Kimchi and Gut Health – By Anam Wajid

Words like ‘gut health’, ‘probiotics’ and ‘live cultures’ are becoming increasingly popular and we’re going to hear more and more about them. But we’re also just as likely to wonder what exactly do they mean, and why they are becoming so popular? So here goes…

The Gut Brain Axis

Our brain and gut are linked such that our brain can affect our digestive system and vice versa. This is called the ‘Gut-brain-axis’.

Terms like ‘Gut-wrenching’ and ‘butterflies in stomach’ are used for a reason. People often don’t feel hungry or the opposite when they are stressed. Similarly, some people experience gut symptoms without an obvious physical cause.

This is because a troubled gut can send signals to the brain and the same way brain sends signals to the gut when something is not right. In this way our mood, appetite and gut symptoms are affected by the gut-brain-axis.

The gut-brain-axis is quite impactful and has been linked to conditions like anxiety and gastrointestinal symptoms 1.

Gut Microbiota

Our gut, where all the food that we eat is digested and absorbed naturally contains trillions of good bacteria called gut microbiota that are important to keep us healthy.

These good bacteria have many functions in the body such as breaking down food into nutrients so they can be absorbed in the gut, enhance immunity, get rid of harmful bacteria, produce vitamins such as Vitamin K and B12, and maintain a balance in the body that contributes to reduced risk of disease.

The good thing is we can get these beneficial bacteria from our diet 2,3.

Probiotics

Some foods and beverages contain probiotics or live cultures that are the beneficial bacteria present in our gut. Probiotics can beneficially restore the balance in our body and gut health. They are found in fermented foods and beverages 4.

Fermentation is a process in which microorganisms naturally found in food break down sugar into other products and in this process microorganisms can grow. Fermentation is an age old process that has been used for years in many cultures to increase the shelf life of food. Now, it is considered to also provide nutritional value by giving a healthy dose of probiotics 5.

Foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, pickles and kimchi are all well known to provide a good healthy dose of probiotics. Including a range of fermented foods that provide probiotics can also diversify your diet by adding extra flavours and textures 6.

Kimchi

A staple Korean dish is made from fermented vegetables and is packed with flavour, crunchy textures, Vitamins A, B and C, and gut friendly bacteria called lactobacilli 6.

The basic ingredients are vegetables such as napa cabbage, radish, carrots and spring onions in a seasoning made from gochugaru (korean chilli), salt, ginger, garlic, fish sauce and fruit like pear or apple for sweetness.

There are many varieties of Kimchi made with different vegetables and seasonings so you can experiment with the ingredients and each will have a different flavour!

Traditionally kimchi was stored in-ground to preserve vegetables throughout the year. Today, you can make it in your home and store it in refrigerator for up to three months.

Here is my tried and loved recipe for Kimchi made from ingredients available in local supermarkets.

For this recipe you will need:

1 large Napa cabbage or Chinese lettuce

Salt for curing

1 medium sized Daikon or white radish

1 bunch Spring onions

2 medium sized Carrots

For the seasoning:

2 tbsp or more as required depending on taste (powder can be spicier than paste) Korean chilli powder or paste

2 tbsp Fish sauce

2 inch piece Ginger

6 cloves Garlic

1 medium sized Pear

Method:

1. Roughly cut the cabbage and sprinkle handful of salt on it. Now you will let it drain for a while so all the water runs out. To remove excess salt rinse the cabbage with water and drain in a strainer or you can also squeeze it to remove water.

2. Cut all the vegetables in thin slices.

3. Blend all the seasoning ingredients in a blender to make a paste.

4. You will need a clean glass jar or plastic box with lid in which you will store the kimchi.

5. Now is the exciting part! Mix your vegetables with the seasoning and leave them in the jar/box for 3-4 days in room temperature and see the magic happen – lacto-fermentation! Be sure not to tightly close the lid because you need to let the air bubbles out.

6. Once it is ready you can keep the kimchi in fridge with the lid tightly closed for weeks!!!

7. And there you have it healthy and delicious Kimchi packed with beneficial bacteria!

References:

  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection
  2. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2018.01835/full
  3. https://www.bmj.com/content/361/bmj.k2179
  4. https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/probiotics.html
  5. https://www.heartfoundation.org.nz/about-us/news/blogs/fermented-foods-the-latest-trend
  6. https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/fermented-foods.html

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