Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made from fermented vegetables. Often described as spicy and tangy, it is a popular side dish in Korean cuisine. Kimchi is usually made with cabbage, but it can also be made with other vegetables like radishes, turnips, and carrots. To make this savory dish, vegetables are first salted and then left to ferment for several days or weeks. This fermentation process creates lactic acid, which gives kimchi its characteristic sour flavor. The vegetables are then usually seasoned with chili peppers, ginger, garlic, and other spices before being served. In this article, we’ll explore kimchi’s pros and cons to answer the question— “Is kimchi healthy?”
Is Kimchi The Healthiest Food?
As far as healthy foods go, kimchi is about as good as it gets. This fermented dish is packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that may boost your health in several ways.
A cup of this tangy side dish contains (6):
- Calories: 23
- Carbs: 4 grams
- Protein: 2 grams
- Fat: Less than 1 gram
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Sodium: 747 mg
- Vitamin B6: 19% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin K: 55% of the DV
- Folate: 20% of the DV
- Iron: 21% of the DV
- Niacin: 10% of the DV
- Riboflavin: 24% of the DV
You have the colorful combination of napa cabbage, turnips, carrots, and radishes to thank for kimchi’s impressive nutrient list.
Kimchi And Gut Health
To make kimchi, cabbage and other vegetables are fermented in a brine (salt water) solution. This process allows beneficial bacteria to grow and produce lactic acid, giving kimchi its characteristic sour flavor.
The fermentation process uses the bacterium Lactobacillus, which is also found in other fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and pickles. This bacteria is known for its probiotic effects, meaning it is thought to help improve gut health (11).
These probiotics may help increase the number of good bacteria in your gut, which can protect against infection and inflammation. They may also help improve digestion and support immunity (11).
Much work still needs to be done to understand how probiotics impact human health, but they have been or are being studied for their potential benefits in (3):
- Gastrointestinal disorders – like inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea of various causes, constipation
- Infections – like Helicobacter pylori infection (which can cause stomach ulcers)
- Skin conditions – like eczema and psoriasis
- Mental health disorders – like depression and anxiety
Although many studies are related to probiotic supplements and yogurt, kimchi likely has similar gut-health benefits.
The high fiber content in kimchi may also contribute to its gut-health benefits. Fiber is important for digestive health and can help relieve constipation. It may also help reduce the risk of gastrointestinal disorders like diverticular disease, hemorrhoids, and stomach ulcers (5).
Kimchi And Weight Loss
Many people wonder, “Is kimchi good for weight loss?” The answer is yes! Kimchi’s low calorie and fat content, along with its high fiber content, makes it a great food for weight loss. Its probiotic and gut-health benefits may also help with weight loss by supporting metabolism and digestion (4).
Kimchi is also a low-glycemic food, meaning it won’t cause spikes in blood sugar levels. This is important because stable blood sugar levels can help control hunger and cravings, making it easier to stick to a weight loss diet (4).
A study on 22 obese adults found that those who ate fermented kimchi lost significantly more weight and body fat than those who ate fresh (unfermented) kimchi. They also had a lower BMI and reduced blood sugar levels, although both groups lost weight and saw improvements in health markers (4).
Kimchi And Immune Health
Kimchi’s high vitamin C and antioxidant content may also help boost immunity (3). Vitamin C is a well-known antioxidant that is believed to help fight off infection. Antioxidants in general protect cells from damage caused by oxidative stress (1).
Kimchi And Inflammation
Although an inflammatory response system is necessary, chronic inflammation is associated with chronic diseases like heart disease, arthritis, and metabolic syndrome.
The probiotics in kimchi may help reduce inflammation by modulating the immune system. Probiotics have shown the potential to lower levels of inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein (CRP) and TNF alpha (11). For example, a study in mice injected with Lactobacillus Plantarum, a type of Lactobacillus found in kimchi, found that the strain lowered levels of the inflammatory marker Tumor Necrosis Factor alpha (TNF alpha), which is linked to chronic inflammation (8).
