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.
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.
Kimchi is also available commercially from health food shops, larger supermarkets and online. Look for the unpasteurised versions for optimal benefit.
Nutritional benefits of kimchi
An 100g serving (drained) provides:
- 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.
Top 5 health benefits of kimchi
1. May support gut health
There is growing evidence that fermented foods such as kimchi may improve levels of good 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 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 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-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
Studies suggest that consuming kimchi appears to have positive effects on body weight, body mass index (BMI) and glucose management. How exactly eating fermented kimchi supports these beneficial effects is not fully understood, and more research is needed to understand the mechanics involved.
5. May reduce inflammation
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 are not used to fermented foods or high-fibre content in your diet.
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.
How to buy the best kimchi?
This really comes down to taste preferences. Kimichi should carry a good balance of spice and sour, but with so many varieties available, it is more of a case of trial and error to see which ones you prefer. Just keep an eye on the salt content, as some of them can contain as much as 3% salt, and look for unpasteurised varieties, as pasteurisation kills off some of those good bacteria benefits.
This article was reviewed on10 September 2021 by Kerry Torrens.
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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