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Healthy and tasty kimchi

Few Koreans would ever want a meal without kimchi. Repulsive to many foreigners at first, but incredibly addictive after a few tastes, kimchi is rich in lactic acid bacteria. Kimchi undergoes two rounds of fermentation, by which it becomes full of more than 200 types of healthy lactic acid bacteria. It helps prevent high blood pressure and obesity, slows down aging, facilitates weight loss, and bolsters immunity.

The popularity of kimchi is soaring worldwide as its health benefits become widely recognized. Its spicy kick is addicting to the palates of more and more people around the world. This healthy and tasty Korean traditional food has long been a source of strength for Koreans.

Kimchi is fermented twice, which makes it rich in lactic acid bacteria. Fresh vegetables are used as ingredients, so it is also full of a variety of vitamins, fiber, calcium, iron, phosphorous, and other nutrients. Let’s delve into the health benefits of kimchi and see why so many people around the world go crazy over the dish once they develop a liking for it.

Korea's iconic staple food kimchi is loved around the world for its refreshing taste as well as its health benefits. Korea's iconic staple food kimchi is loved around the world for its refreshing taste as well as its health benefits.

Tim Carmen of The Washington Post wrote an article about kimchi titled "Kimchi: Korea's affordable health care" after visiting the Gwangju World Kimchi Culture Festival held in northern Virginia, U.S. on September 14. He also told readers how he ate raw kimchi and used it to make "Grilled Kimcheese sandwiches" with a slice of tomato as a football snack. Why do non-Koreans like this food so much? It’s in part because of its health benefits.

Baechu kimchi made with cabbage is the most common type of kimchi.

Baechu kimchi made with cabbage is the most common type of kimchi.

The primary raw ingredients of kimchi are fresh vegetables like kimchi cabbage, radish, green onion, and cucumber, which are rich in Vitamin A, the B Vitamins, and a variety of minerals, so it slows aging and improves skin elasticity.

Kimchi also helps counter obesity and hypertension.The Rural Development Administration of Korea and Ajou University Hospital jointly researched the efficacy of kimchi on obese people’s weight, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, blood sugar concentration, insulin level, and cholesterol level according to their kimchi intake and the maturity of the kimchi.

Kimchi is welcomed around the world as a low-calorie diet food. Many types of kimchi contain chili pepper as a key ingredient, and capsaicin (the active component in chili pepper) speeds up metabolism and helps burn body fat. Kimchi also has a lot of dietary fiber. These facts and more explain the sudden popularity kimchi has recently gained among young women in Japan.

Other benefits of kimchi have recently come to light including its antioxidative effect of removing free oxygen radicals, which are believed to cause a range of adult diseases and accelerate aging. The American magazine Health called kimchi one of the world’s five healthiest foods alongside Spanish olive oil, Greek yogurt, Indian lentils, and Japanese natto. All five are good for preventing adult diseases and slowing the aging process.

A RICH SOURCE OF LACTIC ACID BACTERIA

What makes kimchi so healthy? It is mainly fermentation. Some countries have tried to create their own versions of kimchi, such as Japanese kimuchi. They may look similar to kimchi, but there are major differences in the ingredients and the fermentation process. Japanese kimuchi is made simply by pickling cabbage without natural fermentation, but kimchi is first pickled and then fermented, not just once but twice. Kimchi is believed to be the world’s only double-fermented vegetable dish.

The basic ingredients for making kimchi

The basic ingredients for making kimchi

Let’s follow the process of making the most common type of kimchi.

First, kimchi cabbage and radishes are placed in a salt solution and then rinsed, a process that gets rid of many harmful microorganisms and forces out moisture, which in turn allows the sauce called kimchi yangnyeom to permeate into the vegetables. Now that the cabbage and radishes are perfectly conditioned for fermentation, a full array of yangnyeom and garnishes is added including ginger, garlic, chili pepper, and chives, and the cabbage and radishes are then massaged to evenly distribute the yangnyeom for better absorption. As fermentation progresses, what oozes out of the yangnyeom and garnishes percolates through the vegetables, harmful bacteria are destroyed, and healthy lactic acid bacteria (which are good for your digestive tract) proliferate. About one milliliter of the juice from well-ripened kimchi contains roughly 100 million lactic acid bacteria, up to four times more than the same weight of yogurt.

The species of lactic acid bacteria in kimchi number more than 200, and the major lactic acid bacterium changes along the maturation process.

Leuconostoc mesenteroides abounds the most in kimchi that has not developed a sour taste, while kimchi rich in lactobacilli (lactic acid bacteria found in yogurt) tastes sour. Leuconostoc mesenteroids produces dextrin (which is often used as a fiber supplement), helping prevent constipation. It is also a potent fighter against Helicobacter pylori, which is known to cause gastric ulcers, stomach cancer, and other gastric conditions.

Kimchi is certainly healthy, but if it weren’t also delicious, it wouldn’t be increasingly popular worldwide. Well-ripened kimchi gives a refreshing, tangy kick and has a strong umami flavor. That’s why people—Koreans and foreigners alike—find themselves so easily addicted to this fermented dish.

“The refreshing, tangy taste of kimchi is compared to the sparkling kick of soda pop thanks to Leuconostoc mesenteroides, which proliferates as the kimchi is fermented,” says Lee Hayeon, a master maker of kimchi and the chair of the Korea Kimchi Association. “When freshly made kimchi is preserved at around 7°C (which is the typical temperature underground in the cold Korean winter) for weeks, it ferments just right to become very delicious.”

*Article from Korea Magazine (November 2012)

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