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September Super Food: Kimchi


If you're familiar with Korean cuisine, then you already know about the magic of banchan! These small yet delicious dishes traditionally accompany your main course. However, no other banchan out there has found the same popularity as our September superfood: Kimchi! This month we're going to take a look at what's so head-turning (and, for some, stomach-turning) about this fermented superfood!

 

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?

First off... you do know what kimchi is, right? I got you. So, in the US, our preserved food of choice is the humble pickle. What we normally refer to as pickles are actually pickled cucumbers. Virtually any sort of food can be a pickle. It's sort of the same way with Kimchi. Kimchi is a spicy fermented vegetable served with almost any traditional meal in South Korea. However, we recognize kimchi as fermented napa cabbage rubbed in a signature blend of spices and chilis. The napa variety of kimchi is represented in the above picture, but there are several other varieties of kimchi out there. The latest estimate shows more than 200 different varieties suited for any and all dinner and snacking occasions.


Throughout history, Koreans have been lauded for their food-preserving skills. Writing predating modern-day Korea, back when it was the Three Kingdoms, makes note of the locals preserving salted fresh food in earthen urns. During the Goryeo Period (918-1392), trade routes opened up with China, and a steady stream of new products created a demand for a new type of fermented, preserved food. Namely, napa or Chinese cabbage. What was originally known as kimchi was actually made from radishes, as they were readily available.


So, what's the big deal? It's just salted vegetables, right? Not quite. Kimchi is treated with a blend of around 15 different herbs and spices (Ha, take that, Colonel Sanders). Though, if you wanted to pair some cool and crunchy kimchi with some Korean Fried Chicken (you read that right), then you'd be in for a treat that can't be beat.


The thing that gives kimchi that umami flavor that most of us love comes from a seasoning made from salted fish and starch paste that is liberally massaged into each leaf before it is sealed for fermentation. Several different lactic acid bacteria set up shop, run all of the bad bacteria off, and ferment the spiced vegetables until they develop that deep and refreshingly "fizzy" flavor.

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A Gut Bomb! No, a Good One!

Probiotics

Probiotics! Yes, those little beasties again. The gut-loving bacteria that offers all sorts of benefits for the latter half of your digestive tract. The best part about these friendly bacteria is that they're implicated in treating and preventing things like skin conditions, heart health, certain types of cancer, constipation, and even the common cold!


Got the sniffles, grab a jar of the good stuff and get to slurping it down!


Boosts Your Immune System

Ok, so maybe it won't cure a common cold if you eat a jar. However, I'm willing to give up my body for scientific discovery. The real reason this stuff will aid in preventing you from getting sick in the first place is that wonderful Lactobacillus. In lab studies, the presence of Lactobacillus reduced levels of inflammatory markers in the body, which are normally raised during infection or sickness.


So, not so much a cure as a preventative. Either way, I'm throwing it down!


Nutrient Dense By Default

Well, I did say that kimchi is, at its base, a salted vegetable. That being the case, of course, it's loaded with vitamins and minerals! Especially since it's usually leafy green vegetables that go into its making.


Napa cabbage, for instance, is already rich in vitamins A, C, and about 10 different minerals by itself. While all kimchi varies by brand and preparation, you can expect the following to show up somewhere in your kimchi:

  • kCal: 23-30

  • Protein: 2g

  • Fat: Unless you add some, there is a negligible amount.

  • Sodium: 700+mg in most brands. What? It IS salted vegetables...

  • Riboflavin (B2): 23-24% DRV This stuff is important to healthy skin, digestion, blood cells, and brain function.

  • Vitamin K: 55% DRV This vitamin helps with clotting and bone metabolism. However, it can mess with blood thinners. So, check with your medical professional if you're on a blood thinner.

  • Vitamin C: 22% DRV Immune system boosting!

  • Iron: 21% DRV Blood, brain development, muscle oxygen storage, and hormone production. Iron is important.

  • Folate (B9): 20% DRV Red blood cell production, cell growth & functionality, and is crucial during early pregnancy to reduce brain and spine birth defects.

  • Vitamin B6: 19% DRV Good for normal brain development and keeping your nervous and immune systems healthy.

  • Niacin (B3): 10% DRV Helps you turn your food into energy!

Not only this but during fermentation, many of these vitamins and minerals become more readily absorbed by our bodies.


Weight Loss

Oh, I thought that would catch your attention. In this world of "get skinny quick" trends, how about something that could help you lose weight and keep it off by eating more of it? You can't go wrong with the fresh or fermented version of kimchi if you're looking to lose some inches.


Whether it's high fiber, low calories, or probiotics is unclear. However, several people were fed a diet high in kimchi in a month-long study. One group ate fresh kimchi and lost body weight, improved their body mass index, and their overall body fat percentages. However, those that consumed the fermented kimchi saw greater results in all those areas and lower blood sugar levels.

 

To wrap this up in a tight-lidded jar of yes, kimchi is also easy to make at home! This is my go-to from My Korean Kitchen. You should check out more of Sue's stuff while you're there!


Other possible health benefits of kimchi include improved heart health, preventing yeast infections, slowing aging, and reducing inflammation in the body. If you're worried about the high salt content in kimchi, don't think too terribly much about it. Eating kimchi in moderation has not been linked to high blood pressure. In fact, with weight loss-aiding food, chronic hypertension can ease as your weight decreases.


So, head on down to your local Korean eatery, grab some kimchi from your favorite grocery store, or try your hand at homemade as Sue will teach you. If you want to know my favorite way to eat it, check out my Kimchi Fried Rice meal prep recipe that I probably eat way too much!


Fermented is fantastic, and kimchi is king!



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