Kimchi is a traditional Korean food that consists of fermented cabbage seasoned with several spices, among which red pepper is one of the most important, as it serves as an inhibitor of the growth of harmful microorganisms. It’s thought that kimchi was invented around 4,000 years ago. In the world of fermented vegetables, kimchi is the king of them all due to its rich combination of flavors.
Myth: Kimchi is hard to find in America.
Fact: Kimchi is getting more popular in American markets and can be found in a variety of places, such as Asian restaurants and markets, local grocery stores, health stores and even at farmers’ markets. Kimchi fans who want to make their own can find a variety of online recipes. The advantage of homemade kimchi is that you can control the process of fermentation to meet your taste buds by controlling the temperature of the environment.
Myth: Kimchi is rotten cabbage.
Fact: The unique flavor of kimchi is a result of lactic-acid bacteria fermentation, which means that the good bacteria that are present in cabbages and other vegetables use some of the natural sugars to produce lactic acid. This is the same acid that gives yogurt its acidity. During this process, the good bacteria multiply and intensify the acidic flavor. This whole process occurs at room temperature. Once the desired flavor has developed, kimchi is stored in the refrigerator to halt the process. To some, the flavor can be too strong, and it may take some time to get used to it.
Myth: Kimchi spoils quickly.
Fact: The process of making kimchi increases its lactic acid and helps slow the growth of bacteria that can spoil food. Red pepper in kimchi also helps keep harmful bacteria away. Once kimchi is fermented and stored in the refrigerator, it can last years! Fermented foods can last a long time at lower temperatures. However, you may not want to keep kimchi in your refrigerator for very long because the odor can escape and make your refrigerator smell.
Myth: Kimchi is high in calories.
Fact: One cup of kimchi made according to the recipe provided only has around 60 calories. One cup of kimchi can provide 100 percent of your vitamin K needs, 50 percent of your vitamin A and 70 percent of vitamin C. Some of the ingredients in kimchi recipes, like garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes, also contain phytochemicals that are associated with benefits like cancer prevention and enhanced immunity.
Myth: The live bacteria in kimchi can make you sick.
Fact: The live bacteria present in kimchi are also known as probiotic bacteria, a type of bacteria that can produce health benefits when eaten in adequate amounts. The lactic-acid bacteria present in kimchi, also called Lactobacilli, have been shown to ease intestinal disturbances, improve the immune system, decrease gut inflammation and inhibit growth of harmful bacteria, among others. One side effect commonly associated with eating fermented foods is bloating due to excess gas production by probiotic bacteria.
Andrea Arikawa is an assistant professor in the Nutrition and Dietetics Flagship Program at the University of North Florida. The Goods is a monthly column about food myths and facts by faculty members in UNF’s Nutrition and Dietetics Flagship Program. Have a question about kimchi? Contact Andrea Arikawa at firstname.lastname@example.org.