Kimchi can provide some potential health benefits, but the fermentation process it undergoes also means that it may come with some risks.

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish that consists of fermented, salted vegetables. It can contain a variety of ingredients but most often includes cabbage and seasonings such as sugar, salt, onions, garlic, ginger, and chili peppers.

Before advances in agriculture and technology, it was difficult to store food for long periods of time without spoilage. Therefore, people developed food preservation methods to keep food for longer.

Fermentation is a process that utilizes microorganisms and enzymes to create chemical changes in food that can improve the shelf life of some foods and beverages.

Traditionally, during the fermentation process of kimchi — which can take up to 1 month — people place kimchi in special jars that they partially or totally store underground.

Some evidence suggests that kimchi may possess some health benefits due to its probiotic properties, but there may also be some safety concerns related to the fermentation process.

This article discusses the possible benefits and risks of kimchi and provides tips on how people can prepare it.

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The nutritional content of kimchi can vary due to it having more than 200 different variations. However, it is generally low in calories and rich in nutrients.

Kimchi is also a good source of vitamin A, B vitamins, vitamin C, minerals, fiber, and amino acids.

A 1-cup serving, which amounts to approximately 150 grams (g), contains around:

  • 23 calories
  • 1 g of protein
  • under 1 g of fat
  • 4 g of carbohydrates
  • 2 g of fiber
  • 2 g of sugar

The abundance of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants present in kimchi can provide important health benefits. For example, some evidence suggests that kimchi may help promote good health and may help prevent or control certain conditions.

Some health benefits of kimchi may include the following.

Improved digestion

The method of producing fermented foods such as kimchi involves a lacto-fermentation process that uses the Lactobacilli bacteria to break down sugar and starches into lactic acid.

These “good bacteria” are also present in yogurt, and people often refer to them as probiotics. Eating fermented foods containing probiotics can help maintain healthy gut flora and reduce the negative symptoms of digestion-related conditions.

Heart health

According to some research, kimchi consumption may reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering cholesterol and inflammation.

Inflammation is one contributing factor to metabolic syndrome, which refers to a cluster of conditions that occur together to increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. People with risk factors such as high cholesterol and chronic inflammation are much more likely to develop heart disease.

Kimchi may also help lower cholesterol. In one 2018 study, researchers fed mice a high cholesterol diet, with some mice receiving kimchi extract. The mice consuming the kimchi had lower fat levels in the liver and circulating blood than those only consuming the high cholesterol diet.

Immune support

In addition to reducing inflammation, some research suggests that eating fermented foods such as kimchi can also help remodel the gut microbiome and alter and strengthen the immune system.

This is consistent with a 2014 mouse study that indicates that consuming kimchi can lower levels of the inflammatory marker tumor necrosis factor-alpha, which is typically present in higher levels in the body during infections.

A 2019 test-tube study investigating bacteria in kimchi also notes that it possesses immune-enhancing effects.

Weight loss

Kimchi is not only low in calories but may also help with weight loss.

A 12-week randomized clinical trial in 114 adults with obesity suggests that Lactobacillus sakei derived from kimchi might help reduce body fat mass and waist circumference.

Similarly, an 8-week mouse study indicates that kimchi may exhibit anti-obesity activity.

Although kimchi may exhibit many potential health benefits, it still contains live bacteria. The bacteria that people use to ferment kimchi are safe to consume. However, people must prepare and store kimchi correctly, or there may be a risk of pathogenic bacteria growth during fermentation and storage.

Foodborne pathogens are not typically present in fermented foods. This is because lactic acid typically forms during fermentation, which can help control any harmful pathogens that may be present. However, like most foods, kimchi is still vulnerable to these harmful microorganisms.

In the past 10 years, researchers have linked kimchi to outbreaks of both Escherichia coli and norovirus. People can minimize the risk of food poisoning by buying kimchi from a reliable retailer and ensuring that they store it correctly.

Another consideration is the high sodium content in kimchi. People at risk of high blood pressure might have concerns about the high salt content of this food. However, one 2014 study suggests that eating kimchi does not increase blood pressure.

Although people can purchase kimchi at many grocery stores and Korean markets, they may also consider preparing it at home.

It can be safe to make kimchi at home, but people must follow proper sanitation practices to prevent contamination by spoilage or harmful bacteria. This will involve proper hand-washing, using clean equipment, and cleaning surfaces throughout all preparation steps.

To safely prepare kimchi at home:

  1. Prepare the cabbage:
    1. Rinse the cabbage and discard any spoiled or damaged spots.
    2. Cut the cabbage into quarters and remove the core from each.
    3. Then, chop these quarters into 2-inch (in) pieces.
  2. Salt the cabbage:
    1. Prepare a saltwater solution, comprising half a cup of salt and 1 gallon of cold water, in a large mixing bowl.
    2. Briefly dip the cabbage in the saltwater solution, then discard the salt water.
    3. Place the cabbage in a bowl. Sprinkle over some salt, then massage it into the cabbage.
    4. Allow the cabbage to sit at room temperature for 3–6 hours.
    5. Rinse the cabbage three to four times with cold water, then place it in a colander for 30 minutes.
  3. Prepare the seasonings:
    1. Add sweet rice flour to half a cup water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and set aside to cool.
    2. Clean, peel, and finely mince the garlic and ginger. Mix with the cooled sweet rice flour paste and add Korean red pepper powder.
    3. Clean and peel the radish, green onions, and Asian pear. Slice into matchsticks about 1 in in length.
    4. Using clean hands, mix the seasoning paste and vegetables together in a large mixing bowl.
    5. Then, mix in fish sauce to create a veggie paste.
    6. Combine the cabbage with the spicy veggie paste, rub together, and mix thoroughly.
  4. Pack the container:
    1. Pack the kimchi tightly into the container, minimizing air exposure and encouraging brine formation.
    2. Fill the container about two-thirds full with kimchi and cover tightly.
    3. If using jars, seal them fingertip tight. If using bags, squeeze out any excess air.
  5. Fermentation:
    1. Place the kimchi in the refrigerator so that it ferments slowly over 3–4 days. This may be preferable, especially during hot weather.
    2. Alternatively, place the sealed container in a well-ventilated location with a relatively constant room temperature.
    3. Ferment for only 1–2 days at room temperature, tasting it daily until it reaches one’s preferred taste and desired texture.
  6. Storage:
    1. People can now store the kimchi in the refrigerator. It is important to cover it tightly to minimize air exposure. Kimchi may become more sour and spoil over time.
    2. Discard the kimchi if there are any signs of mold or if it develops a strong, foul odor.

Find the full recipe and all the necessary ingredients here.

Kimchi is a versatile dish that people can add to many meals. People can eat it as a side dish, use it as an ingredient in other meals, or eat it on its own.

Although individuals can cook kimchi, keep in mind that heating any fermented foods can start to kill off the healthy probiotics. So, to retain the health benefits, it is best to add kimchi in at the end of the cooking process.

Some ways that people can enjoy kimchi include:

  • served on top of potato pancakes
  • used as a filling in an omelet
  • stirred into homemade fried rice
  • used inside burritos and Korean-style tacos
  • added to noodle dishes such as ramen, udon, and soba
  • used to flavor soup broth

Kimchi is a Korean food that typically consists of fermented cabbage and various seasonings. It is an easy addition to most meals. Due to the probiotics, vitamins, and minerals it contains, it may provide some health benefits.

However, if a person incorrectly prepares or stores kimchi, it may contain harmful bacteria that can make people ill. Although people can make kimchi at home, it is often readily available in many grocery stores.