Traditional fermented Korean dish kimchi is packed with fat-burning and cancer-fighting vitamins and minerals
Compiled by Milan Lu
If we love our papadam and chillies with rice and curry, then the Koreans love their kimchi tenfold more. Kimchi has become an essential part of Korean cuisine and with good reason too. It’s packed with vitamins, minerals and important cancer-fighting agents.
Korea is said to experience the coldest winters among all the nations in its latitude, and as a result of this coldclimate and its geographical features, it is hard to find fertile plains for cultivation. Preserving food during the long winter season became their biggest issue, so they would eat salted vegetables with the grains they consumed to aid digestion. The original variants of kimchi were mainly cucumbers, radish and leeks and had a more watery texture than present day spicy kimchi.
The first written record of kimchi, however, was during the Koryeo Period (918-1392) when the poet Lee Kyu-bo made a reference to the way kimchi was made. After the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), many influences by Japan and China changed the way Koreans made kimchi with the introduction of Napa cabbage (Chinese cabbage) and red pepper chillies. Later on, the use of fermented fish spread into its preparation methods and the use of Napa cabbage took prominence over all other types of vegetables used to make kimchi.
Kimchi is generally made by processing cabbage in salt or brine for a couple of hours until it shrinks in size. The salt acts as a natural preservative and will draw out moisture from the cabbage. Once the cabbage base is thoroughly rinsed, spices and herbs along with fish sauce is added to it and mixed well. The fermented cabbage has a shelf life of about a month at least and the longer it’s kept the taste differs from spicy to sour. Once the kimchi is too sour for direct consumption it’s added to soups and broths.
Kimchi has become a major part of Korean cuisine that people say ‘kimchi’ instead of ‘cheese’ when taking pictures. They cannot do without it at least once or twice a week and with good reason too. Napa cabbage belongs to the cruciferous vegetable group which includes all kinds of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts. These plants are very well known to contain the phytochemical (chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants) Indole-3-carbinol, which is linked to preventing and stopping the growth of cancerous cells. A review of research was published in 1996 in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association showing that 70% or more of the studies found a link between cruciferous vegetables and protection against cancer. Scientists have shown keen interest in extracting this phytochemical, which has potential to be a cancer-fighting agent.
Other than its cancer preventing benefits, kimchi is also known to be linked to Korea’s low obesity rates. In a joint study conducted by the Korean Rural Development Administration and Ajou University, 22 overweight adults were given kimchi. Of the 22, 11 were given well fermented kimchi whereas the other 11 were given fresh kimchi. The results indicated that the first group lost more body fat than the second, and they had improvements in both blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Fibres present in Napa cabbage combined with the vitamins A and C found in red chilli pepper aid in decomposition of body fat and they are more active when the two are fermented.
The fermented dish is also rich in vitamins B1 and B2, proteins, calcium and beta carotene. It also contains healthy bacteria called lactobacilli, found in fermented foods like yogurt. This good bacterium helps with digestion and helps stop or even prevent yeast infections, according to a recent study. It is for these reasons and more that kimchi has earned its name as one of the healthiest foods from across the globe and is gaining popularity among healthy food lovers internationally.
Healthy kimchi recipe
Of the countless varieties of kimchi that are made in Korea, by far the most common and celebrated version is made with Napa cabbage. Commercially produced kimchi generally uses preservatives and white sugar as a sweetener but it reduces the health factor.
You will need:
1 Napa Cabbage/Chinese Cabbage
¼ cup Salt
¼ cup Chilli powder or flakes
1 tablespoon of minced garlic
1 tablespoon of finely chopped/minced ginger
3 or 4 sliced green onions
2 tablespoons of fish sauce
½ a ripe apple
½ a ripe pear
½ a shallot onion
(if a shallot or a yellow onion is unavailable use an entire apple and pear)
1. Take the napa cabbage and separate the leaves. Chop them into bite size pieces but note that once it is processed it will shrink 25% in size so there’s no need to cut them too small. Give them a light rinse to get rid of the mud and dirt if there is any. Transfer the cabbage to a crockery pot or bowl.
2. Measure out ¼ a cup of salt and add it to a small bowl of warm water. Give it a gentle stir until all the salt is dissolved.
3. Transfer the salt water onto the cabbage and give it a gentle toss so that the salt is evenly distributed. Place a plate or something with a bit of weight to keep the cabbage fully submerged in the salt water.
4. After letting the cabbage and salt water sit for about 4 hours in room temperature, drain out all the salt water and wash and strain the cabbage two or three times. You want to rinse off the salt water and return the cabbage to a large bowl.
5. Measure out a quarter cup of red chilli powder or flakes and add a quarter cup of warm water. Mix well until you get a bit of a paste. Transfer the paste to the cabbage.
6. Add a tablespoon each of minced garlic and finely chopped/minced ginger.
7. Add three or 4 sliced green onions as well
8. Measure out 2 tablespoons of fish sauce and add it to the cabbage as well. If you prefer a vegetarian version you can skip this step.
9. Add one cup of water to the apple, pear and onion and blend it well. This blend is what sets the kimchi apart from commercially prepared kimchi that uses one cup of sugar. The apple, pear and onion mix adds a hint of natural sweetness to the kimchi and preserves the healthy aspect of it as well.
10. Wearing a pair of gloves, dig in and give everything a good mixing, tossing and rubdown. The chilli powder will burn your hands if you don’t use gloves. Once you’re done you have homemade kimchi.
11. Take glass bottles and fill the kimchi in to them. Don’t fill them up to the brim as they will expand over time and will overflow. Cap the bottles and let them sit in room temperature for another 24 hours and refrigerate them. Take out portions whenever needed and continue to ferment while refrigerated, and will keep for at least a month. The longer it ferments, the more sour it will get. (Source: www.drbenkim.com)