Korea’s Favorite Fermented Superfood: Kimchi
In Korea, no meal is complete without a side of kimchi. Nationally recognized for its health benefits since ancient times, kimchi started gaining international acclaim after Korean scientists offered data suggesting kimchi as a cure for AI (Avian Influence, commonly referred to as ‘bird flu’). Although the results of the study were not conclusive, kimchi’s myriad of health benefits earned it a place as ‘one of the five healthiest foods in the world’ (U.S. Health Magazine) along with olive oil (Spain) and natto (Japan).
Kimchi is a fermented food. Typically, Chinese cabbage or white radish is salted and mixed with red chili peppers, garlic, ginger, salted fish, and other ingredients. Originating from fermented and salted vegetables that were prepared during the winter, kimchi played a crucial role in the Korean diet in a time when vegetables were not readily available.
Types of kimchi vary by region and season. Kimchi has more than 180 varieties, including Baechu Kimchi (배추김치, Cabbage Kimchi, most commonly served), Bossam Kimchi (보쌈김치, Rolled Kimchi), Baek Kimchi (백김치, White Cabbage Kimchi), Chonggak Kimchi (총각김치, Whole Radish Kimchi), Kkakdugi (깍두기, Chopped Radish Kimchi), Dongchimi (동치미, Winter White Water Kimchi), Oi Sobagi (오이소박이, Stuffed Cucumber Kimchi), Pa Kimchi (파김치, Scallion Kimchi), and Gat Kimchi (Leaf Mustard Kimchi).
Even when seated in front of a lavish feast, most Koreans tend to look for the kimchi first. Korean tastes may have changed over the years, but one thing remains the same: kimchi is a must-have item at the table. Almost every restaurant in Korea (even many serving ‘western food’) serves kimchi as a free side dish, complete with unlimited refills. Koreans’ love affair with kimchi even led to the invention of a refrigerator designed specifically for storing kimchi. Today, over fifteen years since its invention, the kimchi refrigerator can be found in roughly 80 percent of Korean households.
Koreans’ love affair with kimchi led to the invention of a refrigerator designed specifically for storing kimchi. Today, over fifteen years since its invention, the kimchi refrigerator can be found in roughly 80 percent of Korean households.
Kimchi Nutrition Facts
Made of a diversity of vegetables, kimchi contains an abundance of dietary fibers and is low in calories. It also provides important sources of vitamins and minerals, such as: vitamin C, vitamin B, beta-carotene, calcium, iron, and phosphates. Many studies over the years suggest that the lactobacillus in kimchi help fight against bacteria and cancer and help prevent aging and obesity. They are equally effective as treatments for age-related diseases (such as high blood pressure and diabetes), heart disease, and digestive diseases.
Ideal Kimchi Storage
Kimchi is best when fermented 2-3 weeks at 2-7℃, as opposed to being fermented for extended periods of time. Its taste and nutritional value peak during this time. After it’s prepared, Kimchi needs to be stored in an airtight container at a consistent temperature of 0-5℃ to ensure a long shelf-life.
Made of well-fermented kimchi, pork, and water, Kimchi Jjigae (김치찌개, kimchi stew) is one of the most popular dishes using kimchi. Other popular dishes that use this ‘miracle food’ as a main ingredient are Kimchi Bokkeumbap (김치볶음밥, kimchi fried rice) and Kimchi Jeon (김치전, kimchi pancake), to name a few.