Written by Cecilia Snyder, MS, RD — Medically reviewed by Miho Hatanaka, RDN, L.D.
Historically, it hasn’t always been possible to grow fresh vegetables throughout the year.
Therefore, people have developed food preservation methods, such as pickling and fermentation — a process that uses enzymes to create chemical changes in food.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish made with salted fermented vegetables. It typically contains cabbage and seasonings like sugar, salt, onions, garlic, ginger, and chili peppers.
It may also boast other vegetables, including radish, celery, carrot, cucumber, eggplant, spinach, scallions, beets, and bamboo shoots.
Though kimchi is usually fermented for a few days to a few weeks before serving, it can be eaten fresh, or unfermented, immediately after preparation.
This dish is not only delectable but also offers many health benefits (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
Here are 9 unique benefits of kimchi.
1. Nutrient dense
Kimchi is packed with nutrients while being low in calories.
On its own, Chinese cabbage — one of the main ingredients in kimchi — boasts vitamins A and C, at least 10 different minerals, and over 34 amino acids (3Trusted Source).
Since kimchi varies widely in ingredients, its exact nutritional profile differs between batches and brands. All the same, a 1-cup (150-gram) serving contains approximately (4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source):
- Calories: 23
- Carbs: 4 grams
- Protein: 2 grams
- Fat: less than 1 gram
- Fiber: 2 grams
- Sodium: 747 mg
- Vitamin B6: 19% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin C: 22% of the DV
- Vitamin K: 55% of the DV
- Folate: 20% of the DV
- Iron: 21% of the DV
- Niacin: 10% of the DV
- Riboflavin: 24% of the DV
Many green vegetables are good sources of nutrients like vitamin K and riboflavin. Because kimchi often comprises several green veggies, such as cabbage, celery, and spinach, it’s typically a great source of these nutrients.
Vitamin K plays an important role in many bodily functions, including bone metabolism and blood clotting, while riboflavin helps regulate energy production, cellular growth, and metabolism (6, 7).
What’s more, the fermentation process may develop additional nutrients that are more easily absorbed by your body (8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).
Kimchi has an excellent nutritional profile. The dish is low in calories but packed with nutrients like iron, folate, and vitamins B6 and K.
2. Contains probiotics
The lacto-fermentation process that kimchi undergoes makes it particularly unique. Fermented foods not only have an extended shelf life but also an enhanced taste and aroma (11Trusted Source).
Fermentation occurs when a starch or sugar is converted into an alcohol or acid by organisms like yeast, mold, or bacteria.
Lacto-fermentation uses the bacterium Lactobacillus to break sugars down into lactic acid, which gives kimchi its characteristic sourness.
When taken as a supplement, this bacterium may offer several benefits, including treating conditions like hay fever and certain types of diarrhea (12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source, 14, 15Trusted Source).
Fermentation also creates an environment that allows other friendly bacteria to thrive and multiply. These include probiotics, which are live microorganisms that offer health benefits when consumed in large amounts (16Trusted Source, 17Trusted Source).
In fact, they’re linked to the prevention and treatment of several conditions, including:
- certain types of cancer (18Trusted Source, 19Trusted Source, 20Trusted Source)
- the common cold (21Trusted Source)
- constipation (22Trusted Source)
- gastrointestinal health (11Trusted Source, 23Trusted Source, 24, 25Trusted Source, 26Trusted Source)
- heart health (27Trusted Source)
- mental health (28Trusted Source)
- skin conditions (29Trusted Source, 30Trusted Source, 31Trusted Source, 32Trusted Source)
Keep in mind that many of these findings are related to high-dose probiotic supplements and not the amounts found in a typical serving of kimchi.
The probiotics in kimchi are believed to be responsible for many of its benefits. Nonetheless, more research on the specific effects of probiotics from fermented foods is needed (9Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source, 34Trusted Source).
Fermented foods like kimchi offer probiotics, which may help prevent and treat several conditions.
