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Stories on Health
Stories on Korean Food and Health
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Stories on Korean Food and Health
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Korea’s Traditional Food

Korea has four distinct seasons and very advanced agricultural culture and technology, so many types of rice and grains were grown and subsequently multiple recipes to cook them as well. Korea also boasts many marine products as it is a peninsula having three coastal areas touching the sea. Korea also has many diverse recipes to cook meat and vegetables as well as recipes using seasonal ingredients. In particular, Korean food is made with utmost care and efforts to maximize the natural taste of the ingredients themselves.

What is Fermented Food?

Fermented foods are the best natural healthy foods as the tastes and smell of the food come very naturally. Key fermented foods recognized all around the world include consumed in villages of the world’ oldest people, wine known to be effective in preventing cancer and aging and soybean paste and kimchi from Korea. Korea’s fermented foods are exceptionally excellent as the culture has long been cherished the benefits of fermented food.

The four distinct seasons of Korea are the perfect condition for food fermentation. Pickling the Korean cabbage harvested in the autumn with lactic acid, the Kimchi can be enjoyed until early next spring as Korea’s best traditional fermented food with unique taste and flavor. As the agriculture industry started off in Korea quite soon, many of Korea’s menus required grain, vegetables, saltiness and meat.

Using salt as the base, we have multiple salt-based fermented foods, including grains, beans, vegetables and fishes. These fermented foods can be stored further and longer, turning them into important food items in the long term.

Our ancestors also produced liquor for various rituals for agricultural prosperity and folk faiths. Thanks to these advanced fermenting and brewing technology, the ferment condiments such as soybean pastes, kimchi, pickled fishes, vinegars and liquors have been an important source of nourishment to us who consume grains daily and quickly became part of our dining culture.


What is Kimchi?
Kimchi is one of Korea’s most representative fermented vegetable foods, reflecting a combination of Koreans’ wisdom and insights. The main ingredients for the kimchi are Korea’s traditional cabbage and white radish, and the minor ingredients are salt, red pepper powder, anchovies, garlic and ginger. There are all mixed to create this incredible fermented and stored food. It is one of the most important foods in the Korean cuisine culture. The saltiness and the taste of multiple organic acid created during the fermentation go harmoniously well along with tastes of spices and soils, making it all the more special.

Nourishing Kimchi
This unique fermented vegetable, Kimchi, is considered excellent in terms of providing nourishment and retaining physiological aspect.

Basic Nutrients of Kimchi
Made by mixing pickled Korean cabbage, white radish and cucumber with many other vegetables and fermented fishes, spices and seasonings, kimchi contains a variety of minerals such as calcium, copper, phosphorus, iron and salt as well as ample dietary fiber.

You can take in amino acid and calcium from pickled seafood, and carotene, complex vitamin B and vitamin C among many other vitamins from the vegetables. Other nutrients created by microorganisms during the fermentation get absorbed into human body. Also, kimchi is low in sugar and fat, making it an ideal food choice for modern-day consumers.

Foods Fermented by Lactic Acid
Kimchi is fermented naturally by lactic acid, allowing for a well-fermented kimchi to contain some ten to 100 more lactic acid bacteria than milk ferments. The organic acids such as lactic acid and citric acid created during the fermentation process help absorb minerals, including calcium and iron into the body.

Physiological Functions

Kimchi is fermented naturally by lactic acid, allowing for a well-fermented kimchi to contain some ten to 100 more lactic acid bacteria than milk ferments. The organic acids such as lactic acid and citric acid created during the fermentation process help absorb minerals, including calcium and iron into the body.

The dietary fiber contained in the vegetables prevents constipation and improves the conditions of intestinal microflora. Also, the lactic acid prevents the growth of harmful microorganisms in the intestines, improving the microflora as well. Some of the substances in the lactic acid are known to enhance anti-cancer effects and immunity-boosting effects.

Besides these nutritional benefits, the spicy capsaicin and other savory flavors contained in the pepper boost appetite by giving kimchi a unique and mouth-watering taste.

Fermented Sauces

In ancient days, our ancestors were extremely keen about making excellent fermented sauces, saying that making them in an improper way can perish the whole family. They painstakingly chose the right place and the right date for making sauces and paid utmost care in storing them right as well. They even relied on some superstitious rituals when making the fermented sauces, such as hanging your socks upside down at your front doors. This shows how much making fermented sauces mattered for our ancestors. Traditionally, you put the soybean paste lump into the salty water, mature the mixture for a while, separating the lump and the fluid and then boil the fluid to make it into soybean sauce and put the lump into a pot to ferment it a bit more to make it into soybean paste. Our ancestors were able to take in dietary fiber, lecithin, fat and protein among other great nutrients from this fermented soybean paste.

