Korean kimchi is undoubtedly the healthiest food on the planet. In a tradition dating back thousands of years, vegetables are pickled and and combined in a multitude of ways that suit every taste. This article explains the health benefits that derive from kimchi in general, and the Ultimate Kimchi recipe in particular.
Originally published 1998
Kimchi is sometimes spelled “kimchee”, but I prefer the “chi” spelling because that is the spelling of the oriental word chi (gi, ki) that translates as “nature energy” or “inner energy”. And kimchi lives up to its name.
I learned about kimchi on a Self-Discovery Weekend from Grandmaster Tae Yun Kim. She tells her guests that they can eat as much Korean food as they want, because they don’t have to worry about gaining weight. It’s true. There is virtually no fat in Korean dishes, and the use of meat is balanced — meat does not dominate the meal, but rather complements it. At the same time, Grandmaster is fond of saying, Korean food is the most totally wholesome and energizing food you have ever experienced.
Another great thing about kimchi is that it keeps for weeks in the refrigerator, and still tastes fresh. The garlic and vinegar are natural preservatives that keep the raw vegetables and fruits tasting great, even though they are cut up into pieces you can easily nibble on. If you have one of those “Keep Warm” rice pots in the kitchen, then a wholesome, energizing snack, or even a full meal, is just seconds away. Kimchi is not only a health food, it’s a convenience food. What a deal!
It is vital that the Kimchi is properly fermented. For more on that subject, see The Importance of Fermentation.
Kimchi’s Health Benefits
Kimchi is nothing if not healthy. It combines the world’s healthiest ingredients in a tasty treat, and uses the combination of vinegar, oil, salt, and spices to way that makes an all-natural preservative. The following sections describe kimchi’s specific ingredients and their effects:
- Kimchi eliminates cholesterol
- Kimchi promotes intestinal health
- The quality of Korean food
Kimchi Eliminates Cholesterol
With its combination of garlic, scallions, fruits, and vegetables, kimchi works overtime to keep your arteries clear. This section explains how.
Garlic and Onions
It is only in recent years that the scientific community has begun to establish the powerful healing effects of garlic that have been known in Oriental cultures for centuries. Onions and garlic have for centuries been eaten as regular staples by the longest living peoples on earth — Asians, Russians, and Bulgarians. There is no coincidence, here.
Garlic is a powerful anti-oxidant. That means it prevents oxygen from combining with things. Along with the vinegar and oil, it helps to keep the vegetables in kimchi fresh. Garlic has been used as a preservative for centuries by peoples in Korea and India, long before the advent of refrigerators.(1) But garlic does even more for you after you eat it.
The oil of garlic is 60% allicin. When garlic is crushed, two enzymes join together to form this powerful substance. In the body, allicin reduces cholesterol and triglyceride levels — the major cause of heart attacks and strokes. It is so effective that volunteers eating a quarter-pound of butter actually showed reduced cholesterol afterwards when they ate it with garlic, instead of the higher cholesterol levels they would normally experience.(2) Only foods in the garlic/onion family have this characteristic. So one benefit of eating fresh, crushed garlic is that it lowers your cholesterol.(3)
Besides kimchi, what food can claim substantial amounts of fresh garlic? None! And it doesn’t hurt that the scallions included in the kimchi have the same effect on cholesterol levels.(4) Both foods raise the number of High Density Lipoproteins in the blood — these are the “good guy” lipids that carry cholesterol to the gall bladder for elimination.(5)
In addition to allicin, garlic is the best known natural source of selenium.(6) This trace mineral is a key ingredient in the process that keeps skin and hair healthy, thereby preventing wrinkles.(7) It also prevents cholesterol platelets from adhering to artery walls.(8)
Selenium is deficient in the soils surrounding the major population centers in this country(9), and it has been shown to be deficient in most of the population. So garlic is a key ingredient! Be sure to use organic garlic, though. The non-organic variety has much less of this vital mineral. Selenium is so important that Jack Challum (“The Nutrition Detective”) believes that selenium deficiencies may be responsible for ailments as diverse as the flu, the Ebola epidemic, and AIDs (https://www.jrthorns.com/Challem/selenium.html).
