What is Kimchi?
You may have heard of kimchi before, or found it in your local sushi shop or Korean restaurant.
It seems like coleslaw but has a unique taste, and spiciness, unlike any coleslaw you have ever tasted.
If you’ve come across this dish or even tried it in a restaurant or sushi shop, you may have noticed how pungent it is.
This is often an acquired taste, but for those who like the flavors of fermented foods, kimchi may be a very special treat and one that you crave more and more.
On top of being appreciated for its unique flavor and smell that defines Korea, kimchi is a traditional food that is primarily consumed for its health benefits.
Known to improve digestion and metabolic functions, kimchi is becoming very popular around the world as a health superfood.
Kimchi is a Korean dish of fermented cabbage. It has a very distinctive flavor and fragrance specific to Korea, which is why other fermented foods elsewhere in the world are nothing like it.
It is typically made with cabbage along with chili peppers and vegetables and then fermented. Typically, the ingredients may include garlic, ginger, and red pepper, but this can vary.
There are variances of kimchi that also include other bases, like radish, but kimchi is generally understood as the mix of vegetables using a cabbage base and other ingredients along with it.
While outside of Korea, as an imported food, kimchi is generally available in only a handful of varieties, Korea features hundreds of varieties for kimchi, and no two recipes are alike.
There are so many to choose from, that an avid kimchi eater could spend a lifetime exploring all the different recipes, comparing them and noting how the differences affect flavor, fragrance, texture and colors.
Some of the health benefits of kimchi are directly related to the ingredients, like onions, red peppers, cabbage and whatever else may be in the list of ingredients.
However, the health benefits due to fermentation are generally quite consistent regardless of the type of kimchi used, and its primary claims involve the amount of vitamins from the vegetables, which aids digestion, may help to prevent cancer or improve cancer prognosis.
How is Kimchi Used?
Kimchi is similar to German sauerkraut, pickles, and other marinated or fermented foods in that it is often used as a side dish. While it can be consumed as its own meal, it is generally used to accompany a meal, or as a digestive snack.
As a side dish, there is a myriad of possibilities of how kimchi can be used to enhance a dish, or simply as a way to add some healthy foods to your diet, or even simply to spice up an otherwise regular dish.
For breakfast, you may add kimchi to a dish of eggs, rice and avocado to balance the richness.
Kimchi can be added directly to any fried rice dish to add flavor and texture; many people like to add kimchi into a sandwich, which is a very simple and easy way to integrate it into the diet while adding some good taste to your sandwich.
Kimchi can be added to hot dogs, hamburgers and even croissants; kimchi can be used in any soup to add some delicious heartiness or to stir fry to vary the vegetable content and get more vitamins; sauces and dips can even benefit from finely chopped kimchi to add unique flavor; and some people even like to add kimchi to their favourite meat dishes, in marinades, or any salad.
In short, there is an endless list of possibilities of how kimchi can be used in any diet, and any meal, for avid consumers of kimchi.
This is especially useful to know if you’re interested in the health benefits of kimchi and searching for more creative ways to add it to the foods you are already eating.
Kimchi does have a strong flavor, so it is best used with more bland foods, such as fish, shrimp and grains, rather than dishes that contain many spices, or other strong flavors like hard cheeses and pesto for example.
Pairings should be made in a way that favours the kimchi rather than trying to compete with its very noticeable flavor on your palate.
Health Benefits of Kimchi
Indeed, beyond the addictive flavor of kimchi, there are many health benefits that entice people to take the interest in this traditional Korean dish.
Some of these health benefits involve improved digestion and prevention of cancer thanks to the bacterial cultures and probiotics that are contained in the fermented part of the food.
For kimchi that includes ginger, there can be anti-inflammatory health benefits associated with the ginger, which is helpful for people suffering from chronic pain, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
Some studies suggest that kimchi can boost immunity and therefore can build resistance to viruses and infections, and it is also known to prevent obesity, as it aids digestion, eases gas, bloating and flatulence and raises the metabolism.
When eaten regularly, it can promote colorectal health, brain health, reduce cholesterol and improve skin health.
The dietary effect of kimchi also includes anti-aging properties, weight management and prevention of excess weight, and it is also an excellent dietary source of iron, vitamin A, C, B1 and B2 as well as calcium.
To enjoy the health benefits, one does need to be consuming a good portion of kimchi on a regular basis.
A portion once in a while would certainly be beneficial to almost any individual, but occasional use of kimchi in the diet would only have momentary benefits.
To enjoy the lasting health benefits of kimchi, it should be eaten on a regular basis and integrated into the day to day diet.
The only exception to the health benefits may be for people who have stomach ulcers aggravated by certain ingredients such as hot chili peppers, garlic and ginger.
Anyone suffering from candida overgrowth would also want to refrain from the use of fermented foods in general, and therefore should stay away from kimchi unless advised by their primary care physician that it is safe to consume it regularly.
How Is Kimchi so Healthy?
The reason kimchi is so healthy is in part due to its ingredients. Vegetables are high in vitamins and nutrients, which stay in the kimchi and are available for absorption into the body even after the fermentation process.
However, the fermentation process itself is also key to many of the antioxidant and other health properties found in kimchi.
Unlike other fermented foods like wine, beer and other alcohol, it is very low in sugar.
This fermented food, as with yogurt, sauerkraut and other more savory fermented foods, grows a bacterial culture known as a probiotic.
These probiotics are necessary for the digestion process and restore intestinal flora and reduce gas and bloating, allowing the body to absorb and integrate all of the vitamins and nutrients contained in the food, while clearing bad bacteria from the intestinal tract.
How Do You Make Kimchi at Home?
Making kimchi at home is not a complicated affair, but it does take practice to get the fermentation just right.
You can choose from any number of recipes with a wide range of ingredients such as cabbage, chili peppers, ginger, onions, carrots, red pepper and green onion.
The mix of vegetables and seasoning are edible immediately, but it is recommended to let them ferment for a few days to a week before eating it to maximize the health benefits associated with fermentation.
If you are not certain if kimchi is right for you, it is best to consult a professional nutritionist or dietician recommended by your family doctor.
They would be able to best inform you how kimchi would improve your health.
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