Kimchi is a spicy, fermented dish that usually contains cabbage, carrots, green onions, garlic, red chile powder, and daikon radish. Although the most familiar kind of kimchi is made with Chinese cabbage, other varieties are made with ingredients like garlic stalks, eggplant and mustard leaf. The final product has a unique texture and pungent taste that is somewhere between spicy, crunchy, sweet, and tangy.
The beneficial power of kimchi comes from lactobacillus, which is also found in yogurt and other fermented foods like yogurt, cheese, pickles, sauerkraut, wine, beer, cider, and chocolate, that helps in digestion and boosts the immune system. Kimchi is high in fiber and in vitamins A, B and C and contains cancer-fighting anti-oxidants, and also helps those who suffer from allergies: it combats allergy development as well as fights bad bacteria in the intestines such as salmonella.
So the secret is out: the solution to fighting illness may not be slathering on antibacterial hand gel, it could be eating more fermented foods like kimchi, known as probiotics, that are high in good bacteria. However, be careful eating large amounts every day - a study undertaken by South Korean researchers showed that those who eat kimchi and soybean paste in excessive quantities have high rates of gastric cancer.
Kimchi truly has a long and rich cultural history. It is the national dish of Korea and its inhabitants are reported to eat over 75 pounds of it per person each year. It’s so popular that Koreans say “kimchi” instead of “cheese” when they get their pictures taken. It originated during Korea’s Three Kingdoms period (1st century BC to 7th century AD). During the harsh, long winters, one of the main ways people got their nutrients was by preserving or pickling vegetables. Since families were already using preservation methods to survive the winter, when cabbage arrived around 2000 B.C., naturally the fermentation process was used to preserve it. When chili peppers were introduced from the Americas in the 16th century, kimchi acquired its signature spicy flavor.
On November 13 of this year, 3,000 women gathered in Seoul’s City Plaza to participate in the country’s biggest ever kimchi-making event for charity. The women used 61,700 cabbages, enough to provide 25,000 families with their essential dish. In total, they produced 250 tons of the fermented spicy cabbage.
Kimchi may be the one food that Koreans cannot live without. UNESCO recently announced that kimchi and kimchi-making culture are likely to be listed as one of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage items. They recognized kimchi as an important cultural asset that has played an important role in defining Korean people’s identity, pointing out that collective kimchi making has reinforced solidarity and the spirit of sharing among Koreans throughout the generations: to this day neighbors and communities gather together to prepare kimchi in November and December, and then bury the vegetable mixture in large barrels or vats underground.
Eli Madrone is a freelance writer who learned about the benefits of kimchi from the Portland, Oregon dentists at South Waterfront Dental.