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In many South Korean households, a meal without kimchi is unthinkable. Koreans eat more than 1.5 million tons of this pickled vegetable dish annually, alongside everything from rice dishes to pizza. A staple for centuries in Korea, kimchi is becoming more widely available in American supermarkets. It’s also easy to make yourself, just in time for cold and flu season.
There are as many reasons to include kimchi in your winter wellness arsenal as there are ingredients. Cabbage is loaded with vitamin C and phytonutrients. Crushed garlic, thought to have decongestant properties, contains powerful antioxidants linked to boosting the immune system and reducing infection.Vitamin-rich hot pepper is high in capsaicin, believed to kill harmful microbes. Rounding out the list, ginger is an Ayurvedic remedy for coughs and colds.
But kimchi’s real cold-fighting power lies in its fermentation process, which produces high levels of beneficial bacteria, or probiotics. Our intestines are home to trillions of beneficial microbes that can be decimated by illness, stress, poor diet, and antibiotics, creating an imbalance in which harmful bacteria reign. Probiotics are said to encourage the growth of friendly microflora, restoring the balance. Though probiotics have proved most effective in treating digestive disorders and yeast infections, evidence suggests that they may boost immunity and shorten the duration of cold symptoms. Some doctors suggest that eating a few bites of probiotic food a day can be beneficial.
For kimchi to be most effective, scientists say, it should be properly fermented and eaten two to three weeks after it’s made, when the lactic acid bacteria and vitamin levels peak.