Kimchi is also a good source of antioxidants like vitamin C and carotenoids, which can help protect cells from damage caused by oxidative stress (1). That damage may trigger inflammation.
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Kimchi And Heart Health
Kimchi’s nutrient-rich vegetable content isn’t the only thing that’s good for your heart — the fermentation process also creates some potentially beneficial compounds. In one study, researchers found dose-dependent blood lipid- and glucose-lowering effects of kimchi intake after 7 days (7). This means that kimchi intake lowered both cholesterol and blood sugar in study subjects, and the effect was greater with higher kimchi intake. The cholesterol-lowering effects were also greater in those who had higher cholesterol levels to start with.
Kimchi And Cancer Prevention
One of the most impressive health benefits of kimchi is its potential to reduce the risk of cancer. This is thought to be the case due to the high concentrations of antioxidants and vitamins in this fermented dish (3).
Cabbage, the main ingredient in kimchi, contains a compound called sulforaphane. This phytochemical has been shown to have anti-cancer effects in test-tube and animal studies (12).
Sulforaphane has been shown to kill cancer cells and prevent them from spreading. A diet rich in cruciferous vegetables like cabbage may also help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, like breast, colon, and prostate cancer (12).
Kimchi May Slow Down Aging
Aging is a natural process that can’t be stopped. However, some of the signs of aging, like wrinkles, are mostly due to environmental factors like sun exposure and pollution.
Fortunately, kimchi’s high antioxidant content may help protect cells from damage caused by these external factors. Antioxidants scavenge harmful molecules called free radicals, which can damage cells and lead to inflammation (1).
Kimchi may also help slow down aging by supporting immunity and reducing inflammation. These effects may help keep the body healthy and help prevent age-related diseases like arthritis, heart disease, and cancer (3).
Kimchi For Yeast Infections
An overgrowth of the yeast Candida albicans can cause uncomfortable symptoms like itching, burning, and vaginal discharge.
Fortunately, the probiotics in kimchi may help fight off Candida infections. Probiotics can help restore the balance of good and bad bacteria in the body, which may help prevent yeast infections (2).
You won’t be able to treat an active yeast infection just by eating kimchi or other fermented foods, however. You’ll still need to take your prescribed antifungal medication. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.
What Are The Cons Of Eating Kimchi?
There are a few potential downsides to eating kimchi, including:
High Sodium Content
While sodium is necessary for the body, too much can contribute to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. If you have high blood pressure or kidney disease, you may need to limit your intake of kimchi and other high-sodium foods (9).
May Cause Gastrointestinal Issues
The fermentation process that gives kimchi its unique flavor also creates high levels of bacteria. While these bacteria are generally harmless, they can cause digestive issues in some people.
If you have a sensitive stomach, you may experience gas, bloating, or diarrhea after eating kimchi (10). If you’re concerned about this, start with a small amount and increase gradually as your digestive system adjusts.
How To Make Kimchi At Home?
While there are many different recipes for kimchi, they all follow a similar process.
- 10 pounds baechu (napa cabbage)
- 1 cup kosher salt
- ½ cup sweet rice flour
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 cup of garlic, crushed
- 1 to 2 tbsp ginger, minced
- 1 cup onion, minced
- 1 cup fish sauce
- Salty, fermented squid
- 2 ½ cups Korean hot pepper flakes (gochugaru) to taste
- 2 cups leek, chopped
- 10 green onions (diagonally sliced)
- ¼ cup of carrot, julienned
- 2 cups Korean radish, julienned
- Prepare the napa cabbage. Trim the outer leaves that are yellowed or wilted.
- Cut the cabbage in half lengthwise and remove the cores. Chop the cabbage into 2-inch pieces.
- In a large bowl or container, soak the cabbage in water.
- Sprinkle the cabbage with 1 cup of salt and let it sit for up to 2 hours. Every 30 minutes, turn over the cabbage to make sure all the pieces are evenly coated with salt.
- After 2 hours, rinse the cabbage with cold water at least 3 times to remove the excess salt. Drain the cabbage in a colander.
