"Superfoods" have been used for centuries in Korea to maintain health and keep the body in balance. In traditional oriental medicine, food and medicine are the same.
This concept is not unknown to me, since when I was a child my grandmother ran a health food store, while our medicine cabinet did not have many medications. Instead, the cupboards were filled with superfoods like apple cider vinegar and cane molasses. I understood, even when I was little, that if I was sick it meant that my body was out of balance, and that eating different kinds of food could make it balance again.
The five elements and flavors
In Korea, a series of foods are consumed in order to maintain health through achieving a balance between yin and yang energy in the body, and between the five elements: fire, wood, water, metal and earth. In traditional oriental medicine they are related to different flavors. The fire element is bitter, the wood element is sour, the water element is salty, the metal element is pungent and the earth element is sweet.
Eunji Lee, an oriental medicine practitioner from the True Maek Academy that I met in Seoul, explained to me how the five flavors relate to the organs of the body. “Sour foods are good for the liver and gallbladder, bitter foods are linked to the heart and small intestine, sweet foods to the stomach and pancreas, spicy foods are related to the lungs and large intestine, and foods Salty are related to the kidneys and bladder.
If one of your organs is diseased, foods made from the same element can help repair it ”. But she says the difficult thing is to diagnose which organ is diseased.
Kimchi is a fermented food made from spicy cabbage and is the most famous dish in Korea. Well fermented, it is bitter, so it is beneficial for the gallbladder and liver. It has vitamins A, B, and C, but more importantly, it contains lactobacillus, a probiotic similar to that found in yogurt.
Probiotics aid digestion, boost the immune system, help efficiently use vitamins, and filter out harmful bacteria or toxins. They are also linked to lowering cholesterol.
Vegetarians should be careful and check the ingredients, as kimchi often contains small amounts of shellfish. Lee says many of its benefits come from the fermentation process, particularly when done in large traditional ceramic pots called onggi.
“The reason why kimchi is a 'superfood' is because when fermented it preserves nutrients and digestive enzymes, and promotes good bacteria (…) The food is still raw or so to speak alive. All these foods breathe through small holes in the ceramic, which allow bacterial growth and controlled fermentation ”.
Korean dishes that contain kimchi are: kimchi jiggae (stew), kimchi pajeon (pancake), kimchi mando (meatballs), and kimchi bokkeumbap (fried rice). Kimchi is a garnish that is eaten with almost every meal in Korea, but is generally eaten with rice. You can make your own homemade kimchi too.
2. Doenjang paste
Doenjang paste is a fermented soybean paste similar to miso. The fermentation process of doenjang paste neutralizes the toxins and anti-nutrients that soy contains. This pasta has a salty taste and is beneficial for the kidneys and bladder.
Doenjang pasta is a great (and relatively cheap) source of protein, and it recently inspired the term "doenjang girl." This refers to young women who eat cheap doenjang stew daily so that they can spend more money on clothes and coffee. Besides being the main ingredient in doenjang jiggae and other stews, it is the main ingredient in ssamjang, a Korean barbecue sauce.
Namul is the Korean word for wild mountain vegetables. Namul vegetables or herbs are often bitter, which is good for the heart and small intestine. Namul can be found in many side dishes served in Korean restaurants, particularly those in the countryside or near the mountains.
It is often added to some of Korea's most famous dishes, such as bibimbap, a combination of rice, namul, kim (seaweed), fermented vegetables, and egg. Older Koreans collect wild namul for use in cooking, they can often be seen in the spring collecting it on riverbanks and by the side of roads. One of the most widely consumed and loved namules is Chinese mugwort, called ssuk in Korean (?). This bitter herb is also used to make rice flavored cakes, garnishes, teas, or soup.
Gochujang is a spicy paste made from chili peppers that is found in a large number of Korean dishes. The spicy taste of gochujang is good for the lungs and large intestine, and it has yang energy.
Gochujang has been a part of traditional Korean cuisine since the 16th century. It helps digestion, making it ideal to eat with meat or foods that are more difficult to digest. Capsacin, a substance found in chili peppers, known to reduce body fat, is used in Korean dishes such as bibimbap (rice with vegetables), tteokbokki (rice cakes in hot sauce), gochujang stew, and bibimguksu ( noodles with vegetables).
Gim, also known as nori, is a type of seaweed and is rich in iron, magnesium, iodine, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin A and C. It is usually seasoned with salt and roasted. Dry, seasoned gim can be found in many Asian grocery stores, but make sure you choose a good brand of the highest quality. Research suggests that gim can help lower cholesterol levels. Since it is salty, it is linked to the kidneys and gallbladder.
Gim is used as a side dish and eaten with rice (very popular with Korean children), it is also used to make gimbap (similar to a nori roll) and is often sprinkled on top of rice dishes or udon noodles.
A balance of flavors to achieve a balance in the body
These Korean super foods, like all super foods, should be eaten in moderation to avoid causing an imbalance in the body and consume a variety of "flavors" to maintain a healthy balance between yin and yang, and among the five elements. Pregnant women should avoid Chinese mugwort unless prescribed by a doctor.
Lee says that Korean traditional medicine not only focuses on food and herbal medicine, but also has a spiritual aspect. "You must maintain an emotional balance to be healthy." During the development of traditional Korean medicine, Korea shared but in turn gained much of its medicinal knowledge from China.
“Traditional Chinese culture produced a deep and rich system of values. For example, the concepts of "man and nature must be in balance", (and must) "respect the heavens in order to know one's destiny."
The five cardinal virtues of: benevolence, rectitude, decorum, wisdom and fidelity, as well as loyalty and filial piety, are essential to recover human nature and morality ”.
The Epoch Times