Probiotics: Food for Your Gut

Meet Kheedim, “chief minister” of kimchi and the founder of New York-based Mama O’s Premium Kimchi.

Kheedim started making kimchi simply because the the store-bought brands just weren’t up to par with the stuff his mama made him when he was a kid. Because kimchi can only be made in large batches, he started giving some to his friends, who encouraged him to share it with the public. But it's not just a great condiment—kimchi, loaded with probiotics, is seriously next level: It’s good for your gut, your taste buds, and dare we say, your soul. We chatted with Kheedim about just what makes this traditional cuisine so good for you, and the general benefits of eating fermented foods.

What is your personal history with kimchi?

I have been eating kimchi before I could eat kimchi. That is, when I was young, the "regular" kimchi was too spicy for me, so my mom (Mama O) would have to rinse it off for me to eat. I grew away from eating it regularly because it's very labor intensive to make and good kimchi was much harder to find 20 years ago.

I never intended to start a kimchi company. I just needed it for myself and all the stuff in the stores was terrible. My folks lived too far away for me to just pop by and get some kimchi... So I asked my mom to teach me how to make it.     

What is the process of preparing kimchi? What are the common ingredients used?

There are probably over 200 kinds of kimchi at this point. I will talk about how to make baechu (napa cabbage) kimchi, the most common kind. There are two different ways to make baechu kimchi: pogi and mak. Pogi is when you take the whole quarters of brined cabbage and then stuff the individual leaves. This is harder and more time consuming to make. Mak kimchi is when you cut the cabbage into smaller pieces first then mix together with all the different ingredients. 

To make mak (which means fast in Korean) kimchi, you take the napa cabbage, quarter it, and cut the quarters width-wise in about two-inch pieces. Brine the cabbage overnight in salt water. The next day wash the cabbage, then mix with red chile pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, salt, sugar, some green onion and in our case lime juice and cilantro. Fish sauce is added to give it some umami and a bottom note of flavor. You mix it all up and let it sit for at least a day at room temperature. If you like how it tastes, great, throw it in the fridge.  If you want some more tang/acidity leave it out for another day.

Kimchi is traditionally served to complement your meal and is typically served cold. However kimchi jigae (soup) is a delicious way to have kimchi. Especially "old" kimchi, stuff that has been sitting around for a while and might be more fermented than you personally enjoy. Mix with water, heat up, serve with rice. Delicious!

Kimchi has been around for thousands of years. But the red peppers that make kimchi famous have only been around since the 1400s when Columbus brought New World food to Europe. The chile pepper eventually made its way back to Asia via the Silk Road, so in a weird way, kimchi is an American food!

Why are so many Korean foods fermented? What are some of the health benefits of fermentation?

So many Korean recipes are really old and predate manmade electricity—fermenting foods was the best way to preserve them. Fermented foods are good for you for many reasons, it is through the act of fermentation that your food actually becomes healthier. The beneficial probiotics are one of the good things, but it's also the byproducts that make the food healthier. All the B vitamins and calcium are not naturally present in cabbage, but they are the waste products of the probiotics much in the same way yeast produce alcohol.

Some of the health benefits are a healthier microbiome, and improved digestion. Digestion is improved because fermented foods require less energy to break down; fermented food is predigested, meaning things that we cannot break down ourselves has already been done before it hits our stomach.

Kimchi has more probiotics per serving compared to yogurt, per se. However the probiotics are not the same. I have found that I react differently to different probiotics so I like to switch it up and add kombucha and yogurt to my microbiome mix. The more the merrier!

What vitamins are present in kimchi? How does it help to maintain a healthy body?

Kimchi is loaded with B vitamins (which are created through the fermentation process, but are not naturally present in the vegetables) and a single serving contains nearly 25 percent of the RDA of Vitamin C.  So kimchi is excellent for fighting scurvy.

I can't say enough good things about kimchi: Food is medicine. Your health is wealth. You are what you eat. Garbage in, garbage out... The majority of the energy we expend on a daily basis is used to digest what we eat. If you are eating foods that are easy to digest, then you are making it easier on your body and organs. Most people die because some organ is failing them. If we can keep our organs healthy or use them more gently we will last longer.

Eating fermented foods also leads to a stronger immune system, clearer skin, increased regularity, and better health. It goes on and on. Everything starts from the gut! 

Looking for some kimchi of your own? Check out Mama O's products. Interested in reaping the benefits but don't want to make fermented foods part of your diet? Try these Florastor supplements