Garlic is also important because selenium is a necessary part of glutathione(10), a substance the body makes from the amino acids glutamine, cysteine, and glutamic acid. Glutathione peroxidase is a vitamin C “booster” that reconstitutes Vitamin C as it breaks down in the lens of the eye, due to sunlight and cathode tube x-rays. Glutathione therefore makes 10 units of Vitamin C do the work of a hundred!(11) It is partly this activity, and partly the fact that it is required for Vitamin E to function, that accounts for selenium’s ability to protect against cancer.
Since garlic’s selenium helps to preserve Vitamin C, and since Vitamin C is responsible for transporting fat molecules across cell walls to fuel muscle cells, the combination of garlic and vegetables keeps us thinner and makes us feel more energetic!(12)
Did you know that hot peppers have the highest concentrations of Vitamin C of any known food?(13) It’s a fact. Peppers have 10 times the Vitamin C of any other food, and good Korean kimchi uses a lot! The combination of fresh fruits and vegetables (especially the broccoli) with the chili pepper gives kimchi the richest concentration of Vitamin C in any prepared food.(14) This vitamin is needed in the gall bladder to convert cholesterol into a form that can be eliminated from the body.(15)
In addition, the ingredient that makes them hot, capsaicin, has recently been used to alleviate the pain of arthritis, and actually helped to proliferate the synovial cells that are so thoroughly ravaged by this disease.(16)What other miracles does it perform? Science has yet to discover.
What a food! Kimchi is a full-spectrum artery-purifier. Selenium from the garlic works to scoop cholesterol off of arterial walls. Allicin from the garlic works with the onions to raise the levels of HDL transport molecules which carry the cholesterol down to the gall bladder. The high levels of Vitamin C are used to convert the cholesterol to disposable substances. And the glutathione peroxidase made from the garlic along with the phytochemicals from the fruit and vegetables all work to magnify Vitamin C’s availability. If there is a single-food defence to heart ailments, kimchi has to be it!
Garlic’s Additional Benefits
And it doesn’t stop there! Garlic has been shown to combat allergies(15), regulate blood sugar levels in diabetics and hypoglycemics(17), and reduce the symptoms of stress(18) (with a concomitant boost in energy).(19) If for no other reason than the use of garlic, kimchi is indeed a food that should be eaten with every meal, just as Grandmaster (the originator of the recipe I have named the “Ultimate Kimchi“) suggests.
As for the myth that you will smell like garlic if you eat a lot of it. It’s not something you have to worry about. Oh, you’ll smell for a little while — that’s because the garlic and onions are powerful anti-toxins, anti-allergens, and anti-biotics. Some of the cholesterol and other junk that is being removed from your system is coming out through the pores of your skin. It’s a good sign, actually, a sign of inner cleansing. As long as you keep your internal environment reasonably clean and you don’t keep polluting yourself with negative emotions, junk foods, alcohol, tobacco, and the like, your system will soon clean up and your body will smell clean and fresh — without deodorants. That’s a promise!
Kimchi Promotes Intestinal Health
Kimchi also works to clean out your system by feeding the lactobacteria and bifidobacteria that live in your intestines. These are the “friendly bacteria” that we need to be healthy. Kimchi nourishes them so they can thrive and outnumber the “unfriendly bacteria” that threaten our health from the inside.
The bifidobacteria that are responsible for producing many of the B-vitamins we need, including the B-12 that is so frequently missing from vegetarian diets. Since the body cannot produce these vitamins for itself, these bacteria are essential for our health.
The lactobacteria prevent flatulence and keep sticky, sludge-like waste matter from accumulating in the intestinal tract, adhering to the intestinal walls, and interfering with nutrient absorption. All in all, the lactobacteria and bifidobacteria are pretty good friends to have around!
Cabbage and Onions
The top two ingredients for promoting the beneficial bacteria and inhibiting the unfriendly bacteria are cabbage and onions.(20) And, according to at least one writer, fermented cabbage is the absolute best. Fermented cabbage! In other words, kimchi! Once the vinegared cabbage has had a chance to age (a day or two in the refrigerator, a few hours at room temperature), the cabbage ferments and produces the nutrients that the lactobacteria thrive on. Even better is the fact that our bodies don’t use these nutrients, so it isn’t absorbed before the lactobacteria have a chance to feed on it! So kimchi not only gives us the nutrients we need now, it strengthens the bacteria that give us vital nutrients in the future and keep our system clean for nutrient absorption! It’s a real health builder!
