Fermented vegetables are in the nutrition and food science spotlight. As probiotics, they have numerous health benefits for your digestive system (aka your gut). And Kimchi and sauerkraut are two popular fermented foods you can find in tons of grocery stores.
But the big question is…
Is one better than the other for your gut?
The TLDR is that there are some differences in the nutrition, but both are good choices for your gut health and overall health.
This post goes over the biggest differences between kimchi and sauerkraut.
But first a quick recap about how probiotics are good for your gut…
Probiotics and Gut Health
Probiotics play an integral role in our overall health, primarily due to their positive influence on our gut. Let’s delve deeper into their benefits.
- Maintaining Gut Balance: Our digestive system houses billions of bacteria. While some bacteria can be harmful, probiotics belong to the beneficial category. Their primary role is to maintain a balanced environment, preventing the overgrowth of harmful bacteria.
- Supporting Digestion: Probiotics assist in breaking down food, aiding in the efficient absorption of nutrients and reducing digestive discomforts. They are particularly beneficial for people with digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Strengthening Immunity: A significant portion of our immune system resides in the gut. By fostering a healthy gut environment, probiotics indirectly help bolster our body’s defenses against illnesses.
- Gut-Brain Connection: Recent research has shed light on the connection between gut health and our mental well-being, known as the “gut-brain axis”. It’s suggested that a well-balanced gut could have positive implications for our mood and cognition.
- Natural Sources of Probiotics: While there are commercial probiotic supplements available, fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut offer a natural, dietary source of these beneficial bacteria.
Probiotics are foundational for various bodily functions. Incorporating them into your diet through natural sources can lead to a healthier digestive system. And of course your overall health.
Now onto kimchi and sauerkraut.
Where Kimchi and Sauerkraut Come From
Kimchi is from Korea. It’s a traditional side dish in Korean cuisine. And it’s a huge deal there. I can’t remember having a single meal that wasn’t served with kimchi.
On the other side, we have sauerkraut from Central Europe. In places like Germany and Poland, sauerkraut is a staple. It’s common in big celebrations and family meals.
Making Kimchi vs. Making Sauerkraut
The main ingredient in both kimchi and sauerkraut is cabbage. Then you ferment them. But even though they’re both fermented cabbage dishes, they come out quite different.
- Starting with cabbage and radish: Napa cabbage (aka chinese cabbage) and dikon radish are best for traditional kimchi. These veggies get a good salt rub. This helps take out water and softens them up.
- Spice it up: A mix of things like chili pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, and sometimes fish sauce or shrimp paste is prepared. This is what gives kimchi its kick. If you have fish allergy and buy pre-made kimchi, check the nutrition label carefully. Most Korean kimchi is made with fish sauce or shrimp paste.
- All together now: The spicy mix is added to the veggies.
- Wait for it…: Everything is put in glass jars, and then it’s waiting time. As days go by, the magic of fermentation happens.
My one and only experience trying to ferment was with kimchi. I was living out in rural Guangdong province with A LOT of time on my hands and thought, “why not make my own kimchi?”. Well…
I put way too much salt in because the recipe didn’t tell me exactly how much salt to use. It was so salty, I swear it burned. Telling beginners to use “enough” is a terrible idea.
So, while I haven’t used this specific kimchi recipe before, it does say how much salt to use if you want to try to make your own kimchi.
- It’s all about the cabbage: Regular green cabbage (also called “white cabbage” or “round cabbage”) is best for traditional sauerkraut. The cabbage is cut into thin pieces.
- Salt time: The cabbage slices get mixed with salt. This draws out water and creates its own juicy mix.
- Pack it tight: The cabbage goes into jars and is pressed down. The goal? Making sure it’s all under its own juice.
- And… patience: Just like kimchi, sauerkraut needs time in its jar. It sits and slowly turns into the tangy treat we know.
My fermentation journey ended after my kimchi debacle, so I’ve never tried to make my own sauerkraut. But if I did, I’d use this recipe. It seems pretty easy. Note–you will need a kitchen scale.
