Kimchi – Treasures of the Orient

In modern times Kimchi “culture” has become synonymous with Korean cuisine. The Korean national dish is believed to be one of the healthiest foods in the world. Kimchi was born out of the need to preserve food without refrigeration. And of course, tiding over the harsh Korean winters sometime during the 7th century.

When traditionally prepared – Kimchi was often made in large mason jars and stored underground for months together. What started off as dry cabbage pickled in salt, evolved over to include a number of other cruciferous vegetables over time. During the Koreyo Period (918 – 1392 AD) Kimchi was mostly sliced radish and cabbage preserved in salt and soy sauce. Eventually, almost all local vegetables, including bamboo shoots and soybeans were pickled the same way. In fact, this is what led to the invention of famous soy sauce.     

Jumping straight to the Joseyo Period (1592 AD) – Trade with Japan led to major culinary changes in Korea. For the first time Koreans were introduced to starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes. More importantly, they were introduced to The Red Chilli. This was not available in the country prior trade with Europe and America. The introduction of Red Chillies completely changed the fermentation process. This dish got a total makeover.

Kimchi was introduced to the world during the 1988 Olympics that was held in Seoul, Korea. Since then the demand for this super-dish has been constantly on the rise. Today there are more than 200 different varieties of Kimchi, each having its own unique zest and flavour.

Kimchi at present is consumed even with hamburgers, hotdogs and pizzas. Described as spicy and sour like any other pickle, but takes a while before the array of subtle flavors lurking within are revealed to the palate. Good Kimchi retains the natural crunch of the raw vegetables and this is one of the best ways to assess the dish. If the Kimchi is mushy, know that you are having bad Kimchi. The right amount of fermentation gives it a superbly balanced flavour that is characteristic of the dish.

Kimchi can be categorized in multiple ways, which include: main ingredients, regions or seasons. Kimchi made in North Korea tend to have less salt and red chilli. They are usually also devoid of brined seafood. South Korean Kimchi, on the other hand, is comparatively saltier and spicier. The Kimchi here also includes the “vegetables of the sea”. Salted butterfish, brined anchovy or shrimp is fermented along with the vegetables.

The Koreans made different types of Kimchi during the course of the year. This was dependent on the availability of various vegetables during different seasons. They took advantage of the hot and cold seasons and explored with as many variations as possible. During the spring months, Kimchi was mostly made with fresh potherbs and vegetables. These weren’t fermented or stored for too long and were consumed fresh.

  • In the summer months, cucumbers, radishes along with brined fish or shellfish and red chilli peppers were used to make Kimchi.
  • In the months of autumn, a variety of stuffed Kimchi was prepared.  A spicy stuffing was spread between thin layers of the local napa cabbage.
  • Ironically, the most diverse variations of the dish were made during the winter months. Women would often gather to help each other in the preparations. Salted napa cabbage was included along with strips of radish, pine nuts, pears, chestnuts, parsley, red chilli peppers, ginger and garlic. This ensured each one had warmly spiced winter.

Kimchi, unlike other fermented preserves, uses ‘wild fermentation’. Natural enzymes present in the vegetables are responsible for the pickling. Besides adding flavour, natural salt acts as a preservative. It eliminates potential pathogenic bacteria and moulds that form on the surface. The added salt also slows down the breakdown of the vegetables leaving them crunchier than otherwise. Mason Jars were preferred as opposed to plastic or metal containers for good reason. The mild acids and salts formed in the process of fermentation leaches out the plastic and corrode metal.

The human GI tract is home to more than 100 trillion bacteria. These include pathogenic and beneficial strains, which play a crucial role in the immunity of the individual. Imbalance in the gastrointestinal tract is known to lead to a range of health problems.

Kimchi, being a rich source of these beneficial microflora, plays a critical role in maintaining the culture of bacteria in the GI tract.

In effect, the individual is healthy. It is particularly rich in vitamins A and C. There have been studies to show that Kimchi has both an anti-obesity (1, 4 ) and an immune stimulating effect (2, 4) on the body. Kimchi is also known to have a strong antimicrobial effect particularly against pathogenic bacteria (3).

Start by making your own Kimchi:

Ingredients:

1 Cabbage, unrefined sea salt, 3 tablespoons red pepper powder, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 clove of garlic chopped, 3cm fresh ginger finely minced,2 shallots finely minced.

Start off by chopping the cabbage into quadrants and removing the core before cutting it into thin strips of 2 cm each. Add some salt and mix this well with your hands in a container. Continue to do so until the cabbage begins to soften. Now add water until the cabbage is submerged and let it soak for at least an hour.

Separate out a quarter cup of water and drain the rest with the help of a strainer. Rinse the vessel that contained the cabbage before placing it back into the container.

In order to make the sauce, add the red pepper powder, soy sauce, garlic and ginger along with some water in a small bowl and stir it well. Add the shallots and mix it well. Add this sauce to the cabbage and mix it using your hands.

Now put the cabbage into a large mason jar or glass jar making sure you press down with each handful added. The objective here us to minimise the air gap in between to create the perfect environment for fermentation to occur. Place the glass jar in a warm area and allow it to ferment. Taste the Kimchi every few days until you hit the right spot. Voila!

Disclaimer: The above article is sponsored by Thyrve, the world’s first Gut Health Program that incorporates microbiome testing and personalized probiotics to ensure a healthier gut, happier life, and a brighter future. 

References:

1.  Anti-obesity effect of kimchi fermented with Weissella koreensis OK1-6 as starter in high-fat diet-induced obese C57BL/6J mice –  http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jam.12017/abstract

2.  Health benefits of lactic acid bacteria isolated from kimchi, with respect to immunomodulatory effects – https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10068-015-0102-3

3.   Screening and characterization of probiotic lactic acid bacteria isolated from Korean fermented foods. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19307768

4.   Health benefits of kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables) as a probiotic food. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24456350