3. May strengthen your immune system
The Lactobacillus bacterium in kimchi may boost your immune health.
In a study in mice, those injected with Lactobacillus plantarum — a specific strain that’s common in kimchi and other fermented foods — had lower levels of the inflammatory marker tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF alpha) than the control group (35Trusted Source).
Because TNF alpha levels are often elevated during infection and disease, a decrease indicates that the immune system is working efficiently (36Trusted Source, 37Trusted Source).
A test-tube study that isolated Lactobacillus plantarum from kimchi likewise demonstrated that this bacterium has immune-enhancing effects (38Trusted Source).
Though these results are promising, human research is needed.
A specific strain of Lactobacillus found in kimchi may boost your immune system, though further research is necessary.
4. May reduce inflammation
Probiotics and active compounds in kimchi and other fermented foods may help fight inflammation (39Trusted Source, 40Trusted Source).
For example, a mouse study revealed that HDMPPA, one of the principal compounds in kimchi, improved blood vessel health by suppressing inflammation (41Trusted Source).
In another mouse study, a kimchi extract administered at 91 mg per pound of body weight (200 mg per kg) daily for 2 weeks lowered levels of inflammation-related enzymes (42Trusted Source).
Meanwhile, a test-tube study confirmed that HDMPPA displays anti-inflammatory properties by blocking and suppressing the release of inflammatory compounds (43Trusted Source).
However, human studies are lacking.
HDMPPA, an active compound in kimchi, may play a large role in reducing inflammation.
5. May slow aging
Chronic inflammation is not only associated with numerous illnesses but also accelerates the aging process.
Interestingly, kimchi possibly prolongs cell life by slowing this process.
In a test-tube study, human cells treated with kimchi demonstrated increased viability, which measures overall cell health, as well as showed an extended life span regardless of their age (44).
Still, overall research is lacking. Many more studies are needed before kimchi can be recommended as an anti-aging treatment.
A test-tube study indicates that kimchi may slow the aging process, though more research is necessary.
6. May prevent yeast infections
Kimchi’s probiotics and healthy bacteria may help prevent yeast infections.
Vaginal yeast infections occur when the Candida fungus, which is normally harmless, multiplies rapidly inside the vagina. Over 1.4 million people in the United States are treated for this condition each year (45Trusted Source).
As this fungus may be developing resistance to antibiotics, many researchers are looking for natural treatments.
Test-tube and animal studies suggest that certain strains of Lactobacillus fight Candida. One test-tube study even found that multiple strains isolated from kimchi displayed antimicrobial activity against this fungus (46Trusted Source, 47Trusted Source, 48Trusted Source).
Regardless, further research is necessary.
Probiotic-rich foods like kimchi may help prevent yeast infections, though research is in the early stages.
7. May aid weight loss
Fresh and fermented kimchi are both low in calories and may boost weight loss (49Trusted Source).
A 4-week study in 22 people with excess weight found that eating fresh or fermented kimchi helped reduce body weight, body mass index (BMI), and body fat. Additionally, the fermented variety decreased blood sugar levels (50Trusted Source).
Keep in mind that those who ate fermented kimchi displayed significantly greater improvements in blood pressure and body fat percentage than those who ate the fresh dish (50Trusted Source).
It’s unclear which properties of kimchi are responsible for its weight loss effects — though its low calorie count, high fiber content, and probiotics could all play a role.
Though the specific mechanism isn’t known, kimchi may help reduce body weight, body fat, and even blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
8. May support heart health
Research indicates that kimchi may reduce your risk of heart disease (51Trusted Source).
This may be due to its anti-inflammatory properties, as recent evidence suggests that inflammation may be an underlying cause of heart disease (52, 53Trusted Source, 54Trusted Source).
In an 8-week study in mice fed a high cholesterol diet, fat levels in the blood and liver were lower in those given kimchi extract than in people in the control group. In addition, the kimchi extract appeared to suppress fat growth (55Trusted Source).
This is important, as the accumulation of fat in these areas may contribute to heart disease.
