. Additionally, you are getting powerful anti-toxins, anti-allergens, and anti-biotics from the garlic, ginger and onions. Not to mention all the wonderful live enzymes that are kept intact by the fermentation process. Kimchi promotes intestinal health by feeding the lacto-bacteria and bifidobacteria that live in your intestines. These are the friendly bacteria that are needed to be healthy. Kimchi nourishes them so they can thrive and out number the ‘unfriendly’ bacteria that find their way into the gut. The lacto-bacteria prevent flatulence and keep sticky, sludge-like waste matter from accumulating in the intestinal tract, adhering to the intestinal walls, and interfering with nutrient absorption. Some studies show that kimchi has properties in it that in fact help prevents the growth of cancer. It’s quite possible the antioxidants the ferment possess has something to do with it.

One serving of kimchi provides up to 80% of the daily recommendation of vitamin C and carotene. Kimchi is also rich in vitamin a, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium and iron. According to Health Magazine, kimchi is one of the top 5 healthiest foods in the world. That’s a pretty awesome claim, and one I don’t take lightly. I just made kimchi, finally, for the first time and am already hooked. I can’t wait to make another batch and dice it up a bit. For now, I will leave you with the basic recipe I followed.

Kimchi (Korean Sauerkraut)
Recipe type: Side Dish
  • 1 head Napa cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 1 cup of carrots, grated
  • ½ cup daikon radish, grated (optional)
  • 1 Tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried chile flakes ( I used chili paste!)
  • 1 Tablespoon sea salt
  • 4 Tablespoons whey, if not available use an additional 1 tablespoon of salt
  1. Place all the ingredients in a large bowl.
  2. Leave to sit for 30 to an hour.
  3. Pound with a wooden pounder to release juices.
  4. Place in a quart-sized mason jar (wide mouthed) and press down firmly until the juices cover the top of the veggies. Make sure to leave at least an inch of headroom.
  5. Cover and leave at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring to cold storage.

Feel free to be creative with this and improvise. You could add bok choy, broccoli, sesame seeds, fish sauce, more chilies if you like spice, some grated apple to add a bit of sweetness. I can’t wait to try this again using some of these additions. Here is an awesome link for the Ultimate Kimchi, and another link listing all the various types of kimchi.

So, have I convinced you yet to try your hand at fermented foods?!! :)

This post is being contributed to ‘Real Food Wednesdays‘.



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Phil July 21, 2010 at 11:05 am

Can you explain why the extra salt is recommended when you don’t use whey? I just did some carrots with garlic, carraway seeds, fresh chives, fenugreek..with one tbsp sal de guerande salt. I stick with one. Tastes better to me. I figured the salt was just there to help preserve a bit..but I know whey speeds the ferment up?

Lydia July 21, 2010 at 12:13 pm

Yes the whey helps speed up the fermentation as well as adds another level to the fermentation. It adds good bacteria into the ferments, thereby speeding up the fermentation, adding good bacteria, and also allowing you to use less salt.
Using just salt, you are depending on the lactic acid in the actual vegetables, to break down and help with the fermenting process, so using extra salt is helpful to work along with that, from what I understand. If you are just using salt you will need to let it sit out on the counter longer before moving it to cold storage. I think you will still get good benefits with the lesser amount of salt.
You may find this article helpful

Phil July 21, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Thanks, Lydia. Of course..the whey means more good stuff! Light bulb moment!

I don’t actually put it in the fridge. It’s either usually already gone or doesn’t seem to go off, though it gets pretty strong!

Louisiana Womens Health September 29, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Can you explain why the extra salt is recommended when you don’t use whey? I just did some carrots with garlic, carraway seeds, fresh chives, fenugreek..with one tbsp sal de guerande salt. I stick with one. Tastes better to me. I figured the salt was just there to help preserve a bit..but I know whey speeds the ferment up?

Cortney March 5, 2012 at 11:07 am

Hi Lydia! A couple more questions. Where do you find whey, and what does it look like (liquid/solid/refrigerated/powder)? I checked at my health food store and no one had a clue.

Secondly, is it not cool to use a metal pounder for releasing the juices? I can use a rolling pin, I just thought a meat tenderizer would be faster and easier.

Marianela Mendez March 6, 2012 at 8:59 pm

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