Smile at the Camera and Say Kimchi!

By: Caroline Pak, DTR, CSUN Dietetic Intern

Image jinhokim/shutterstock


A dish with over a thousand years of history and tradition is becoming more popular by the day. Kimchi, a spicy fermented Korean dish, is  provided at every Korean restaurant and with good reason.

As South Korea’s national dish, there are more than 200 different types of kimchi in the world.1 It is a combination of fermented vegetables, hot red peppers, garlic, ginger, and other spices.Kimchi is a versatile dish that is added to soups, noodles, meat, and rice dishes to add spice and flavor. While it provides great flavor, it is also packed with health benefits that make it the perfect side dish.

 Health Benefits of Kimchi

Kimchi is a low calorie, low fat, and low cholesterol dish. One half cup of Napa cabbage kimchi has approximately 15 calories, 1 gram (g) of sugar, 0 g of fat, 128 milligrams (mg) of sodium and 1 g of fiber.Those watching their sodium intake should be mindful of their kimchi intake. However, they can still enjoy the benefits and taste as long as they watch their portions. Rinsing kimchi in water will reduce the sodium and spice, but still retain the flavor. This can help those who are looking to reduce their sodium intake and/or prefer the kimchi with less spice.

Along with being a low-fat side dish, its health benefits for the gut are known worldwide. Fermented foods like kimchi are rich in probiotics.2-4 Probiotics are “good” bacteria in the gut that help boost your body’s immune system and decrease the number of pathogens in the gut.3-4 If you want to improve your gut health, probiotics can become your best friend.

Kimchi is rich in 2 specific types of probiotics: lactobacillus plantarum and bifidobacterium bifidum.4 Several studies have indicated that lactobacillus plantarum can improve blood pressure and decrease cholesterol. Other studies have even indicated that consuming a source of lactobacillus plantarum daily can reduce symptoms associated with anxiety, depression, and allergies.Studies have also indicated that bifidobacterium bifidum can improve symptoms associated with eczema, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, and other issues related to the gut.In general, fermented foods such as kimchi are high in probiotics that can help balance the gut microbiota.3-4

As I stated before, kimchi is served as a side dish, but it can also be used to enhance the flavor of a number of dishes. To get you started, I have included a recipe on how to make homemade kimchi. Hint: making kimchi in bulk can be turned into a family activity. Make it into a production line!

Author: Chef Kyle Shadix, MS, RD5
Makes sixteen 1-cup servings

2 heads Napa cabbage, coarsely chopped into 1-inch pieces
3⁄4 cup coarse salt (will be rinsed off)
1 tsp ginger root, finely minced
2 T garlic, chopped
1⁄4 cup red pepper powder
2 T brown sugar
1⁄4 cup fish sauce
4 bunches scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1⁄4 cup sesame seeds (for garnish)


  1. Place chopped cabbage in a container. Dissolve salt in 2 cups of water and pour over cabbage. Mix with hands. Cover mixture and allow it to “pickle” overnight.
  2. Strain cabbage and discard saltwater. In a mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients (except garnish). Pour over cabbage and blend in with hands. Divide mixture among four 1-qt jars or one 1-gallon jar, pressing down firmly to remove air bubbles. Cover and allow to ferment in a 70˚F environment for 24 to 36 hours.
  3. Serve cold sprinkled with sesame seeds. Refrigerate for up to one week.

Nutrient Analysis for 1 cup
Calories: 33; Total fat: 0 g; Saturated fat: 0 g; Trans-fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 201 mg; Total carbohydrate: 4 g; Dietary fiber: 2 g; Protein: 0 g

To spice things up, I have also included a recipe for kimchi pancakes.

Kimchijeon (Kimchi Pancakes)
Author: Bryan Roof, RD, LDN2
Serves 4 as an appetizer

1 cup Napa cabbage kimchi, squeezed dry and chopped (6 oz)
4 scallions, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup mung bean sprouts (1 1/2 oz)
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 large egg
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/2 tsp sugar
1 T olive oil


  1. Stir together in a bowl all ingredients except the olive oil until just combined.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add pancake batter and spread evenly across pan bottom. Cook until the underside of the pancake is well browned and crispy, about 2 minutes. Flip pancake and cook on the second side until well browned, about 11/2 minutes. Flip pancake over once more to recrisp first side.
  3. Turn out pancake onto wire rack and let cool slightly, about 3 minutes. Cut pancake into wedges or squares and serve.

Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 150; Total fat: 6 g; Sat fat: 1 g; Trans-fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 55 mg; Sodium: 390 mg; Total carbohydrate: 18 g; Dietary fiber: 2 g; Sugars: 3 g; Protein: 5 g


  1. Hongu N, Kim AS, Suzuki A, Wilson H, Tsui KC, Park S. Korean kimchi: promoting healthy meals through cultural tradition. Journal of Ethnic Foods. 2017;4(3):172-180. doi:10.1016/j.jef.2017.08.005.
  2. Roof B. Kimchi – Fermentation at Its Finest. Today’s Dietitian. Published March 2013. Accessed January 10, 2019.
  3. Wolfram T. Prebiotics and Probiotics Creating a Healthier You. Eat Right. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Published February 27, 2018. Accessed January 10, 2019.
  4. Ellis E. The Potential of Probiotics | Food & Nutrition | March-April 2018. Food & Nutrition Magazine. Published April 12, 2018. Accessed January 10, 2019.
  5. Shadix K. Korean Food Is Hot. Today’s Dietitian. Published February 2010. Accessed January 10, 2019.

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