Health Benefits of Kimchi

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on March 26, 2024
6 min read

Kimchi is a salted, fermented vegetable dish that's a staple in Korean cuisine. It was invented thousands of years ago as a way to preserve vegetables.

Kimchi has grown in popularity worldwide. It's a spicy, flavorful food that serves up some health benefits. For instance, it has probiotics, the good microbes that may improve your gut health.

Kimchi ingredients

There are more than 200 types of kimchi with different ingredients and preparation methods, which can affect the taste. But traditionally, kimchi usually includes:

  • Cabbage, radish, and/or cucumber
  • Sweet rice flour or sugar
  • Water
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Scallions
  • Korean red chili paste
  • Fish sauce

What does kimchi taste like?

Some people compare the taste of kimchi to that of sauerkraut, another fermented cabbage dish. But kimchi tends to have a more spicy, tangy, and garlicky flavor.

You may have heard kimchi being called a superfood because of its nutrition. Its main ingredients are vegetables, which provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Cabbage is packed with vitamin K, which helps your blood clot and keeps your bones from becoming brittle. Also, peppers are high in beta-carotene and other antioxidants that may help lessen inflammation in the body. Garlic, which is used to flavor kimchi, contains compounds that may protect against cancer.

Kimchi is a fermented food, so it contains healthy probiotics, such as the same lactic acid bacteria found in yogurt and other fermented dairy products. Research suggests that regularly eating fermented foods, including kimchi, may lower inflammation. It can also strengthen your gut microbiome, which boosts overall health.

Some other health benefits of kimchi include:

Improves digestive health

The fiber and probiotics in kimchi can help you maintain a healthy digestive system. The probiotics in fermented food can help reduce the negative symptoms of many gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome and colon inflammation.

Protects your heart

Probiotics may improve heart health by reducing cholesterol and inflammation. The fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients in kimchi can also help lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, which can boost heart health.

Immune system support

Early research suggests kimchi may strengthen your immune system. The bacteria in kimchi are linked to improved immune function and lower levels of inflammation triggered by diseases. The vitamin C found in kimchi can also help boost your immune health.

Is kimchi good for weight loss?

With only 23 calories per cup, kimchi is a low-calorie food. It also contains fiber, which can help you feel full and ward off hunger. One small study found that eating kimchi as part of a monthlong diet helped people with overweight or obesity shed weight and body fat.

Eating kimchi may also prevent weight gain. Research shows that men who had one to three servings of kimchi daily were 10% less likely to become obese than those who didn’t eat kimchi.

Is kimchi suitable for a keto diet?

Yes, you can eat kimchi on a keto diet. It’s low in carbs, with only one net carb per cup. If you’re on a keto diet, experts suggest you include low-carb fermented foods, such as kimchi, to help keep your gut healthy.

Kimchi is full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can help reduce your risk of getting some serious health conditions such as stroke, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

Kimchi is also an excellent source of:

Kimchi nutrients per serving

A one-cup serving of kimchi contains:

Things to watch out for

Kimchi is high in sodium, with about 500 milligrams per cup. That’s more than 20% of all the sodium that you’re supposed to get in a day. Too much sodium can raise your risk of high blood pressure.

If kimchi isn’t prepared or stored properly, it can cause food poisoning, especially in people who are immune compromised. If you have a weakened immune system, ask your doctor if kimchi is suitable for you.

You can find lots of recipes on the internet for making your own kimchi at home. The steps are generally simple, but they take time. You’ll need around 6-8 hours, plus a few days to allow for fermentation.

To start, the vegetables are chopped and soaked in salt water to draw out moisture. Then they’re rinsed and drained. You’ll use the other ingredients, such as the Korean red chili pepper, garlic, and fish sauce, to create a flavorful paste that’s spread on the vegetables. This mixture is packed into a sterile container and sealed.

Next, the kimchi is left to ferment for 1-2 days at room temperature. If it’s hot outside, it’s better to leave it in the fridge for 3-4 days. After fermentation, store the kimchi in the fridge.

Does kimchi go bad?

Yes, kimchi can go bad. For instance, if it isn’t kept at a cool, stable temperature, it can grow harmful bacteria or mold. Don't eat any soft, slimy kimchi; toss it out.

Kimchi continues to ferment in the fridge, but you can generally keep it for months or even years in the fridge. For the freshest kimchi, eat it within 1 week. After 1-2 weeks, the kimchi will start to taste vinegary and sour. Some people find the sour taste unpleasant, but you can still use it in recipes.

You can buy kimchi in many grocery stores, health food stores, and Asian markets. Kimchi is available in the refrigerated section. You can also find pasteurized kimchi on the regular shelves. They’re treated with heat, so they’re shelf-stable. But they also contain less healthy probiotics.

Kimchi cost

The cost depends on many factors, such as the brand and amount you buy and the ingredients the manufacturer used to make it. As of early 2024, the price varies from about $5 to $25 or more per container. Of course, it’s likely cheaper to make your own kimchi.

Kimchi can be eaten on its own, as a side dish, or as an ingredient in other foods. Its spicy, tangy flavor is an excellent complement to savory foods, and it’s often paired with rice dishes to add contrast to a meal.

What do you eat with kimchi?

In Korea, kimchi is traditionally served as a side dish with steamed rice. It’s paired with soup and other vegetable, meat, or seafood dishes.

These days, some Korean recipes use kimchi as a main ingredient. These include kimchi dumplings, noodles, and these dishes:

Kimchi fried rice. Stir-fry chopped kimchi with sesame oil and onions. Toss with rice, and add a sauce made of red pepper paste and kimchi juice. Serve with toasted sesame seeds and a fried egg.

Kimchi pancake. This simple scallion pancake uses a batter of flour, water, egg, and kimchi juice. It’s mixed with finely chopped kimchi, onion, pepper, and scallions before it’s fried in oil.

Kimchi jjigae. This kimchi stew starts with pork broth. Kimchi, garlic, onion, chili, chili paste, and soy sauce add flavor to this stew. Often, tofu and mushrooms are also added.

Because kimchi has become popular worldwide, it’s used in recipes from other cultures, too. You can add kimchi to sandwiches, hamburgers, quesadillas, tacos, and pizzas.

Kimchi is a fermented vegetable dish that can add a spicy, tangy kick to your meals. Although it can be high in sodium, it also serves up the good-for-you probiotics, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help your body ward off illness and stay healthy. If you haven’t already, give kimchi a try!