A traditional Korean fermented vegetable side dish, kimchi is also spelled as kimchee or gimchi. In Korea, it is called banchan or an accompanying dish. Normally, people have a number of banchan together with a main meal. In fact, the main courses may have as many as a dozen such banchans.

Kimchi is prepared by fermenting cabbage as well as other vegetables that are seasoned. Apart from serving kimchi as an accompanying dish, it is also served along with rice. Moreover, sometimes these vegetables are used as ingredients in other dishes like kimchi jjigae (a sort of stew) and kimchibokkeumbap (which is basically kimchi fried rice).

Kimchi has an extremely delightful flavour and also offers a number of health benefits. In recent times, kimchi has become popular across the world for these two properties of this Korean side dish. While the popularity of kimchi is increasing, this dish is currently served in various places outside the two Koreas. However, the fact is that kimchi has been an important part of the culinary history of Asia for a very long period. Precisely speaking, the earliest Chinese poetry books known to man have reference to kimchi. These references have made historians come to the conclusion that people in Asia have been eating kimchi for over 3,000 years now!

It is commonly thought that the earliest forms of kimchi included vegetables that were simply salted. It was only in the 12th century that people began adding different spices as well as flavours to this fermented vegetable side dish. In fact, kimchi went through a remarkable change when chili peppers were introduced for the first time in Korea during the 17th century. Different versions of kimchi prepared with chili peppers are now not only popular throughout the two Koreas, but they are also served in many places worldwide.

Generally, napa cabbage forms the major constituent in kimchi and normally it is fermented in brine together with garlic, ground pepper and scallions. On the other hand, there are several variations of kimchi and some dishes incorporate various different vegetables as well as spices. The different forms of kimchi have different flavours. Since vegetables are basically seasonal foods, the different varieties of kimchi were developed depending on the type of vegetable that was available in a particular season.

Health benefits of kimchi

It has been found that kimchi is a healthy food that improves digestion. Kimchi is a source of probiotics and this is attributed to the fermentation process involved in preparing this Korean vegetable side dish. The fermentation process not only improves the flavour of kimchi, but it also helps in creating healthy bacteria Lactobacillus in the gut. Our body requires this healthy bacterium in order to maintain the intestinal flora in a healthy condition. Since kimchi is prepared from cabbage, it possesses the ability to eliminate toxic and waste substances from our body. Cabbages are known to possess this property. Consumption of kimchi not only aids in cleansing the intestines, but it also promotes the assimilation of nutrients into our body. As kimchi contains considerable amounts of dietary fiber, this food also helps to stabilize bowel movement and, at the same time, put off constipation.

People who consume kimchi regularly also get the cholesterol related benefits of this food. Garlic is a major ingredient in kimchi and this herb is known to contain significant amounts of allicin and selenium. Allicin is a prominent component in this food and it helps to lower the levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad" cholesterol, thereby diminishing the chances of suffering from cardiac problems like heart attacks and strokes.

Selenium is an important trace mineral that has a protective effect on the walls of the arteries. This mineral puts off the plaque build-up on the arterial walls and, at the same time, reduces the risks of developing cardio-vascular problems such as atherosclerosis. A scientific study undertaken to examine the health benefits of kimchi has suggested that consumption of fermented kimchi aids in reducing the levels of total as well as LDL cholesterol in the blood stream. At the same time, selenium also reduces the blood glucose levels in the body. As a result, it is also beneficial for people with diabetes.

It has been found that different varieties of kimchi contain potent antioxidants, which are known to be natural scavengers and forage the harmful free radicals in our body. Together with flavonoids and phenols present in kimchi, these antioxidants offer protection from the oxidative damage and, at the same time, protect the body from the damaging effects of free radicals.

It is worth mentioning here that kimchi contains healthy levels of Lactobacillus bacteria and this makes the Korean delicacy a versatile condiment. It not only offers various health benefits, but is also beneficial for the health of our skin. Consumption of kimchi on a regular basis helps to treat a host of skin ailments, including atopic dermatitis, which is marked by augmented levels of immunoglobulin E as well as skin lesions like hemorrhage and edema. A scientific study undertaken to examine this issue has revealed that the presence of beneficial bacteria in kimchi helps to suppress dermatitis induced by mites, in addition to lessening inflammation.