Meanwhile, a weeklong study including 100 people found that eating 0.5–7.5 ounces (15–210 grams) of kimchi daily significantly decreased blood sugar, total cholesterol, and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels — all of which are risk factors for heart disease (56Trusted Source).
All the same, more human research is needed.
Kimchi may lower your risk of heart disease by reducing inflammation, suppressing fat growth, and decreasing cholesterol levels.
9. Easy to make at home
Though preparing fermented foods may seem like a daunting task, making kimchi at home is fairly simple if you adhere to the following steps (3Trusted Source):
- Gather ingredients of your choice, such as cabbage and other fresh vegetables like carrot, radish, and onion, along with ginger, garlic, sugar, salt, rice flour, chili oil, chili powder or pepper flakes, fish sauce, and saeujeot (fermented shrimp).
- Cut and wash the fresh vegetables alongside the ginger and garlic.
- Spread salt in between the layers of cabbage leaves and let it sit for 2–3 hours. Turn the cabbage every 30 minutes to evenly distribute the salt. Use a ratio of 1/2 cup (72 grams) of salt to every 6 pounds (2.7 kg) of cabbage.
- To remove the excess salt, rinse the cabbage with water and drain it in a colander or strainer.
- Mix the rice flour, sugar, ginger, garlic, chili oil, pepper flakes, fish sauce, and saeujeot into a paste, adding water if necessary. You can use more or less of these ingredients depending on how strong you want your kimchi to taste.
- Toss the fresh vegetables, including the cabbage, into the paste until all of the veggies have been fully coated.
- Pack the mixture into a large container or jar for storage, making sure to seal it properly.
- Let the kimchi ferment for at least 3 days at room temperature or up to 3 weeks at 39°F (4°C).
To make a version that’s suitable for vegetarians and vegans, simply leave out the fish sauce and saeujeot.
If you prefer fresh over fermented kimchi, stop after step 6.
If you choose fermentation, you’ll know that it’s ready to eat once it starts to smell and taste sour — or when small bubbles begin to move through the jar.
After fermentation, you can refrigerate your kimchi for up to 1 year. It will continue to ferment but at a slower rate due to the cool temperature.
Bubbling, bulging, a sour taste, and a softening of the cabbage are perfectly normal for kimchi. However, if you notice a foul odor or any signs of mold, such as a white film atop the food, your dish has spoiled and should be thrown out.
Kimchi can be made at home using a few simple steps. Typically, it needs to ferment 3–21 days depending on the surrounding temperature.
Does kimchi have any downsides?
In general, the biggest safety concern with kimchi is food poisoning (3Trusted Source).
Recently, this dish has been linked to E. coli and norovirus outbreaks (57Trusted Source, 58Trusted Source).
Even though fermented foods don’t typically carry foodborne pathogens, kimchi’s ingredients and the adaptability of pathogens mean that it’s still vulnerable to them.
As such, people with compromised immune systems may want to practice caution with kimchi.
Also, the nitrite content of kimchi varies by the type and how it’s prepared. Depending on the preparation, you can minimize the nitrite content (59).
Furthermore, the histamine content of kimchi varies by the product and how it’s produced (60Trusted Source).
That said, purchasing the kimchi from a reliable source and correctly storing the kimchi can minimize the risk of any adverse effects.
Finally, although people with high blood pressure may have concerns about this dish’s high sodium content, a study in 114 people with this condition showed no significant relationship between kimchi intake and high blood pressure (61).
Kimchi has very few risks. Nonetheless, this dish has been tied to outbreaks of food poisoning, so people with compromised immune systems may want to use extra caution.
The bottom line
Kimchi is a sour Korean dish often made from cabbage and other vegetables. Because it’s a fermented food, it boasts numerous probiotics.
These healthy microorganisms may give kimchi several health benefits. It may help regulate your immune system, promote weight loss, fight inflammation, and even slow the aging process.
If you enjoy cooking, you can even make kimchi at home.