Taste and Texture Profile
- Spicy and bold: Get ready for a party in your mouth. Ingredients like chili peppers and sometimes fish sauce or shrimp paste give kimchi a spicy kick. It’s not just about heat; there’s depth to its flavor.
- Crispy with a bite: While fermentation softens vegetables, a good kimchi retains a bit of crunch, offering a pleasing contrast to its bold flavors.
- Complexity in each bite: From slight sweetness to its tang, and sometimes even a hint of seafood, kimchi layers its flavors, making every bite an experience.
- Sour and tangy: Without the spices and mix-ins of kimchi, sauerkraut leans heavily on its tangy, fermented taste. It’s straightforward, but in the best way.
- Softer, with some give: Generally, sauerkraut has a softer texture than kimchi. It’s tender and easily blends with other foods on a plate.
- Simple yet satisfying: The beauty of sauerkraut is in its simplicity. It’s cabbage and salt. This means it often complements, rather than overshadows, other dishes.
Kimichi is bold and spicy. Sauerkraut is more mild, but it’s a tangy side that complements the main dish.
Health Benefits: More than Just the Taste
Alright, we’ve talked about their origins and flavors, but now we’re diving into the main event. Both kimchi and sauerkraut aren’t just delicious; they pack a hefty health punch.
The fermentation process can increase the nutritional content of foods. So when regular cabbage is fermented, the bioavailability of nutrients (the proportion of that nutrient your body can absorb) and nutritional profile can increase.
- Probiotic Powerhouse: Kimchi is a probiotic. That means it has Fermentation means healthy bacteria, and kimchi is filled with it. KimThese probiotics can aid digestion, balance your gut’s bacterial environment, and even help support immune function.
- Vitamin Boost: Kimchi is a good source of essential vitamins like vitamin C and vitamin K. The fermentation process can also produce certain B vitamins, which are crucial for energy production and overall health.
- Antioxidant Rich: Thanks to ingredients like red pepper flakes and garlic, kimchi is loaded with antioxidants. These compounds help protect the body against harmful molecules called free radicals.
- Low in Calories, High in Fiber: A serving of kimchi is not only low in calories but also rich in dietary fiber, helping you feel full and satisfied.
- Anti-Inflammatory Properties: Some studies suggest that kimchi’s ingredients, especially its spices, can help reduce inflammation in the body.
- Gut Health Guardian: Just like kimchi, sauerkraut is fermented, meaning it’s rich in probiotics. Regular consumption can promote a healthy digestive tract and balance gut bacteria.
- Vitamin C Champ: Historically, sailors ate sauerkraut to prevent scurvy because it’s an excellent source of vitamin C, which is crucial for skin, joints, and immune health.
- Digestive Fiber: Sauerkraut provides a good amount of fiber, promoting regular bowel movements and digestive health.
- Boosts Immunity: The combination of vitamin C, probiotics, and other minerals makes sauerkraut a strong ally for your immune system.
- Bone Health: Sauerkraut contains vitamin K, which plays a role in bone health as it helps in the absorption of calcium, essential for strong bones.
Fermented vegetables–like kimchi and sauerkraut–are also often suggested to people irritable bowel syndrome because of the good bacteria they have. For example, the lactic acid bacteria in sauerkraut and kimchi has immunomodulatory, anti-pathogenic and digestive properties. There needs to be more research on the long-term impact of fermented veg for IBS, but there don’t seem to be any negative affects of fermented vegetables in your diet.
Pairing and Meal Ideas: Fermentation on your Plate
Kimchi and sauerkraut might have originated from distinct parts of the world, but they can both find a home in diverse dishes. Let’s get those taste buds dancing with some pairing ideas.
Kimchi can go on just about anything. Some people think that’s crazy. I think they’re crazy.
I use kimchi like people use sauce for flavor.
