Kimchi Goes to Space....

For hundreds of generations, Koreans have long known their beloved fermented Kimchi was a rich resource of what food scientists today call, “functional properties”. Not only does Kimchi offer antioxidant, antimutagenic, and anticarcinogenic benefits, but also healthy doses of ascorbic acid (anti-scurvy used by ancient sailors), carotene and B-complex vitamins as well as calcium, iron and potassium. It’s all possible because bacteria and fungus, thriving on all fresh fruits and vegetables, breaks down components of the foods through complex biological processes, the most important being a lactic acid producing bacteria, Lactobacillus. Lactic acid gives kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles, kefir, sourdough bread and yogurt their sour taste.

A by-product of fermentation is carbon dioxide, guaranteed to not only increase your carbon footprint (hide your kimchi from any global warming fanatic friends) but also blow up a few Mason jars, faster than a baby spewing milk, if you don’t adequately “burp” them.

And that brings me to the issue of kimchi and space travel.

Koreans say they must eat kimchi wherever they are. When South Korea dispatched troops to the Vietnam War in the 1960s, tearful mothers sent off their sons with clay pots containing homemade kimchi. Soon troopships were filled with the pungent smell of the fermenting cabbage slathered with pepper and garlic.

So it was only natural for Koreans to think that their first astronaut must have the beloved national dish when he goes on his historic space mission in April. Three top government research institutes went to work. Their mission: to create “space kimchi”.

Concerned the bubbling, spewing, exploding fermentation process might mess up spacecraft controls, (I can vouch for it sticking to cabinets and ceilings), Koreans set out to create space-safe kimchi. The best way to accomplish that? Kill off the bacteria responsible for the fermentation process.

The key was how to make a bacteria-free kimchi while retaining its unique taste, color and texture,” said Lee Ju Woon at the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute, who began working on the newfangled kimchi in 2003 with samples provided by his mother

Ordinary kimchi is teeming with microbes, like lactic acid bacteria, which help fermentation. On Earth they are harmless, but scientists fear they could turn dangerous in space if cosmic rays cause them to mutate. Another problem is that kimchi has a short shelf life, especially when temperatures fluctuate rapidly, as they do in space.

Imagine if a bag of kimchi starts fermenting and bubbling out of control and bursts all over the sensitive equipment of the spaceship,” Lee said.

Lee’s team found a way to kill the bacteria with radiation while retaining 90 percent of the original taste. Lee’s space kimchi comes in cans, whereas the Korea Food Research Institute’s version, developed by Kim’s team using a different technology to control the fermentation process, comes in a plastic package.

Not only did they annihilate Lactobacillus, but also leuconostoc mesenteroides, pediococcus cerevisiae, streptococcus lactis, and bifidobacterium bifidus – all bacteria appreciated for numerous nutritional benefits including probiotic benefits. They are what make kimchi, or any other fermented food into nutritionally-dense, multi-purpose, whole, raw, living foods delivering a wide variety of microflora and nutrients in every serving.

In addition to losing all of its nutritional punch, Korean space kimchi also lost one other thing, which some (raising hand) might say is not a bad thing. It lost its smell because the particular bacteria responsible for creating its unique aroma was also killed in the process.

That’s just so…..American…..for the Koreans to feel pride, having spent millions of dollars, turning an amazing health food treasured by generations of their ancestors into a “safe” version that isn’t even in the same nutritional universe.

-Sharon

Interested in making your own kimchi? Read my friend Suzanne’s blog on her kimchi making adventures, which includes a recipe. She’s Queen of Kimchi in my book, being determined to try as many variations as possible.

LoveThatKimchi.com – recipes galore! There’s more to kimchi than cabbage

Kimchi goes to space, along with first Korean astronaut

Korea Net – Kimchi Picked as One of World’s Five Healthiest Foods

Kimchi Sales Rise on Link to Possible Bird Flu Cure

Superfoods – World’s Healthiest Foods, Kimchi

Science of Fermentation