Korean Kimchi

Korean kimchi is a vegetable dish, which is usually fermented

Korean kimchi, pronounced kimchee, also spelled kimchee, kim chee or gimchi) is a vegetable dish, which originates from Korea. Usually it is fermented before it is eaten but it can also be eaten fresh, especially in spring.

There are many varieties of kimchi and these differ in terms of their main vegetable ingredients and specific mix of seasoning.

The most common type of kimchi is based upon Napa cabbage (also known as Chinese cabbage) and thus this type of kimchi is also sometimes referred to as Korean sauerkraut.

Kimchi however should not be confused with fermented cabbage (also known as sauerkraut). In terms of taste, it is very different. Kimchi has a distinctive spicy flavor thanks to its seasonings, which include garlic, ginger, hot chili pepper, and spring onions.

Kimchi also traditionally contains a wider range of ingredients than fermented cabbage. Depending on the specific variety, these may include a mixture of vegetables such as carrots, oriental radishes (daikon), mushrooms, mustard greens as well as various seafood (oyster, shrimp and octopus).

Korean Kimchi Yesterday and Today

Kimchi is a traditional dish in Korea. Historical records indicate that this food was prepared and eaten as early as 57BC. In ancient times kimchi was always fermented in order to preserve the food for the long cold winters when fresh vegetables were not available.

Today kimchi continues to be an important part of the diet in both North and South Korea. Most Koreans eat it on a very regular basis. Indeed many Koreans eat this dish with every meal and for many a meal is only considered complete if it includes Kimchi. These vegetable ferments are also used as ingredients in many traditional Korean recipes including kimchi stew, kimchi rice and kimchi dumplings.

Until relatively recently kimchi was always homemade. It was fermented over long periods at home in clay pots. Many people still make their own kimchi. If you are interested in making this wonderful food at home, then take a look at our kimchi recipe.

However today ready-made kimchi is available either as a fresh or jarred product. These provide an alternative for those who don’t wish to make their own at home. If you intend to buy commercial kimchi, check the ingredients before you buy.

Much of the commercial kimchi on sale contains additional ingredients such as sugar as well as natural ingredients (such as apples and pears) that are not traditionally added to kimchi. Some manufactured varieties also contain the flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG). As well as being a common allergen, this substance can also cause food cravings, stimulating you to eat more and more of the product.

A great deal of store-bought kimchi is also pasteurized and this process kills the live probiotic bacteria contained in the product. If you want to buy commercial kimchi, be sure to look at the label and select only those products that contain words to the following effect "contains live cultures", "naturally fermented" or "unpasteurized".

Types of Korean Kimchi

Korean kimchi very often includes napa cabbage

The composition of the kimchi differs according to region and season. Different areas produce diverse crops at different times of the year and this is reflected in kimchi. The ferments of the southern regions of South Korea for example tend to be saltier and spicier than those of the northern areas. Thus kimchi in the northern regions tends to be milder tasting than that of the south. Kimchi traditional to coastal areas also tends to include regional seafood.

Korean kimchi is also seasonal in terms of its ingredients. Typical spring kimchi tends to be based upon fresh spring greenery, summer varieties rely heavily on baby radish (daikon), leeks and cucumber, whilst the fall (autumn) and winter ferments are based upon whole cabbage and diced radish.

Health Benefits of Korean Kimchi

Kimchi is typically high in fiber, vitamins and minerals thanks to its vegetable ingredients. Those types that contain seafood are also rich in protein. Once fermented, it’s also high in probiotic bacteria, specifically lactic acid bacteria, which have been proven to be highly beneficial to health. Have a look at our page on probiotic bacteria to find out more about the wonderful health benefits of these helpful organisms.

Additionally and more specifically the friendly bacteria isolated from kimchi have been shown in scientific studies to lower cholesterol and to provide antimicrobial activity against a number of food borne pathogens1. Scientific research has also concluded that the helpful bacteria in kimchi may also reduce the growth of cancer cells2. Indeed the magazine Health placed kimchi on its list of the "world’s healthiest foods" noting that it "helps with digestion" and "seemed to help stop and even prevent yeast infections3".

Try it for yourself and see how it helps!

References

1.Lee H et al; Functional Properties of Lactobacillus Strains Isolated from Kimchi,; Int J Food Microbiol.; Jan 2011; 31;145(1):155-61

2.Chang JH et al; Probiotic Characteristics of Lactic Acid Bacteria Isolated From Kimchi; .J Appl Microbiol.; Jul 2010;109(1):220-30.

3.http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20410300,00.html


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