Kimchi is a fermented food that is a staple of traditional Korean cuisine.
The pickling and spicing process of cabbage that leads to kimchi leaves a strongly flavored and spiced food that is either eaten as a side-dish, condiment, or directly with rice. Almost every traditional meal in Korea is served with kimchi, and it’s estimated that a typical Korean will eat around 40 pounds of kimchi per year.
The pickling recipe for kimchi calls for a base of vinegar, garlic, chile peppers and a range of other spices, and the finished product is able to be stored for months, if not years, depending on storage conditions.
As with other fermented foods, kimchi exhibits probiotic properties that are believed to be important for maintaining gastrointestinal balance and digestive health. Lactobacilli is the name of the principle strand of helpful bacteria found in kimchi and many other fermented foods such as yogurt, cider and cucumber pickles. Studies have connected kimchi and its probiotic properties to a range of health benefits, from weight control to preventing certain cancers, limiting oxidative stress and lowering “bad” LDL cholesterol.
Unfortunately, kimchi is becoming less of a centerpiece in Korean cuisine. As with many countries around the world, Korea has seen a shift in traditional diets and lifestyles towards a more urban existence full of “westernized” processed foods that come from global supply chains, along with sedentarism and obesity. This shift is an example of a “Nutrition Transition.” Not surprisingly, recent studies have shown that type 2 diabetes is on a rapid rise within Korea, increasing more than 2% (5.6% to 8.0%) in the adult population between 2006 and 2013.
With increased awareness of the harms that accompany these dietary shifts, hopefully Koreans will preserve their traditional healthful diets and skip the hot sauce and ketchup in the future. Additionally, kimchi has the potential to gain a more global recognition as a healthful condiment to spice-up many dishes.
Resources and Further Reading
A 2014 study looking at the varied potential health benefits of kimchi consumption:
A recent study showing the troubling trends of the rising Type 2 diabetes epidemic in Korea:
For a general overview of kimchi: http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20410300,00.html
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