Soy Sauce
Definition in the dictionary :
It is made from soybean paste lump. When you put the lump into salty water, ferment it for a while and then process the filtrate to make it into the soy sauce.

Soy sauce is a combination of soybean paste lump, water and salt, and is filtrate extracted while making fermented soybean paste.
Well-boiled beans cultivated by natural fungus and germs form soybean paste in small grain or lump shape. Put the salty water into the container in which this soybean paste is put. After maturing and fermentation, separate the paste and the filtrate. The filtrate becomes the soy sauce and the solid paste becomes fermented soybean paste. Keep fermenting both soybean fermented condiments to use as seasoning.

Soy sauce is a fermented food made of beans rich in protein and amino acid. It is assumed that the sauce was a creation out of necessity as eating meat was prohibited thanks to the prevailing of Buddhism at the time. Soy sauce is a great source of protein and can be stored for a long time, which shows how smart and wise our ancestors were. Both soy sauce and the soybean paste are the favorite condiments for Koreans, always prepared on the table for meals.

Beans are crucial source of supplying protein and fat to Koreans as their staple consists mostly of carbohydrate. The fermented soybean paste has been very valuable condiment for the Korean cuisine in terms of taste and nourishment.

Our ancestors thought making these fermented soy sauce and soybean paste annually was extremely important and one of the most essential family “rituals”. They didn’t know about the microorganism, so for them, the mysterious process of fermenting came across as almost sacred. So our ancestors avoided quarrels or other dishonest behaviors for three days before making the ferments and cleaned themselves thoroughly on the d-day and put Korean paper made of tree bark on their mouths to fend off evils while making the ferments.

Five “Virtues” of Fermented Soybean Paste

Outstanding - it retains its own taste even if it is mixed with other ingredients.
Maintaining- it does not spoil for long.
Neat and Fresh - it removes fishy and greasy smell.
Softening - it relieves spicy and hot flavor.
Harmonizing - it goes well with any other ingredients and food.

Red Pepper Paste
Nearly unprecedented in the history of world foods, red pepper paste contains protein from tasty beans, sugar from carbohydrate ingredients such as sticky rice and barley, and soy sauce, salt and red pepper powder which create colorful and tasteful seasoning and condiment.

Red pepper paste became widespread after growing and distributing of red chili pepper became easier in the mid Joseon Dynasty of ancient Korea. It was an innovative fusion condiment at the time, converging beans for soybean paste and the new red chili pepper.

Dressing and condiment in the western cuisine are mostly confined to salads, but in Korea we not only eat red pepper paste not just with vegetables but put it into stews and use it as seasoning, so the usage is much more versatile and wider.

The red pepper paste has gone through a lot of changes in the history, and now it has adjusted to modern-day people who prefer strong and spicy flavor.

Fast-fermented bean paste
Fast-fermented bean paste use soy beans and many other types of beans and degrade the protein inside with bacillus subtilis. The process creates savory and nutritious protein provider, the fast-fermented bean paste.

Fermented by bacillus subtilis mostly, the fast-fermented bean paste is effective in preventing cancer and suppressing the growth of harmful germs in the intestines. Known as one of the healthiest condiments, it contains the nutrients from the soy beans as well as more powerful substances created by microorganisms.

In the fermentation process, many beneficial substances are created including anti-cancer slime (polyglutamate), immunity boosting high-molecular nucleic acid, anti-cancer browning agent, protein degrading enzyme that works as clotbuster among others. This is mostly done by the microorganism called bacillus, which degrades protein in the soy bean and makes it into smaller amino acids. This in turn improves absorption rate of the nutrients in the fast-fermented bean paste, suppresses the activities of harmful germs in the intestines and enhances anti-bacterial effect against disease-causing germs.

The beneficial germ restrains the activities of putrefying bacteria that generate carcinogens such as ammonia, indol and amine. It also adheres to these harmful bacteria and discharges them out of our system.

Mostly harmful substances are detoxified in our livers, but if the fast-fermented bean paste facilitates the discharging of these toxins, the workload imposed on the liver is reduced, so it helps you recover your stamina and restore skin radiance more quickly and effectively. Rich in vitamin B2 in particular, it boosts the detoxification effect of the liver and protects the liver from alcohol and nicotine. Vitamin B2 is contained in ample amount in beans (0.3mg per 100g of soy beans) but when you boil the beans, the nutrient is reduced to 0.05mg. However, if the beans are fermented, the vitamin jumps to 0.56mg.

