23rd January 2018

Kimchi: eating cabbage is finally cool!

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Fermented cabbage Kimchi, taken by Maria from Solaris Health in a local market in Daejeon, during a trip to South Korea in June 2017

A type of burger called the “Kimchi burger” has featured among the Top 10 best burgers in London according to the Hamburger Me blog (1). This comes as no surprise as Kimchi, a Korean delicacy consisting of fermented cabbage, has a distinctive taste as Maria from Solaris Health found when she had the pleasure of trying it during her trip to South Korea last June. It seems that years of geographical isolation of the Korean peninsula led to the development of food preservation techniques through lactic acid fermentation, which has been used for more than 1500 years to overcome periods of food scarcity (2). Kimchi is simply made through the fermentation of Chinese cabbage called napa, locally referred to as baechu, together with other ingredients.

A wide range of ingredients are used for Kimchi preparation. These are divided into: major raw ingredients, spices, seasonings, and other additional ingredients. Although Chinese cabbage is mainly used, Maria noticed on her travels that as many as 30 other types of vegetables are used, including radish and cucumber.  She also tasted spices in it such as pepper, garlic, and mustard and found that the flavour of Kimchi is often altered with the addition of mushrooms, carrots, fruit, seafood, and meat. Salt-pickled seafood, sesame seed, and soybean sauce were other ingredients Maria came across.

In addition to being a delicacy in South Korea, Kimchi offers a number of health benefits. The ingredients are of high nutritive value and a source of vitamins and minerals (3). The vegetables and spices used are also a source of bioactive compounds with anti-obesity, anti-oxidant, anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory, anti-atherosclerotic, and immunity-potentiating properties (3). Furthermore, Kimchi provides protective effects against cancer, cardiovascular, and neurodegenerative diseases (3-5). The list of benefits is not, however, exhausted. The lactic acid bacteria involved in the fermentation process have been shown to inhibit the growth of foodborne bacterial pathogens (6).

The worldwide market for Kimchi is rapidly increasing, as Kimchi can be stored for long periods of time in the fridge. Scientists are however trying to overcome the continuous fermentation process by lactic acid bacteria, which results in excessive acidification and consequent sour taste (7). They are also trying to improve its odour (8). Nonetheless, Kimchi is a delicious dish that Maria highly recommends looking out for in supermarkets and restaurants. Just think of it as a new addition to the already familiar range of cultured probiotic food products! 

1) Hamburger Me! Best Burgers in London: Top 10. http://www.hamburger-me.com/p/best-burgers-in-london-top-10.html (last accessed: January 2018).
2) Patra JK, et al. Kimchi: A Well-known Korean Traditional Fermented Food. In: Paramithiotis S, editor. Lactic Acid Fermentation of Fruits and Vegetables. CRC Press, 2017.
3) Park KY, et al. J Med Food 2014; 17: 6-20.
4) Kim EK, et al. Nutr Res 2011; 31: 436-43.
5) Kim HJ, et al. J Agric Food Chem 2007; 55: 10486–92.
6) Ahn DK, et al. Korean J Microbiol Biotechnol 2003; 31: 191–6.
7) Cheigh HS, et al. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 1994; 34: 175-203.
8) The Washington Post. To promote kimchi abroad, Korean scientists are trying to get rid of the smell. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/to-promote-kimchi-abroad-korean-scientists-are-trying-to-get-rid-of-the-smell/2017/06/21/a1cc7de2-4ab7-11e7-b69d-c158df3149e9_story.html?utm_term=.b62ec5d44ce2 (last accessed: January 2018).