It’s tangy, spicy, pungent and full of flavour - and now, a study suggests that the increasingly popular Korean staple kimchi could help with avoiding obesity.
The study, published in the journal BMJ Open, found that eating a daily portion of kimchi can cut the risk of obesity by 11%. Participants who ate between one and three daily servings of the fermented vegetable dish also carried significantly less fat around their waistlines.
Scientists examined 115,726 participants in Korea with an average age of 51. More than a third (36%) of men and 25% of women involved in the study were classed as obese.
They were asked to state how often they ate a serving of kimchi, from never to seldom, up to three times a day.
Researchers found that those who ate between one and three daily servings of kimchi were less likely to be obese than those who ate less than one daily serving. However, those who went too far in the other direction and ate five or more servings of kimchi a day were more likely to be obese and have a larger waist size.
The higher consumption of kimchi was associated with a higher intake of total energy, carbohydrates, protein, fat, sodium and cooked rice, the researchers said, suggesting that moderation is key. They also acknowledged that kimchi contains high levels of salt, which could lead to an increase in obesity if consumed in excess.
Watch: From kombucha to kimchi: Why you should add fermented foods to your diet
Kimchi is often lauded as a gut health superfood, with experts praising fermented foods like it as beneficial for the gut microbiome.
Previous research has shown that the process of fermentation in kimchi releases gut-friendly bacteria like Lactobacillus brevis and L. plantarum, which have an “anti-obesity effect”.
Commenting on the study, Pat Bingley, co-founder of London-based kimchi makers Eaten Alive, tells Yahoo UK: "It’s great to see the power of kimchi and fermented foods being recognised with scientific evidence to support and broadcast their benefits.
"We were eating these foods for thousands of years, with widely known benefits to wellbeing. Both modern healthcare and food manufacturing have been so focused on microbial suppression, the importance of the microbiome and how we benefit from it got a bit forgotten.
"Now we’re rediscovering that connection and that we're able to support our health with something as simple and delicious as kimchi is great news!"
The most popular type of kimchi is made by slicing napa cabbage - also known as Chinese leaf - and mixing it with other vegetables like Korean radish, spring onions, carrots, and garlic. Gochugaru (chilli powder), fish sauce and other seasonings are added, as well as salt, before the mixture is left to ferment.
However, other types of kimchi are also widely consumed, including kkakdugi (radish kimchi), nabak and dongchimi ('watery' kimchi), and mustard greens kimchi.
The dish is usually eaten as part of a selection of small side dishes, known as banchan. Banchan accompany most meals, which usually consist of rice, soup and main dishes like bulgogi (grilled meat) or jjigae (stew).
Kimchi can also be used in a wide variety of recipes. We’ve collected three recipes that incorporate kimchi to help you add a daily portion into your everyday cooking.
Kimchi and black bean quesadillas by Bold Bean Co
2 tablespoons vegetable or rapeseed oil
150g kimchi, finely chopped
375g black beans (if using jarred beans) or 400g canned black beans
1/2-1 teaspoon chilli powder
2 large tortillas
30g mature cheddar, torn or grated
Small bunch of finely chopped coriander and lime wedges to serve (optional)
1. Heat one tablespoon of oil in a heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat. Add the kimchi and stir for two to three minutes until some of it starts to catch at the bottom. At this point, add the black beans, along with one tablespoon of their bean stock or water if the mixture is too dry. Add the chilli powder and stir to combine, then mash the mixture with a potato masher or the back of a fork. Season to taste; if using canned beans, you may need to add more salt.
2. Build the quesadillas. Take one of the tortillas and add half of the black bean and kimchi mash to it, keeping it on one side of the tortilla. Sprinkle over the cheddar and tear over the mozzarella, then fold the other half of the tortilla on top.
3. Add the remaining oil to the frying pan and cook the quesadilla to two to three minutes on each side until browned. Repeat with the remaining tortilla.
4. Serve garnished with the chopped coriander and a good squeeze of lime juice, if you like.
Bold Beans: Recipes to get your pulse racing by Amelia Christie-Miller. Published by Kyle Books.
Kimchi fried rice by Yutaka
400g cooked rice
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
100g kimchi, roughly chopped (keep 3 tablespoons of juice from the kimchi for seasoning)
2 spring onions, sliced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1. In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Pour the beaten egg in the frying pan then cook until scrambled. Remove from the pan and set aside.
2. Heat the toasted sesame oil over medium heat. Add the ginger and garlic to infuse the flavour, then add kimchi and fry 1-2 minutes the add kimchi juice in the frying pan then cook over medium heat for 2 minutes until the liquid evaporates.
3. Stir in the rice, cook until the rice has combined with kimchi, stirring often, about 2-3 minutes.
4. Add the scrambled egg, sprinkle the spring onions reserve some for garnishing. Add the soy sauce from the rim of the frying pan, then add stir fry all the ingredients to be seasoned.
5. Serve with some remaining spring onions to garnish.
Cheesy kimchi udon noodles by Dominique Woolf
1 packet of ready-to-wok udon noodles
Neutral oil or chilli oil, to fry
2-3 tablespoons cream cheese
1 teaspoon gochujang (or more to taste)
100-150ml milk (depending on desired consistency)
25g grated cheddar cheese
Sliced red chilli, sliced spring onions and fresh coriander, to serve
1. Blanch your udon noodles, drain and set aside.
2. Add a drizzle of oil to a frying pan or work over a medium-high heat. Add the kimchi and stir-fry for a few moments.
3. Add your cream cheese and gochujang and combine.
4. Lower the heat and add the milk. Combine and simmer for a few moments.
5. Add the cheese, stir until melted.
6. Tip in the noodles and combine
7. Serve with red chilli, coriander and/or spring onion and eat immediately.
Kimchi Pancakes and Dipping Sauce by Nina Matsunaga
For the pancakes:
600g plain flour
80fl-oz ice-cold water (or ice cubes)
3/4 teaspoon salt
400g kimchi, diced, plus 2 tablespoons of kimchi liquid
1 chilli, finely chopped
For the dipping sauce:
120g soy sauce
50g rice wine vinegar
1 1/4 teaspoon gochugaru
5 tablespoons chopped spring onions
12.5g toasted sesame seeds
1. Mix all the ingredients together in a large mixing bowl to form a batter and set aside.
2. Add some vegetable oil to a frying pan and heat.
3. Add about a sixth of the batter mixture to the hot pan and fry the pancake.
4. Flip over when the underside is cooked. If you see the edges on the topside start to cook, that's when it's time to flip.
5. Once cooked on both sides, turn the pancake out onto a plate and cut into wedges or strips and serve with either soy sauce or the dipping sauce.
6. To make the dipping sauce, mix all of the ingredients in a bowl and serve with the pancakes.
Read more about gut health:
The surprising mental and gut health benefits of fermented foods (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)
What your poo can tell you about your gut health (Yahoo Life UK, 6-min read)
How to eat 30 plants a week to boost gut health, according to Tim Spector (Yahoo Life UK, 5-min read)