The bacillus helps with digestion by generating organic acids and thereby stimulating the intestines. There are many germs in action in fast-fermented bean paste. The flavor and taste of the paste depend on the germ strain for the fermentation. There are multiple strains all of which yield different forms, colors and features. They determine the taste and flavor of the fast-fermented bean paste.

In general, the traditional fast-fermented bean paste is made as follows: the soy beans are put into the water for maceration; put hays in so that the germs in the hays naturally move onto the beans for fermentation. Keep the temperature between 37 and 42 degrees Celsius and 80% humidity. After two or three days, the surfaces of beans get fermented, become brown and white thin sticky threads are created. The more the threads are, the better and more nutritious the bean paste is.

Fermented Fish

Fermented fish is one of the most representative fermented condiments in Korea. This signature condiment is made by fermenting almost all parts of fish with a large amount of salt. Using a variety of fishes as ingredient, the fermented fish has served as one of the most essential condiments and side dishes in the Korean cuisine whose staple is mostly grain.

While fermenting the fishes with salt so as to be able to store it for a long period, a process of self-degradation of protein occurs in the fermented fish, allowing savory taste and texture for the condiment.

Usually, fermented fish is made by adding only salt for the fermentation on a variety of seafood. The history of fish fermentation is extremely long, and now more diverse ingredients are used for fermentation other than fishes, making savory and tasty condiments through lactic acid base fermentation and autophagic process.


Maturing and Fermentation
The fish ingredient and the concentration of the salty water determine the fermentation process as they affect the protein degradation and the growth of microorganisms.

Generally, fishes are fermented in the saline solution of 20% concentration of less, so the growth of germs except salt-resistant ones is impaired and the activities of enzymes inside the fishes can also be slowed.

As for the fermented fishes with grains, they are fermented in the solution of less 10% salt. The lactic acid is generated and the salt-resistant enzymes start working as well, so the alcohol-based fermentation removes fishy odor.

Fish fermentation is usually done in a place with little temperature change, such as cave, and the optimal temperature range is between 13 and 15℃.

Usually the fermentation of fish is done under room temperature and takes between six to twelve months. The recipes of fermenting Korean anchovies, shrimps and pollack roe and the making of fermented sole with grains are as follow respectively:

Pickled Vegetables
Pickled vegetables are made of vegetables harvest during the season when there are a lot of them, store them in soy sauce, red chili pepper paste or soybean paste to eat them during cold seasons when vegetables are hard to get. These types of pickles taste better when they are chopped in pieces and sprinkled with sugar, sesame powder or sesame oil.

Vegetables must be dry or semi-dry in order to stay crunchy and not spoiled. Popular ingredients for pickling include garlic, stem of garlic, perilla leaf, radish, cucumber and deodeok the mountain herb.

There are also lightly-pickled vegetables, mostly using chopped cucumber, radish or young radish. They taste great if you remove moisture from them and stir-roast them with seasoning.

Slow Food

Search for healthy, slow food definitely affected Korea’s food culture as well. These new types of health-improving food are called “slow food” as opposed to the “fast food” deeply rooted in modern day lifestyle.

Fast foods that swept the western cuisine hugely influenced Korea’s dietary life and caused a lot of problems. In Japan for example, the obesity rate doubled since they started importing fast foods.

Fast foods contain extremely little nutrients compared to its high calories, causing nutritional imbalance and loss of function of taste buds because they get used to the artificial seasoning and food additives.

There is also a study that shows children who enjoy fast foods have 40% higher risk of developing atopic dermatitis. The mad cow disease that originated from the U.K. was caused by feeding herbivore cows with animal protein fodder to accelerate their growth.

Fast foods threaten people’s health and even the agricultural industry in local communities in providing various plants and food ingredients because those foods destroy the diversity of tastes.

The “slow food” movement first began in Italy in 1986. It started as foodies in Italy protested against the launch of a McDonald’s in the “Piazza di Spagna” in Rome, arguing that fast foods will destroy the diversity of foods and threaten people’s rights to enjoy diverse foods.

Slow foods are made with ingredients that are grown in the traditional way, so they are nutritious and easy to digest. The key activities of the slow food movement include focusing on reinventing and preserving each nation’s traditional cuisine and using environmental-friendly agricultural produce. Slow foods also have a lot to do with how we eat.

Even though you are served with slow foods cooked authentically, if you consider them as tool for filling your stomachs only and eat them right away, that wouldn’t be considered having slow foods. You should appreciate the efforts made by the cook and savor every bit of the food and its taste to be able to truly enjoy slow foods.

Slow foods ensure not only the joy of cooking the foods and meals but also of enjoying the savory taste. Korea’s signature slow foods would include many of fermented condiments because they contain natural ingredients, they require a long period of maturing and fermenting and they ensure natural taste, fragrance and health.

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