Kimchi Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Kimchi

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

If you’ve ever had authentic Korean food, you’ve likely tried kimchi. This staple of Korean cuisine—perhaps the most esteemed and well-known of all Korean foods—is made of salted, fermented vegetables and typically served as a side dish. Though it usually begins with cabbage as its base, dozens of varieties of kimchi exist using other vegetables, such as radish, cucumber, or onion. 

In addition to its popularity as a savory, spicy side dish, kimchi comes with a number of health benefits—especially an abundance of probiotics from its fermentation process. With minimal calories, a low carb count, and zero fat, kimchi can make a healthy choice for just about anyone.

Kimchi Nutrition Facts

Because of the variety of preparations possible for kimchi, nutrition values vary. The following nutrition information for a half-cup (85g) serving of commercially prepared kimchi has been provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 20
  • Fat: 0g
  • Sodium: 290mg
  • Carbohydrates: 4g
  • Fiber: 1g
  • Sugars: 2g
  • Protein: 1g

Carbs 

At 4 grams of carbs per serving—1 of which comes from fiber—kimchi is relatively low-carb. Be aware, though, that many kimchi recipes add sweetener, such as honey or fruit juice, to balance out the dish’s sourness. The more the sweetener, the more the carbs.

Fats 

A simple ingredient list of mostly vegetables makes kimchi naturally fat free.

Protein

Kimchi isn’t exactly a protein power player. A half-cup serving provides just 1 gram of plant-based protein from veggies. However, recipes that include seafood like shrimp or squid will contain higher amounts of this macronutrient.

Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and minerals in kimchi will vary, depending on the vegetables used. A Napa cabbage-based kimchi includes plenty of vitamin C and vitamin K, as well as smaller amounts of iron, calcium, copper, and potassium. A kimchi recipe with carrots, meanwhile, will contain significant vitamin A and one with radishes will supply some folate, potassium, riboflavin, and other micronutrients.

Since all varieties of kimchi are made with salt, sodium is a mineral to watch out for. In just a half-cup serving, you may take in nearly 300 milligrams (13% DV) of your daily sodium.

Health Benefits

Kimchi is not only a popular food but also a versatile one that provides a host of health benefits.

Compatible with Special Diets 

With kimchi’s simple, plant-based ingredients, it’s suitable for just about any special diet. Those on vegan, vegetarian, low-carb, gluten-free, and dairy-free eating plans can all enjoy this tangy Korean side dish.

Probiotics Help Digestion

The lactic acid that ferments cabbage into a piquant side dish in kimchi also provides healthy bacteria that can take up residence in your gut. Consuming probiotics through kimchi promotes smooth digestion and reduced constipation.

May Boost Your Immune System

The probiotics in fermented foods like kimchi not only improve digestion—they may also help your immune function. Some research has suggested that when people stop eating fermented foods, their immune response decreases. Meanwhile, vitamin C in kimchi is a known immune booster. 

May Reduce Inflammation

In a 2015 study, researchers isolated a compound in kimchi known as HDMPPA and studied its interaction with inflammatory proteins. Their discovery? HDMPPA counteracted the proteins' inflammatory effect. This isn't enough to conclude that kimchi always reduces inflammation, but it may be cause for further study.

Could Improve Asthma Symptoms

A 2014 study of Korean adults found that the more kimchi they consumed, the less likely they were to experience asthma. More research is needed to make a definitive connection between kimchi and asthma risk, but these results are promising.

Allergies

Often, commercial and home-prepared kimchi is free of all top eight food allergens—but check ingredient labels to be sure. Many preparations, for example, may contain fish sauce, shrimp, or shrimp paste, which are a no-go for those with a fish or shellfish allergy

Adverse Effects

Though kimchi is a nutritious food with plenty of potential health benefits, for some people, it may come with adverse effects. Depending on its preparation, kimchi may be high in sodium, meaning it might not be the best choice for those on a heart-healthy or otherwise sodium-restricted diet. 

If you’re sensitive to strong flavors, you might simply not enjoy the taste of kimchi. It’s also possible, with its high levels of probiotics, that kimchi could cause bloating or an upset stomach.

Varieties

Traditionally, kimchi is made from cabbage, but a wide variety of vegetables can stand in for this leafy green, from carrots to radishes to cucumbers. Some kimchi recipes include fish or meat for an added oomph as a main dish, while water kimchi is a soup-like version served in broth. The only real “requirement” for kimchi is a base of fermented vegetables—feel free to experiment with innumerable recipes that use alternative veggies, spices, or other additions. 

Storage and Food Safety

When it comes to food safety, fermentation is a tricky beast. You’re not alone if you have concerns about the safety of kimchi. You may be surprised to learn that store-bought kimchi (or homemade kimchi properly canned in a sterilized jar) can be kept at room temperature for up to a week after opening.

If you’d like to hang on to your jar of Korean heaven a bit longer, though, stash it in the fridge, where it will stay fresh for three to six months.

Don’t forget that even when kimchi is bottled or jarred, its beneficial bacteria are still working their fermentation magic! Because the fermentation process is ongoing, kimchi’s taste may become increasingly sour and its texture mushier over time. This doesn't mean the jar has gone bad, though. Kimchi that doesn’t have an odd smell or mold should be good to eat.  

How to Prepare

Making your own kimchi may sound daunting, and while fermentation takes time, the DIY process isn’t that complicated. Select a recipe that begins with vegetables like cabbage, radish, and carrot. Slice the veggies into chunks, then sprinkle generously with salt. Next, leave the veggies to sit in salt (some recipes also call for water) for several hours to allow fermentation. Finally, drain the vegetables of excess water, then add flavoring ingredients like sweetener and spices.

Serve kimchi as a side dish with Korean pancakes, fried rice, or noodles—or make it a meal by itself by adding a protein like fish, meat, or tofu.

Recipes 

 

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