Food for Thought: Eat Your Kimchi! by Lindsey Huster

Smile for a picture in Korean, and you're likely in for a cultural upshot. One. Two. Three. Kimchi!  In Korea, this ubiquitous fermented cabbage can conjure a native smile faster than any fodder-photo rival. Koreans can smile confidently long after the snapshot, too. This super food is gaining attention for packing one of the healthiest food punches.

Kimchi can be found in any restaurant, grocery store and market.  Fridges with delicate temperature dials are dedicated to the sole preservation of this food group. Korean restaurants offer a small heap as a side dish, or as a main entree in kimchi stew or kimchi pancake. Korean is also favored as a topping for western dishes, including pizza and hamburgers. Such proximity accounts for roughly 40 pounds of kimchi consumed by Koreans each year.  

Travel north or south in this country, and the kimchi assortments continue to surface in clay pots and crock pots. Kimchi from northern parts of Korea have less salt and red chilli, whereas kimchi from the south use a higher amount of salt and chili peppers, as well as brined shrimp or anchovy. Look a little higher, and kimchi can be even found in space.  A milder kimchi (packed with only one-third of the peppery-garlic aroma) accompanied Korea's first astronaut to space in 2008. 

Even with it's indigenous roots in South Korea, kimchi has spread to a global level. Kimchi was selected as an official food for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, and later for the 2000 Athens Olympics.  Kimchi is now exported to around 150 countries worldwide. 

Although this pickled dish is usually comprised of cabbage, the Kimchi Museum has documented over 187 varieties of this food group. The usual fixings for kimchi include radish, garlic, green onions, red pepper, Korean leeks, ginger and shrimp. Baechu kimchi (cabbage) hails as the most common kimchi, while other familiar varieties include ggakudugi (cubed radish), pa-kimchi (scallions) and boochoo-kimchi (cucumber kimchi).  

Before the variety, however, kimchi began as salted vegetables. Kimchi was born in Korea around the time of the Three Kingdoms (313- 668 AD). Since agriculture was the main source of food, kimchi burgeoned into a popular vegetable choice that could be preserved and eaten throughout the wintry months. Around the 12th century or Goryo period, familiar kimchi seasonings began to be widely used in Korea. Finally during the 18th century or Chosun period, kimchi blushed into its recognizable hue with the help of red pepper.
Alongside its rich cultural history, kimchi's nutrion also proves to be tantamount in value. Kimchi is packed with vitamin A, thiamine, vitamin C, riboflavin, calcium and iron. This fermented cabbage also contains lactic acid, which helps with digestion and weakens infections. Kimchi has lactobacilli, which is found in other fermented foods such as yogurt and kimchi; this bacteria has been linked top preventing yeast infections. Kimchi also contains a high concentration of fiber, which is good at preventing constipation. Kimchi may even slow down and prevent cancer growth. In some cases, it is believed that the effects of kimchi can be medicinal. According to a study done by Seoul National University, chickens infected with the H5NI virus, the avian flu, recovered after eating food that contained the same bacteria as kimchi. Later, the Korea Food Research Institute, conducted a similar study which also supported this theory.

Still not convinced? Consider Miuro Yuichio as a palpable example on the benefits of kimchi. In 2003, this 70-year-old Japanese alpinist became the oldest person to summit of Mount Everest. According to reports, Yuichiro regularly consumed a soup mixed with kimchi to remain healthy. Additionally, he carried 60 pounds of the fermented vegetables during his hike.  Perhaps this kimchi moment is a mere happenstance.  Regardless, still consider taking as many forkfuls of this aphorism as possible: eat your kimchi, eat your kimchi, eat your kimchi.

Lindsey Huster a writer who usually hails from Chicago. She enjoys listening to music,wearing cardigans and generally anything vegetarian. 


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