What is kimchi?

Made from fermented cabbage with a variety of spices, this traditional Korean condiment may also include onion, radish and carrot. Flavour varies depending on the ingredients used and how it is made, but is best described as spicy and sour. Kimchi can be eaten by itself or used in cooking to flavour stews and noodle dishes.

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Kimchi is made by cutting vegetables into slices or strips, massaging them with salt to create a brine, adding spices, then densely packing the mixture into a jar and leaving it to ferment for at least a week, but often longer, at room temperature. It's also available commercially from health food shops, larger supermarkets and online. Look for the unpasteurised versions for optimal benefit.

Benefits of kimchi may include:

  • Support gut health
  • Improve nutritional value
  • Support heart health
  • Help blood sugar management
  • Support a healthy weight
  • Suppress inflammation

Discover our full range of health guides. Keen to make your own kimchi? Try our quick kimchi or delicious vegan version.

Nutritional profile of kimchi

An 100g serving (drained) provides:

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  • 24kcal /102kj
  • 1.1g protein
  • 0.2g fat
  • 3.9g carbohydrates
  • 1.8g fibre
  • 1.62g salt

Nutritional figures will vary depending on the ingredients used. An 80g serving contributes a portion towards your five-a-day.

Kimchi in a bowl

What are the top health benefits of kimchi?

1. May support gut health

There is growing evidence that fermented foods such as kimchi may improve levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut, and may as a consequence improve symptoms such as constipation.

Including a variety of fermented foods in the diet may improve intestinal health and as a result support the immune system and your anti-inflammatory responses.

2. May enhance nutritional value

The process of fermentation, by mainly lactobacillus bacteria, may enhance the nutritional value of the fermented food. This is because the bacteria themselves synthesise vitamins and minerals and the process of fermentation deactivates some less favourable compounds, which we commonly refer to as 'anti-nutrients'.

3. May support heart health

Compounds known as 'biologically active peptides', such as conjugated linoleic acids (CLA), are produced by the bacteria responsible for fermentation and may have a blood pressure lowering effect. Compounds in kimchi also appear to help keep blood vessels clear of the damaging effects of atherosclerosis.

4. May help blood sugar management

Consuming kimchi appears to have positive effects on blood sugar management. How exactly fermented kimchi supports this is not fully understood, and more research is needed to understand the mechanisms involved.

5. May support a healthy weight

Studies suggest the inclusion of fermented kimchi in the diet may have a beneficial effect on metabolic factors including body weight, body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio.

6. May suppress inflammation

Active compounds in fermented kimchi may suppress inflammatory effects. This may have wide-ranging benefits from supporting vascular health to improving memory and cognitive function.

Kimchi in a glass jar

Is kimchi safe for everyone to eat?

Generally, kimchi is safe for most people unless you have a specific allergy to any of the ingredients. It may also cause some unpleasant side effects such as gas and bloating if you're not used to fermented or high-fibre food.

Those with an intolerance to histamine may be best to minimise their consumption of fermented foods and people following a low-sodium (salt) diet may also need to be mindful that kimchi may contain high levels.

Overall, is kimchi good for you?

Including a wide range of fermented foods in the diet appears to offer numerous health benefits. Kimchi makes a tasty addition and, as long as you are not allergic to the ingredients or suffer from a histamine intolerance, it makes a valuable contribution.

If you don’t make your own kimchi, check the food label for salt content, as some products may contain as much as 3 per cent salt, and choose an unpasteurised product because pasteurisation kills the beneficial bacteria.

Use up your jar of kimchi:

Quick kimchi
Kimchi fried rice
Kimchi scrambled eggs
Kimchi sesame udon noodles
Kimchi toasties

Enjoyed this? Now read...

The health benefits of fermenting
The health benefits of kefir
The health benefits of kombucha
Top health benefits of sauerkraut
Top probiotic foods


Nicola Shubrook is a nutritional therapist and works with both private clients and the corporate sector. She is an accredited member of the British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine (BANT) and the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC). Find out more at urbanwellness.co.uk.

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All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other healthcare professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local healthcare provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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