Curious about kimchi health benefits? It seems there could be more to this tasty classic Korean dish than its signature smoky and spicy flavor, which admittedly can be a bit of an acquired taste.
Learning more about the potential benefits of kimchi could make you a firm believer that fermented foods are worth the effort of cooking (and getting used to the polarizing smell and flavor). Read on to find out more about how cabbage becomes kimchi, and what eating more of it could do for your health.
What Is Kimchi?
If you’ve ever eaten in a Korean restaurant, you can’t miss it — that lump of red-tinged cabbage leaves is a signature side dish. The term “kimchi” actually refers to a method of preparing vegetables. It’s a process of salting and seasoning before allowing fermentation to occur. This is what gives kimchi its unique texture and flavor. Fermentation also allows for food preservation.1
Cabbage kimchi, traditionally made with whole napa cabbage heads left intact, is perhaps the most well-known type of kimchi.
Can Eating Fermented Cabbage Support Your Health?
You might be surprised to know that kimchi just might be one of the healthiest foods you can add to your daily diet. Fermented foods may have been developed in order to improve flavor and prolong shelf life, but the fermentation process also produces certain health benefits.2
When food is fermented (as in the preparation process of kimchi), lactobacillus bacteria is formed. This type of good bacteria actually enhances the flavor of the kimchi. And, even more of a bonus, this bacteria has also been shown to help induce the production of live probiotics potentially beneficial in supporting gut health.3
Promising research also shows positive effects on the immune system.4 This is in large part to the high levels of antioxidants found in kimchi, which only increase with the time kimchi is left to ferment.5 Antioxidants help combat the potentially harmful effect of free radicals in the body, which are linked to the occurrence of many illnesses and disease.6,7
How To Make Kimchi At Home: Ingredients And Instructions
If you’re eager to see and feel the potential benefits kimchi has on your body, you can also try making your very own kimchi at home. It does take a bit of work and some patience, however, but the result is worth it. If you decide to make your own kimchi at home, consider sticking to using ingredients from Korean or Asian groceries (or online) in order to get the most authentic flavor.
For example, since the salting step is integral to the whole process, using special Korean salt is advisable instead of regular table salt. If you don’t have any other option, be prepared to adjust the amount of salt needed accordingly.8
Also, traditional kimchi often uses salted shrimp paste and fresh shrimp, as well as fish sauce. If you’re vegan, or if these ingredients are too hard to find, use the vegan-friendly alternative recipe below.
- 1 large head of napa cabbage (3 lbs.)
- 9 Tbsp. Korean sea salt
- Kimchi paste (see below)
- 1 cup julienned Korean radish
- 3 oz. garlic chives (known in Korea as buchu; optional)
- 6 green onions, sliced
- ¼ cup julienned carrots
- 2 Tbsp. glutinous rice flour
- 1 ⅓ cup vegetable stock
- 1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp sugar
- 9 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp peeled ginger
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 cup hot pepper flakes (or adjusted according to your spice preference)
- Gently slice through the stem of the napa cabbage to separate it, then manually break apart into individual leaves.
- Mix 6 tablespoons of the salt in 1 cup of water. Soak the leaves in the salt bath for two hours. Check on the cabbage every 30 minutes and give it a good toss to make sure all the leaves get evenly salted.
- Make the seasoning paste. Start by mixing the glutinous flour and one cup of the vegetable broth together in a small saucepan over medium heat. Keep stirring until it starts to simmer. Add one tablespoon of sugar, mix well until the liquid lightens in color, then take off the heat and cool completely.
- Add this mixture, along with the remaining stock, salt, sugar, garlic, ginger, and onion into the bowl of a food processor. Puree into a smooth paste.
- Transfer to a medium bowl and mix in red pepper flakes. Set aside.
- Rinse your salted cabbage under cold running water, draining 3-4 times to make sure no excess salt remains. Drain well.
- In a large clean (and dry) bowl, add cabbage and kimchi seasoning paste. Toss in the other ingredients: Radish, carrots, green onion, and garlic chives (if using).
- Mix kimchi by hand, making sure the paste is able to penetrate all the leaves and other vegetables.
- Transfer to a resealable container or lidded jar. Pack cabbage tightly to eliminate air. Seal well.
- To speed up fermentation, leave at room temperature for up to two days. Check the kimchi — it should smell and taste sour. This means fermentation is occurring. You can then transfer your sealed kimchi to the refrigerator for another few weeks. The flavors will continue to develop over time.9
Kimchi stores well for several weeks, and the flavor should round out and deepen even more as time goes by. You can serve it as a side dish or a snack.
Once you’ve gotten the process down, there’s no stopping you from prepping your other favorite vegetables kimchi-style.
And, as always, talk to your doctor before making any changes to your diet including kimchi.
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