Learn why everyone needs fermented foods in their daily life for optimal health and gut function, and how to make your own at home!
I’ve loved kimchi and all fermented foods ever since I realized what they were, their health benefits, and the amazing flavor. Starting off, many of you may be reading this title even wondering how to pronounce this recipe, it’s called kimchi (kim-chee); and second, some of you may already be looking for the exit button as soon as I mention the word fermented.
I get it, the word fermented for whatever reason has a negative connotation and many of us immediately turn up our noses and freak out a little bit. We all need to take a second here and befriend the word FERMENTED and learn what fermentation is all about. Other cultures, especially asian cultures where fermented foods are as essential to a meal as bread rolls are to us here in the US, embrace fermented foods and their impact on ones health.
What exactly is fermentation? Fermentation is simply a process where a carbohydrate is converted into an acid or an alcohol, it involves live bacteria and often results in higher yields of good bacteria, probiotics! Probiotics are the good guys, they’re the bacteria army you want on your side and you want to keep their home (your gut) thriving with food for them to grow (prebiotics) and in balance with the natural and normal occurring bad bacteria and yeast to create a happy ecosystem. I’ve spoken in depth about probiotics here, but just to quickly recap why everyone can benefit from consuming probiotics: regular bowel movements, more efficient digestion (i.e. absorbing nutrients from our food), higher immune function, lower digestive disease prevalence, producing nutrients, depression and mental health, aids our body in healing any gut abnormalities (such as leaky gut), may improve skin conditions (such as acne, psoriasis, etc.) and helps stabilize blood sugar levels.
Many of you might be thinking, well can’t I just take a probiotic capsule? Yes, you could certainly do that, but I always recommend getting your probiotics and nutrients from food- and besides, I know I’d much rather eat something incredibly delicious and more affordable than pop a pill. We need to learn how to embrace fermented foods as their own “food group” and treat it with importance just like we do any other food group, macronutrient and micronutrient. Our digestive system and gut health is vital to our overall health- I don’t know how I can stress the importance of this concept any more. I repeat, our gut health and internal ecosystem is vital to our health; therefore taking care of it by providing it with whole foods to create the food (prebiotics) that the bacteria can consume and thrive in our gut is SO important!
Bacteria is the beez neez- yeah I said it! It truly is an amazing colony of microorganisms that we all already have living in our bodies and guts, yet most of us don’t nearly have as many of the good guys as we need. During the fermentation process lactic acid is created by the natural sugars found in whatever is being fermented (cabbage, cucumbers, peppers), feeds the bacteria which is then converted to lactic acid. Lactic acid specifically is also is responsible for giving that “sour” or “tang” taste to sourdough bread, pickles, sauerkraut, and of course kimchi. It’s also a natural preservative and the reason fermented foods keep so well for a long time!
Truthfully, I love eating kimchi right out of the jar with a fork as a random snack throughout the day or while I’m preparing lunch or dinner, but you can enjoy it in so many ways. I often find myself adding it to salads just as you would any other topping, to sandwiches for a little kick of heat, dolloped onto cooked gluten free grains like quinoa, millet, amaranth, brown rice, or in pasta. Traditionally, kimchi is used as a condiment like most other fermented foods are, so use it wherever you enjoy most. Also, traditional kimchi is made with soy sauce and fish sauce, both of which are not gluten free nor vegan- my version is both gluten free and vegan!
Making kimchi is a bit of a process, yet is completely fruitful and simple when you break it down. The actual prep time of kimchi, i.e. chopping veggies and gathering spices isn’t where this is so much a process as playing the waiting game is. Kimchi isn’t a dish you can prepare and enjoy right away, it’s one that needs time, love and care for it to ferment well. I typically will make large batches of kimchi at the start of each month to have enough to last me 2-4 weeks depending on how often I use it. If you’re starting out with making fermented foods I recommend making a smaller amount to get used to the process and the flavors you enjoy.
Kimchi can be as mild in heat as you like or as spicy as you like- I enjoy it most on the spicier side. Herbs and spices that you’ll need to make kimchi are ones that are found in almost every whole food pantry! My version of kimchi is quite different than most, I incorporate very strong somewhat medicinal ingredients such as higher ratios of ginger root, garlic, turmeric, beets, and even kale! This version is incredibly pungent and spicy, if you don’t like spicy simply use half or 1/4 of the amounts of ginger, chili flake, jalapeno and add a bit more honey. Remember, this is YOUR kimchi, make it how you like!
If you love this recipe, I highly recommend fermenting these other vegetables and giving it a go: beets, carrots, cabbage, broccoli, mushrooms, cauliflower, cucumbers, bell peppers, radishes, garlic cloves, onions, hot peppers, and the list goes on!
First, sterilize every piece of equipment you’ll be using (bowl, knives, cutting board, mason jar for storing, etc.); I do this by submerging them in boiling water for about 5 minutes.