- Taco Twist: Swap out your usual salsa or pico de gallo for kimchi on your tacos. It adds a unique spicy and tangy flavor that complements the meaty fillings.
- Burger Buddy: Elevate your burger game by adding a generous scoop of kimchi on top. It provides a zest that contrasts with the savory meat.
- Pasta Punch: Stir-fry kimchi with garlic, toss in some spaghetti or linguine, and finish with a sprinkle of parmesan. You’ve got yourself a Korean-Italian fusion dish.
- Pizza with a Kick: Who says pizza toppings have to be traditional? Add kimchi for an unexpected spicy twist on your next homemade pizza night.
- Breakfast Boost: Mix kimchi into scrambled eggs or toss them in an omelette. Pair it with toast, and you’ve got a breakfast of champions.
- Sandwich Staple: From Reuben to grilled cheese, adding sauerkraut to sandwiches introduces a tangy note that balances out rich flavors.
- Salad Surprise: Mix sauerkraut with fresh greens, tomatoes, olives, and a light vinaigrette. The tang adds depth to the fresh ingredients.
- Soup Star: Drop some sauerkraut into soups or stews. It works exceptionally well with hearty, meat-based broths.
- Hot Dog’s Best Friend: A classic! Top your grilled sausages or hot dogs with sauerkraut for a crunch and tang that’s tried and true.
- Potato Partner: Whether it’s mashed, baked, or roasted, potatoes and sauerkraut are a combo made in culinary heaven.
Both kimchi and sauerkraut are versatile additions to many dishes. Whether you’re sticking to their traditional uses or getting adventurous in the kitchen, these fermented foods
Deep Dive into Kimchi and Sauerkraut Nutrition
- Bioactive Compounds: Kimchi contains bioactive compounds like allicin (from garlic) and capsaicin (from chili peppers). Allicin is known for its antimicrobial properties, while capsaicin can potentially boost metabolism.
- Nutritional value: kimchi is a nutrient-dense food. It’s low in calories, has fiber and is a good source of vitamins and minerals. Vitamins– it’s high in vitamin A, C, and K.
- Minerals: It’s rich in calcium and potassium. Calcium is essential for bones, and potassium for heart health. It’s also high in sodium, so watch how much kimchi you eat. Sodium adds up quickly.
2 tablespoons (28g) is the serving size for most kimchis.
For this Jongga kimchi, each 2 tablespoon serving has:
- 10 calories
- <1g fiber
- 88mg potassium (which is great)
- 200mg of sodium. The American Heart Association recommends eating less than 2300mg of sodium per day.
I know this label doesn’t show any calcium, but kimchi is a good source I swear. In a 1/2 cup serving, there are 48mg of calcium.
(if labels confuse you, check out how to read a food label here)
- Lactic Acid: The fermentation of cabbage produces lactic acid, which preserves the sauerkraut and helps in digestion.
- Isothiocyanates: These compounds, formed during the fermentation process, have been studied for their potential anti-cancer properties.
- Minerals: Sauerkraut is a good source of magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc. These minerals help in various functions from muscle function, bone health to immunity.
- Low in Fat and Calories: A serving of sauerkraut provides essential nutrients without adding many fats or calories to the diet.
Here’s a label from Frank’s Quality Kraut.
In every 2 tablespoon serving you get:
The TLDR on Kimchi vs Sauerkraut Nutrition
Comparing a 2-tablespoon serving, sauerkraut has slightly better nutrition. Kimchi is higher n potassium, but sauerkraut it lower in calories and sodium; higher in fiber, calcium and iron.
The difference in the nutrition of kimchi and sauerkraut aren’t huge though.
Kimchi and sauerkraut are both flavorful nutrient-dense fermented foods. Even with minor differences in the nutrition, both will give you those probiotic benefits you’re after plus support bone and heart health. Be careful with kimchi if you have a fish allergy because many are made with fish sauce or shrimp paste. And be aware of the sodium. But ultimately, choose whichever you think tastes better.