Moving Beautifully Into the Darker Months: The Gut Health Edition Part One
Here in the UK, the air has become crisp and the sunshine brittle. We have started to move into the darker, colder weather. Often, we don’t notice it, but the shift in seasons can have an impact on our mental and physical health – placing increased demands on our immune systems. Maybe we just feel a bit more tired than normal, maybe we find it harder to get through the afternoon without an extra coffee or perhaps we’re starting to catch more sniffles and coughs as the weather closes in.
Photo by Svitlana.
Rather than reaching for stimulants like caffeine or cold and flu tablets, which place an extra stress on our bodies, I wanted to find something that I can do that has a real, evidence based positive impact on supporting my immune system to function at its best.
When it comes to the immune system, it seems that all roads lead to the gut. More specifically, to the gut biome – a community of micro-organisms including bacteria, viruses, and fungi, that live in our digestive tract. For a non-scientist like me, it gives me a bit of funny feeling when I read the scientific literature on the gut micro-biome, which describes it as “multi-kingdom intermediates” and calls us the “hosts”. Anyone want to watch Alien?
Traditional fermentation in Korean. Photo by Photos of Korea.
Simply put, the more diverse the beneficial micro-organisms in your gut biome, the better your health. A healthy gut biome has been linked to the positive outcomes in almost every aspect of human health from bone density to depression.
Artist rendition of gut microbiome.
It’s not going to be a surprise to us to find that the scientific literature tells us that a healthy lifestyle and a diet rich in a diversity of plants leads to a healthy gut biome.
Photo by Jacopo Maia
One relatively easy way to support the health of your gut biome is by eating fibre rich, fermented food and two of my absolute favourites are the Korean national dish kimchi and the fabulous Chinese fermented tea drink kombucha.* In this post, I'll look at kimchi.
Family in Korean making kimchi in bulk.
It’s traditional in Korea to eat kimchi with pretty much every meal. Simply put, kimchi is Chinese cabbage (otherwise known as baechu or napa cabbage) fermented with spicy chili flakes called gochujaru and other vegetables and flavourings. It is a deeply savoury, spicy and warming side dish that brings some excitement to your palate when the weather starts to close in. Eating it regularly, as the Koreans do, improves the health of the gut biome.
While kimchi is widely available in supermarkets, high quality products are often expensive, and cheaper products may contain unwanted additives. Sometimes shop bought kimchi has been pasteurised to support shelf stability – which kills all the microbes and defeats the purpose.
This is my latest batch of kimchi - I've shared the recipe below.
These problems can be solved by making your own. I have researched and developed an easy recipe for creating kimchi at home. I make this recipe twice a month - it always results in a truly delicious outcome and keeps us stocked with enough kimchi to eat every day with enough left over to give to friends.
I’m so happy to share this recipe with you in the hope that it will help support you through the darker months.**
My Easy Kimchi Recipe
The way I create my own recipes is to read a lot of other people’s recipes, experiment with different additions and use what works for me. This recipe is vegan and gluten free – and delicious – so can be eaten by pretty much anyone.***
For the Cabbage
2 large heads of Chinese cabbage – can also be known as Napa cabbage or baeuchu.
1//2 cup of salt.
For the Rice Flour Paste
1 ½ tbsp of glutinous rice flour.****
2 tbsps white sugar
1 ½ cup of water – I use Evian because Oxford water undergoes a treatment process which may include chlorination – which will hamper the fermentation process.
For the Sauce
½ cup of miso paste
1 medium onion, peeled and cut into chunks
15 garlic cloves
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and shredded
½ cup of gochugaru – I buy mine online – but you should be able to get it at any Asian grocery store.
2 cups of daikon radish, shredded
1 cup of carrot, shredded
8 green onions, shredded
Cut cabbage into pieces- by cutting across the cabbage at intervals – then pulling the pieces apart. Traditionally, the cabbage is cut into quarters, length ways. However, I find it’s easier to wash, make and eat when it’s cut the way I’ve suggested.
Discard any bits that don’t look healthy and wash thoroughly – I use normal tap water for washing and it seems to work fine. Coat the cabbage in the salt and leave for 1 ½ hours, turning the cabbage every half an hour.
Combine the glutinous rice flour, sugar and water and cook on a low heat for 8-9 minutes, stirring continuously. Once cooked, set aside to cool.
In a blender, put the ingredients for the sauce (miso, onion, garlic, and ginger) and blend.
Then add the glutinous rice flour mixture and blend again.
Once the cabbage has been sitting for 1 ½ hours, take a piece, rinse it and taste. If it tastes too salty, rinse off the cabbage and let it sit in fresh water for an hour, then test again. If it doesn’t taste salty enough, leave it to sit for another half an hour then taste. Once the cabbage has been salted to your taste, rinse off the salty water thoroughly.
Add the shredded ginger, carrot and daikon to the cabbage and combine well.
Add the gochujaru to the sauce.
Thoroughly coat the vegetables with the sauce.
Then leave, covered, at room temperature for 8-24 hours. Once it tastes good to you, put it in the fridge. Mine lasts me over a week and I have it with every meal. I always have enough to give to kimchi loving friends.
*The term "kombucha" is of Japanese origin. It is derived from the Japanese words "kō" (紅), which means "red," and "cha" (茶), which means "tea." However, the drink itself, as well as its fermentation process, is believed to have originated in China or Sri Lanka. The Japanese term "kombucha" was later adopted to refer to this fermented tea, and it eventually became the common name used worldwide.
** Maintaining impeccable cleanliness when making and storing kimchi is paramount to its safety, flavour, and longevity. Kimchi's fermentation process relies on beneficial lactic acid bacteria, and any unwanted contaminants can disrupt this delicate balance. Scrupulously cleaning utensils, containers, and hands helps prevent harmful bacteria from compromising the fermentation, ensuring a safe and delicious end product. Additionally, a clean storage environment helps preserve the kimchi's quality over time, preventing spoilage or off-flavors.
***While kimchi is generally considered safe and nutritious, there are some individuals who should exercise caution or avoid kimchi completely. The following groups are just some examples of the types of people who should get medical advice before they eat kimchi, including people who:
· have histamine sensitivity, salt sensitivity or high blood pressure;
· have gastrointestinal issues, such as IBS or IBD;
· are pregnant or are breast feeding;
· are taking medication that may interact with fermented food; or
· have extremely compromised immune systems.
****Glutinous rice flour does not contain any gluten. The term "glutinous" here is used in a textural sense rather than to refer to gluten.
Feature image by Alisa Anton.