Cabbage is also a known cure for ulcers. One writer recommends a diet consisting exclusively of cabbage juice for healing ulcers. Grandmaster put one person with advanced ulcers on a kimchi and rice diet. In 3 months, ulcers that had resisted years of medical treatment were completely healed. With kimchi, you get both a protective and a healing effect in the same package.
Since the by-products of digesting meat and dairy products actively inhibit the growth of lactobacteria, and since these substances are largely responsible for the accumulated, impacted debris in the lower intestines and colon, kimchi should especially be eaten with meat. (Dairy products. aren’t great. But when that pizza beckons, it’s good to have some kimchi with it!)
The Quality of Korean Food
It is somewhat enlightening is spend some time reading labels in a Korean food store. It’s astonishing. At most, there are three or four ingredients — all of them natural, all healthy. There are no preservatives, no chemicals, and none of the unpronounceable polysyllabic monstrosities that take up so much space on the average American food label. Want to know why Americans have the highest disease rates among all of the industrialized nations? Look no further. The answer is on the labels. Kimchi fits in with that tradition. It consists of nothing but 100% pure, natural spices and vegetables.
Organic Fruits and Vegetables
It should come as no surprise that the fruits and vegetables that go into kimchi are an important source of fiber, minerals, enzymes, phytochemicals, and vitamins—especially vitamin C. Broccoli is especially important in this regard. Pound for pound, it has more vitamin C than an orange, and it is an important source of minerals and phytochemicals.
However, the vegetables must be fresh and organic, or else they are not nearly as beneficial. The reason: organic soils contain microbes which surround plant roots and bind minerals. That is how plants take them up the minerals. No microbes means no trace minerals, including the important minerals boron and potassium that are found in vinegar, for example. The plants don’t need these minerals to grow, which is why we got away with growing them on nitrogen, phosphorous, and potash for so long. But we need them—our bodies evolved on foods that contain them.
In addition, the foods must be fresh. That is important, because many of the most important phytochemicals don’t form until the final stages of the ripening process, in response to the sun’s light. But getting recently-ripened foods is a problem in today’s nutritional environment. To survive the shipping process, most fruits and vegetables are picked while they are still well short of being ripe. For that reason, quality canned and frozen foods are often better than fresh foods, because they are more fully ripened when picked. But it is still difficult to find organic foods packaged in such a manner, and processed in a way that preserves the food’s healthful qualities.
The Importance of Phytochemicals
Phytochemicals are plant compounds that form to protect the plant from sunlight. They act as antioxidants, and also help preserve and protect Vitamin C. (If you take a Vitamin C supplement, as you should, then you should accompany it with a phytochemical supplement, in a 1:1 ratio.) There are a dozen amino acids, a couple dozen vitamins, and about as many minerals. But there are 2,000 phytochemicals we understand, 200,000 we know about, and more than 2,000,000 possible combinations of the fundamental elements that go into them.
Unrefined Sesame Oil
Much more attention has been given recently to the importance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in health and healing. While omega-3 oils are needed in only very minute quantities, omega-6 fatty acids are needed in much larger amounts for good health. Our very ability to breathe depends on it. Sesame oil is unique in that has the highest concentrations of omega-6 fatty acids. At the same time, the oil contains two natural-occurring preservatives, sesamol and sesamin. As a result, sesame oil is the only oil which has a high percentage of polyunsaturates and also keeps and room temperature. (Olive oil also keeps at room temperature, but it is predominately composed of the omega-9 monounsaturated oil.)
Sesame oil, like all fats and oils, are chemically active. But it is precisely that chemical activity that gives them their powerful effects in our bodies. Their primary action is to combine with oxygen. It’s the fatty acids in hemoglobin that transports oxygen to our cells, and the fatty acids in the cell walls that transport oxygen across the cell membranes. In short, it’s how we breathe.
