If you’re not a very adventurous eater, you may have never heard of kimchi, let alone tried it. But, kimchi is culturally important to Koreans, who on average eat 48 pounds of the stuff annually. Over the last decade, this dish has had an outpouring of support in the United States, and now you can see it on everything from pancakes to burgers. Kimchi isn’t just tasty, though. There’s also evidence that it can be really healthy for you!

What is Kimchi?

Before we explore why kimchi is healthy, let’s explore what kimchi is exactly. While there is some dispute about the origins of kimchi, researchers believe it was created in Korea over a thousand years ago. The creation of kimchi comes along like many ancient dishes, from necessity. Winters on the Korean peninsula can be very cold. So, in order to have a reliable food supply during these long winters, families would ferment the vegetables, allowing them to last longer. Over time, this evolved to include Chinese cabbage and red chili peppers, which gives the dish its signature salty, sweet, and hot flavor combination it has today.

How Kimchi is Healthy

Now that you know about the origin of kimchi, let’s look at why it’s become so popular. The answer isn’t just the taste, though fans will rave about its unique flavor. Kimchi is actually a surprisingly healthy dish that can easily be added to almost anything.

Probiotics

Regular readers of Medicareful Living may notice that kimchi has some similarities to another dish we’ve covered in the past — sauerkraut. That’s because it is very similar to sauerkraut, though there are more ingredients to kimchi than the fragrant German dish. This means kimchi is loaded with healthy probiotics. Probiotics are healthy organisms created in the fermentation process that can help improve your digestive health, balance your gut flora, and prevent or alleviate many stomach issues. There’s even evidence that probiotics can help improve a wide range of general health regions, most notably your heart health.

Lots of Vitamins and Minerals

Not only does it have plenty of probiotics, kimchi is also loaded with some worthwhile nutrients. Specifically, Vitamin A is prominent in kimchi, with 100 grams accounting for approximately two percent of your daily intake. Vitamin A is important to a properly functioning body, helping your lungs, kidneys, eyes, and others work well. Kimchi is also rich in folate and calcium. Folate, also known as Vitamin B-9, is essential to creating health blood cells, bone marrow, and converting carbohydrates to energy. It’s also healthy for your heart and can lower your risk of certain cancers. Calcium is needed for strong bones. Finally, it’s worth noting that 100 grams of kimchi gives you 14 percent of your daily iron recommendation. The ingredients together make kimchi a reportedly “antioxidative and antiaging, antimutagenic, anticancer, antiobesity” dish.

Things to Watch Out For

Despite all of the health benefits kimchi offers, there’s one thing to watch out for — the sodium amount. If you’re on a low-sodium diet, you’ll want to be careful with how much kimchi you eat. That same 100 grams of kimchi we discussed before has 498 milligrams or 22 percent of your daily recommendation of sodium! And that’s for a person on a regular, non-sodium restrictive diet. Luckily, it is possible to reduce the amount of sodium in the dish by using low-sodium versions of some of the ingredients.

Another word of warning is for those with stomach issues like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Kimchi is often high in garlic, which doesn’t always play nicely with IBS. If this concerns you, lower the amount of garlic in the dish or use more ginger.

Now that we know why kimchi good for us and what to watch out for, let’s learn how to make it!

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Medicareful Kimchi

Ingredients

  • 1 large head of Napa cabbage
  • 1 daikon radish, peeled and matchsticked
  • ¼ cup of coarse sea salt
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tsp of fresh ginger, grated
  • 2-6 tbsp of Korean chili powder, a.k.a. “Gochugaru” (depending on how hot you want it)
  • 3-5 green onions or scallions, sliced thinly
  • 2 tsp of fish sauce (optional, remove to make vegan or lower sodium)
  • 1 tsp of sugar (optional)

Direction

  1. Cut the Napa cabbage into tall quarters before cutting the quarters one- to two-inches thick.
  2. In a large bowl, massage the salt into the cabbage until the cabbage begins to soften.
  3. Add just enough water to dissolve the salt and cover the cabbage.
  4. Place a plate overtop the cabbage to keep it submerged and let it stand for at least three to four hours, up to overnight (six to eight hours).
  5. In a bowl, combine garlic, ginger, and fish sauce (optional).
  6. Add in the radish, chili powder, green onions, and sugar (optional) and stir to create a paste. (If you’re mixing with your hands, wear gloves, since chili paste can cause irritation.)
  7. Drain the cabbage, reserving the brine, and rinse, allowing to it drain in a colander for 10 minutes.
  8. Place cabbage into a large bowl and thoroughly mix the paste into the cabbage until it’s coated.
  9. Pack the cabbage mixture into a quarter-sized container, like a mason jar, pressing it down to the bottom with a wooden spoon.
  10. Add enough of the reserved brine to have about an inch of brine over the top of the cabbage mixture, pressing down one more time to remove air bubbles.
  11. Cover the jar loosely with a lid.
  12. Place the jar in a large bowl to collect any juice that may leak, just in case.
  13. Place the bowl on the counter and allow to sit at room temperature for three days, pressing down on the mixture once a day to ensure it stays submerged.
  14. The kimchi is now ready to eat. You can place the jar, covered with the lid, in the fridge to allow the kimchi to ferment longer.
  15. The longer you let it ferment, the stronger and sourer the flavor.