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Kimchi Made With Seafood and Vegan Kimchi Contain the Same Microbes

Over the years I've received many questions about vegan versus kimchi that contains seafood. Are the microbes in the kimchi the same?

One reason this is an important question is because at certain stages of kimchi fermentation the beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus sakei (which treat sinusitis in many people) appears for a time. And during that time when L.sakei is present, dabbing a little kimchi juice in the nostrils helps and treats many individuals with sinusitis. Amazing, yes?

Many people prefer to treat sinusitis with vegan kimchi - which is also my personal preference. I don't want to worry about what is in the seafood used in kimchi. Therefore, it's vegan kimchi for me.

Earlier studies have suggested that even though kimchi is made with cabbage, the L. sakei grows from the surface of raw garlic used in making  the kimchi. From the M.A. Zabat et al (2018) study:

"Because kimchi is made without the use of a starter culture, the raw ingredients play a key role in establishing the bacterial community that is responsible for fermenting kimchi (Jung et al., 2011; Lee et al., 2015)".

"Large amounts of garlic are associated with more kimchi-associated LAB [lactic acid bacteria] in the final product (Lee et al., 2015)." [Note: L. sakei is one of the lactic acid bacteria in kimchi]

This is why the 2018 study, which I just read, is so interesting. The researchers found that both vegan (no seafood)and kimchi made with seafood (e.g., fish sauce) contain the same microbes after fermentation. They may have started out with different populations of microbes, but during fermentation the microbes become similar.

"We found that, despite initial differences in microbial composition between vegan and non-vegan kimchi, there was no notable difference in the final products. Ultimately, the microbial community of both vegan and non-vegan kimchi is dominated by Lactobacillaceae and Leuconostocaceae, and lacks the Enterobacteriaceae found in the fish sauce or miso paste."

Well... that's a relief. What kimchi you choose to eat and use as a sinusitis treatment is personal preference. It's all good. And yes, fermented foods such as kimchi are great for the gut microbiome. They increase gut microbial diversity (good!) and reduce inflammation.

From Physics News: Vegan and traditional kimchi have same microbes, study finds

Good news, vegans: A new study finds that kimchi made without fish products has the same type of bacteria as more traditionally made kimchi. That finding suggests that any "probiotic" benefits associated with traditional kimchi could be present in vegan versions as well.

Along with other fermented foods like yogurt and kombucha, kimchi is surging in popularity as a probiotic food—one that contains the same kinds of healthy bacteria found in the human gut. A traditional Korean side dish, kimchi consists mainly of fermented cabbage, radish and other vegetables. But it's normally made using fish sauce, fish paste or other seafood. That takes it off the menu for vegans, who don't eat any products derived from animals. But in order to appeal to vegan consumers, some producers have begun making a vegan alternative to traditional kimchi.

"In vegan kimchi, producers swap in things like miso, which is a fermented soybean paste, in place of the seafood components," said Michelle Zabat, an undergraduate at Brown University and lead author of the study, which is published in the journal Food Microbiology. "We wanted to know what the effects of making that swap might be in terms of the microbial community that's produced during fermentation."

Working in the lab of Peter Belenky, an assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Brown, Zabat partnered with Chi Kitchen, a Pawtucket, R.I.-based company that makes both traditional and vegan kimchi. The researchers took bacterial samples from the starting ingredients of both kinds of kimchi, as well as samples during the fermentation process and from the final products. The team took additional environmental samples from the factory, including from production tables, sinks and floors. The researchers then used high-throughput DNA sequencing to identify the types of bacteria present.

The study showed that the vegan and traditional kimchi ingredients had very different microbial communities to start, but over the course of fermentation the communities quickly became more similar. By the time fermentation was complete, the two communities were nearly identical. Both were dominated by lactobacillus and leuconostoc, genuses well known to thrive in fermented cabbage. Those bacteria were present only in small amounts in the starting ingredients for both products, the researchers found, yet were the only bacteria to survive the fermentation environment.

That's not exactly what the researchers expected to see. "Miso has a lot of live bacteria in it at the start," Belenky said. "The fact that those bacteria were lost almost immediately during the fermentation was surprising. We thought they'd carry over to the kimchi, but they didn't."

The study looked at only one brand of kimchi, and it's not a sure thing that the findings will to the same for other brands. In fact, researchers point out that the microbial community that dominated the kimchi they tested closely matched the community in samples taken from the production facility. It's not clear from this study whether those bacteria in the environment came from the kimchi or the other way around. It's possible, the researchers say, that the facility provided a "starter culture" that influences the eventual microbial community in the kimchi.

Either way, the findings show that it is indeed possible to make a vegan kimchi that's remarkably similar in terms of microbes to for kimchi that's made with more traditional ingredients. ...

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