- In a saucepan, put 3 cups of water and sweet rice flour. Stir as you bring the mixture to a boil.
- Once it boils, add sugar and continue stirring until the mixture becomes thick and syrupy. Remove from heat and let it cool.
- Mix the garlic, ginger, onion, fish sauce, fermented squid, and hot pepper flakes in a large bowl.
- In a food processor, mix the cooled sweet rice syrup and the garlic until it becomes a smooth paste.
- Wash, drain, and chop the salty squid before adding it to the kimchi paste.
- Add green onions, chopped leek, Korean radish, and carrot to the kimchi paste.
- Wash your hands and put on gloves. Gently massage the kimchi paste into the cabbage leaves.
- Pack the kimchi into jars or another airtight container, making sure to pack it tightly. Leave at least 1-inch of headspace at the top of the container.
- Seal the jar or container and let it ferment for 24 to 48 hours at room temperature. After fermentation, store the kimchi in the refrigerator.
- Kimchi can be kept for several weeks in the fridge, but it’s best eaten within the first few weeks for the best flavor.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Does Kimchi go bad?
A: Yes, all food will eventually go bad.
However, kimchi lasts much longer than most other foods because of the fermentation process. If you see white mold growing on the surface of your kimchi, simply remove the moldy parts and continue to enjoy the rest.
Always press down on the kimchi so that it is completely submerged in the brine. This will prevent mold from forming on the surface.
Q: How long does Kimchi last?
A: When stored properly, kimchi will last for several months in the fridge. It might become sourer over time, but it will still be safe to eat.
Q: Can I freeze Kimchi?
A: Yes, you can freeze kimchi. However, it might change the texture and make it less crunchy.
Q: What is the white stuff in Kimchi?
A: The white stuff is called kahm yeast. It’s a type of wild yeast that forms on the surface of fermenting foods. It’s harmless and can be scooped off the top of your kimchi.
Q: What is the best way to store Kimchi?
A: The best way to store kimchi is in an airtight container in the fridge. You can also store kimchi in a glass jar with a weight on top to keep it submerged in the brine.
Q: What is the difference between Kimchi and Sauerkraut?
A: The main difference between kimchi and sauerkraut is the type of cabbage used. Kimchi is made with napa cabbage and sauerkraut is made with green cabbage.
Kimchi also contains a variety of other vegetables and spices, while sauerkraut is made with just cabbage and salt. Both kimchi and sauerkraut are fermented foods that are rich in probiotics.
Q: Is it healthy to eat Kimchi every day?
A: While there are many health benefits to eating kimchi, it is important to eat it in moderation. It is high in sodium and can cause bloating and gas. If you are eating kimchi every day, be sure to drink plenty of water and eat other low-sodium foods to balance out your diet.
The Bottom Line
Kimchi is a fermented food that is rich in probiotics and has many possible health benefits. However, it is high in sodium and should be eaten in moderation. When stored properly, kimchi will last for several months in the fridge.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Antioxidants (2022, betterhealth.vic.gov.au)
- Application of Probiotic Yeasts on Candida Species Associated Infection (2020, nih.gov)
- Effects of Kimchi on human health (2018, nih.gov)
- Fermented kimchi reduces body weight and improves metabolic parameters in overweight and obese patients (2011, pubmed.gov)
- Health benefits of dietary fiber (2009, pubmed.gov)
- Kimchi (2020, usda.gov)
- Kimchi, a Fermented Vegetable, Improves Serum Lipid Profiles in Healthy Young Adults: Randomized Clinical Trial (2013, nih.gov)
- Lactobacillus plantarum Reduces Low-Grade Inflammation and Glucose Levels in a Mouse Model of Chronic Stress and Diabetes (2021, nih.gov)
- Most People Consume Too Much Salt (2021, cdc.gov)
- Probiotics (2010, pubmed.gov)
- Probiotics: What You Need To Know (2019, nih.gov)
- The role of Sulforaphane in cancer chemoprevention and health benefits: a mini-review (2017, nih.gov)