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The Wise and Wonderful Chemistry of Kimchi


There is a Korean saying "Food is Medicine". When it comes to kimchi, as we'll see from this and coming articles, this saying is no exaggeration.

The ingredients - which are invariably vegetable-based - are obviously healthy in and of themselves.

But the real benefits happen at the microbiological level.

The key word to memorize is 'lactobacillus' or rather the plural, 'lactobacilli' - as Kimchi has an awful lot of them.

But first things first - what exactly are they?

It's actually quite interesting.

Lactobacilli are a type of friendly bacteria, which normally live inside our body and help keep things working properly.

Specifically, the lactobacilli in kimchi help to cleanse the large intestine by assisting the growth of beneficial microorganisms and suppressing harmful bacteria.

Which means that nutritional benefits aren't just about vitamins and minerals, but actually boosting the maintenance capabilities of the human body.

Wow. Mind. Blown.

To go off on a minor tangent: it is manifestly true that of all possible translations of the word 'kimchi', the most unappealing one - 'pickled cabbage'- happens unfortunately to be the most commonly used in guidebooks.

It is also somewhat misleading, as it implies that kimchi is equivalent to other types of pickled food such as Sauerkraut (Germany), Paocai (China), and Zukemono (Japan).

Kimchi produces greater quantities of beneficial lactobacilli and valuable bioactive substances than any of these.

This is because, as we saw in the previous post, the preparation process for kimchi is fairly elaborate and quite unique.

One experiment in Japan revealed that Korean kimchi contains 167 times more lactobacilli than the Japanese equivalent 'kimuchi'. (Which amongst other things led to an unexpected boom in demand for Korean kimchi in Japan.)

Time for some numbers? I THINK YES.

Unfermented Kimchi (before you store it in jars for the winter) has about 10,000 lactobacilli per milliliter.

When measured after fermentation has taken place, the number goes up to between 63 and 100 million lactobacilli per milliliter.

Up to one thousand times, in other words. Which is a lot.

This explains why the preparation process is as important as the ingredients themselves.

Although they're important, it's not *all* about the lactobacilli.

Measurements show that levels of Vitamin B1, B2 and C increase to as much as double their original amount after 3 weeks, which is also about the time the kimchi reaches its optimal taste.

Now, please go and enjoy some kimchi. When your lactobacilli are nicely replenished, the next post will be waiting for you!

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