But when oils and fats combine with oxygen outside our bodies, they turn rancid. In our industrialized attempts to preserve foods so they keep longer, we have been processing and refining oils so that they are no longer chemically active. This process not only removes all health benefits from the oils, it also produces a wide variety of toxic substances known as trans fats, in addition to cross-linked fatty acids and many other adulterated compounds that have never before existed in nature. As companies have become more and more efficient at this, using higher heats and treating the oils with a variety of chemicals (like caustic soda!), they have created ever deadlier versions of these once-healthy oils. Quite simply, they are killing us, albeit slowly. But our disease rates testify to their consequences.
Traditional Korean kimchi was made with naturally pressed, unrefined sesame oil. For your kimchi, you should use the same kind. Look for it in a whole foods store. For more information on this subject, see Oils and Essential Fatty Acids.
Like sesame oil, sesame seeds contain important fatty acids, as well as other nutrients. In fact, seeds and nuts are the best vegetarian source of oils. (Other good sources are fish and egg yolks.) The beautiful thing about seeds as that they keep the oils perfectly preserved in their own tiny package, ready to deliver their nutritional benefit when you munch on them. Roasted seeds are definitely more flavorful, but it may be that raw seeds are more healthy.
Unfortunately, the subject is not entirely clear. Many writers claim that raw seeds contain deactivating enzymes. that prevent the seeds nutritional benefits from being realized. (The idea, apparently, is that the seeds pass through the animal that eats them, rather than being digested, so that they will be propagated elsewhere.) Cooking unlocks these enzymes, but also wreaks havoc on the essential fatty acids.
To date, there is no definitive answer as to whether raw nuts or seeds are better for you. The only thing that is known for sure is that they must be first soaked in water to deactivate the enzyme-inhibitor. But how long? Estimates vary from 1/2 hour to 12 hours. Another interesting question is whether soaking in vinegar has the same effect. There is the question of what happens to the enzyme inhibitor. Those who recommend soaking in water make sure to advise draining off the water, since that now contains the inhibitor. Would that still be necessary if the seed was soaked in vinegar, or would the vinegar itself deactivate the inhibitor? Finally, how important is the inhibitor, anyway, if the seed gets crunched up by chewing?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive information on this subject. It’s not clear whether traditional Korean kimchi used roasted or raw seeds, or which would actually be healthier. Research is required.
The rice vinegar that helps to preserve kimchi also helps with your intestinal health. The enzymes in vinegar are the closest thing there is to our own digestive enzymes. That means kimchi is more fully and completely digested, with less work by your digestive processes.
However, the enzymes that do the work only exist when the vinegar is not pasteurized. Like the process of oil “refining”, pasteurization is a high-heat process that destroys most of the food’s benefits for the sake of a long-lasting product that never has to be removed from the shelves. In other words, it increases profits, but at the expense of health. For more information on this topic, see Vinegar Notes.
(1) Airola, Paavo. The Miracle of Garlic, Health Plus Publishers, Sherwood Oregon, p. 33
(3) Lau, Benjamin. Garlic for Health, Lotus Light Publications, Wilmont, WI, p. 16
(4) Klein, Louise. “Take Two Onions and Call Me in the Morning”, Bestways magazine, Vol. 17, Sept ’89, p30.
(5) Klein, p. 30 and “Garlic: Modern Application of an Ancient Food,” Total Health magazine, Vol. 12, April 1990, p. 49.
(7) Donsbach & Duarte, Cataracts, International Institute of Natural Health Sciences, Huntington Beach, CA, p. 17
(13) Pauling, Linus. How to Live Longer and Feel Better. W. H. Freemand and Co., NY, p. 61
(14) Lee, Florence. Kimchi: A Natural Health Food, Hollym International. New York.
(15) Lau p. 30, and Airola, p. 29
(16) Matucci-Cerinic, et al. “Effects of Capsaicin on the Metabolism of Rheumatoid Arthritis Synviocytes in Vitro,” Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, Vol. 49, August 1990, p.598
(20) Gray, Robert. The Colon Health Handbook, Emerald Publishing, Reno Nevada, 1990, p. 39.
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