It has been already discussed that kimchi contains loads of healthy Lactobacillus bacteria which are utilized by our body for its normal and efficient functioning. This is a beneficial bacterium that also helps one to shed some extra flab, as it regulates the appetite and also lowers the levels of blood sugar. At the same time, the high fiber content of kimchi gives you a sense of fullness and you don't crave for foods for a long time, thereby preventing you from over eating. Findings of a study undertaken on obese patients have corroborated the beneficial effects of the fermented food kimchi on our body vis-à-vis the body mass index (BMI). At the same time, it was found that consumption of kimchi helped to lessen the development of issues associated with metabolic syndrome.

Kimchi is loaded with a variety of nutrients including a wide range of phenolic components and flavonoids. This Korean delicacy contains a wide range of ingredients such as garlic, ginger and peppers and all these are known to possess protective properties and they have a favourable outcome on our immune system. Moreover, these ingredients are effective in combating infections, thereby useful in treating the symptoms associated with cold and flu.

There are several benefits of consuming kimchi and prominent among them is its anti-aging effects. The anti-aging properties of kimchi are attributed to the antioxidants and vitamin C present in the food. A study undertaken to assess the anti-aging properties of kimchi has shown that this Korean delicacy aids in controlling as well as soothing inflammations that actually accelerate the aging process. During this study, it was also found that consuming kimchi also helps to reduce oxidative stress inside the cells and slow down the process of lipid pre-oxidation, thereby extending one's life span. As a result, kimchi is considered to be a very powerful anti-aging agent. And all these effects of this fermented food are attributed to its vitamin C and antioxidant content.

There is no doubt that kimchi is a very valuable food that aids in decreasing the chances of developing various forms of cancers. A study undertaken on various kimchi samples has corroborated the anti-carcinogenic properties of this fermented vegetable dish. Cabbage is one of the main ingredients of kimchi and this vegetable is known to possess anti-carcinogenic properties. Precisely speaking, cabbage contains flavonoids that not only slow down the development of cancer cells, but also combat these cells in a potent manner. The glucosinolates present in cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and hence in kimchi are another potent cancer fighting agents. These substances break down to form another compounds known as isothiocyanates, which have a reputation for effectively fighting cancerous growth.

People with diabetes will find kimchi beneficial in more ways than one. During a study undertaken on type-2 diabetic subjects consuming diets high in fat were given kimchi, and the results revealed the anti-diabetic attributes of this Korean delicacy. The study revealed that after consuming a diet incorporating kimchi, the glucose tolerance of the diabetic subjects had improved, while the lower levels of fasting glucose were also better. At the same time, the findings of the study suggested that consumption of kimchi can prove to be more beneficial for diabetic patients if they consumed this fermented vegetable side dish with low or normal fat diet rather than any food that is high in fat content.

Consumption of kimchi on a regular basis also helps to treat a number of conditions related to the stomach, such as gastritis and peptic ulcers. These conditions are attributed to helicobacter pylori bacteria. A study undertaken to examine this health benefit of kimchi has revealed that kimchi possesses antagonistic activity, which is due to the presence of significant levels of Lactobacillus bacteria. These bacteria help to inhibit the detrimental pathogens from coming in contact with the gastric cancer cells in humans.

Side effects and cautions

Eating too much kimchi may often result in digestive issues in some people. Since kimchi is a fermented food, it contains loads of dietary fiber which may result in gas formation and bloating in vulnerable people. Therefore, it is always advisable that you should start with small amounts of kimchi in your diet and increase the amount gradually if it suits you. Having small quantities of this food in the beginning helps you to appraise the effects of this food.

People with high blood pressure (hypertension) need to be careful when they are consuming kimchi since this preparation has a high concentration of salt that actually gets accentuated further in the fermentation process. Nevertheless, findings of a study undertaken on people suffering from high blood pressure showed that even if one eats kimchi, which contains low levels of sodium, when they have hypertension, it does not affect the blood pressure and/ or the cardiac activities adversely.

Nevertheless, it is always recommended that you should check with a doctor or healthcare professional before you start eating kimchi for therapeutic purposes. This is all the more important if you are suffering from any ailment or health condition.


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