Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Kimchi Against Cancer

"I think kimchi practically defines Korean-ness," says Park Chae-lin, curator of a museum in Seoul dedicated to the fermented cabbage.

According to an L.A. Times article, kimchi is being researched upon for an amazing array of healing properties in South Korea right now, including:

  • The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute created a special kimchi for the prevention of astronaut constipation in space.
  • Ewha Woman's University (Seoul) research said kimchi "lowered the stress levels of caged mice by 30%."
  • The Kimchi Research Institute in Busan gave hairless mice kimchi, which resulted in fewer wrinkles. The Korean government gave the institute $500,000 to make anti-aging kimchi.
  • LG Electronics put an enzyme from kimchi (leuconostoc) in filters for some of its new air conditioners because of the apparent health effects.
  • The Times said that there were rumors that kimchi made Koreans immune to SARS.
  • A kimchi against obesity and another against cancer are under study.

That last one's tough though, because other research says kimchi may actually cause cancer. A South Korean study published, not uncoincidentally in a Beijing, China journal last year, found kimchi and other spicy and fermented foods raised the risk of stomach cancer -- something ten times more common in Japan and Korea than in America.

It might be the combination of salt and red pepper that forms the carcinogen, said a South Korean nutritionist.

But since you have to eat huge amounts of kimchi for an entire lifetime for this to be a factor, I decided to try some here in Brooklyn. It wasn't hard to find -- many bodeagas are run by Korean immigrants. I found some on 7th Avenue in Park Slope: It’s actually quite good. And why not? I like sauerkraut. I found a kimchi recipe online that suggests using sauerkraut as a base – you just add Korean chili powder, sesame oil, and a few more vegetables. There’s a pungent, almost sour cream-like aftertaste to it that isn’t very appetizing though, but it didn’t set in till the third or fourth bite.

I decided to eat my kimchi with a nice cold glass of Jinro a Korean sake-like beverage made from distilled barley, sweet potato, and tapioca. At least that’s what the bottle says. It’s 24% alcohol, making it much stronger than wine but only half as strong as hard liquor. The Jinro website offers this description, charmingly written in very strange English:
“The distilled specialty distinguished with its yellow label makes international sensation with the unique, smooth taste. Smooth and clean tast is easy to drink. Like Vodka or Jin, Jinro Soju has most no taste making it easy to enjoy. Its is relatively low alcohol content helps lessen the burdon on your body unlike most other spirits with much higher alcohol contents. Whether you drink it straight or with a twist of lemon, it will go down very smooth.”
It’s true, it’s nearly tasteless, and that’s too bad. Still, it goes wonderfully with flavorful kimchi.


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