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20131201_101300 As you may have noticed, I write about the beneficial bacteria Lactobacillus sakei a lot. This is because it has turned out to be a great treatment for both chronic and acute sinusitis for my family and others (see post The One Probiotic That Treats Sinusitis). We originally found it in kimchi (it occurs in the kimchi during normal fermentation), but not all kimchi brands. Kimchi is a mix of vegetables (including typically cabbage) and seasonings, which is then fermented for days or weeks before it is eaten.

Why is L. sakei found in some kimchi, but not all? Which vegetable or spice is needed or important for encouraging L. sakei growth? It turns out it is not the cabbage - which is why L. sakei is not found in sauerkraut. A recent study looking at several kimchi samples found that garlic seems to be important for the development of various Lactobacillus bacteria, of which L. sakei is one. The results mean that raw garlic has very low levels of L. sakei, and it multiplies during kimchi fermentation. Note that as fermentation progresses, the bacterial species composition in the kimchi changes (this is called ecological succession). Korean studies (here and here) have consistently found L. sakei in many brands of kimchi (especially from about day 14 to about 2 or 2 1/2 months of fermentation), but not all kimchi brands or recipes. L.sakei, of which there are many strains, is so beneficial because it "outcompetes other spoilage- or disease-causing microorganisms" and so prevents them from growing (see post).

Excerpts are from the blog site Microbial Menagerie: MICROBES AT WORK IN YOUR KIMCHI

Cabbage is chopped up into large pieces and soaked in salt water allowing the water to draw out from the cabbage. Other seasonings such as spices, herbs and aromatics are prepared. Ginger, onion, garlic, and chili pepper are commonly used. The seasonings and cabbage are mixed together. Now the kimchi is ready to ferment. The mixture is packed down in a glass container and covered with the brining liquid if needed. The kimchi sits at room temperature for 1-2 days for fermentation to take place....Kimchi does not use a starter culture, but is still able to ferment. Then where do the fermentation microbes come from?

Phylogenetic analysis based on 16S rRNA sequencing indicates that the kimchi microbiome is dominated by lactic acid bacteria (LAB) of the genus Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus, and Weissella. Kimchi relies on the native microbes of the ingredients. That is, the microbes naturally found on the ingredients. Because of this, there may be wide variations in the taste and texture of the final kimchi product depending on the source of the ingredients. In fact, a research group from Chung-Ang University acquired the same ingredients from different markets and sampled the bacterial communities within each of the ingredients. The group found a wide variability in the same ingredient when it was bought from different markets. Surprisingly, the cabbage was not the primary source of LAB. Instead, Lactic acid bacteria was found in high abundance in the garlic samples

Note that Lactobacillus sakei is an example of a lactic acid bacteria. More study details from  the Journal of Food Science: Source Tracking and Succession of Kimchi Lactic Acid Bacteria during Fermentation.

This study aimed at evaluating raw materials as potential lactic acid bacteria (LAB) sources for kimchi fermentation and investigating LAB successions during fermentation. The bacterial abundances and communities of five different sets of raw materials were investigated using plate-counting and pyrosequencing. LAB were found to be highly abundant in all garlic samples, suggesting that garlic may be a major LAB source for kimchi fermentation. LAB were observed in three and two out of five ginger and leek samples, respectively, indicating that they can also be potential important LAB sources. LAB were identified in only one cabbage sample with low abundance, suggesting that cabbage may not be an important LAB source.

Bacterial successions during fermentation in the five kimchi samples were investigated by community analysis using pyrosequencing. LAB communities in initial kimchi were similar to the combined LAB communities of individual raw materials, suggesting that kimchi LAB were derived from their raw materials. LAB community analyses showed that species in the genera Leuconostoc, Lactobacillus, and Weissella were key players in kimchi fermentation, but their successions during fermentation varied with the species, indicating that members of the key genera may have different acid tolerance or growth competitiveness depending on their respective species.

Although W. koreensis, Leu. mesenteroides, and Lb. sakei were not detected in the raw materials of kimchi samples D and E (indicating their very low abundances in raw materials), they were found to be predominant during the late fermentation period. Several previous studies have also reported that W. koreensis, Leu. mesenteroides, and L. sakei are the predominant kimchi LAB during fermentation (Jeong and others 2013a, 2013b; Jung and others 2011, 2012, 2013a, 2014). 

In case you missed it, Michael Pollan wrote an article about the human microbiome (the community of microbes that live within us) that was published May 15, 2013. Much of the article was about how the modern western diet may not be good for the human microbiome and how we can eat for better gut health. From the NY Times:

Some of My Best Friends Are Germs 

 As part of a new citizen-science initiative called thAmerican Gut project, the lab sequenced my microbiome — that is, the genes not of “me,” exactly, but of the several hundred microbial species with whom I share this body. These bacteria, which number around 100 trillion, are living (and dying) right now on the surface of my skin, on my tongue and deep in the coils of my intestines, where the largest contingent of them will be found, a pound or two of microbes together forming a vast, largely uncharted interior wilderness that scientists are just beginning to map.

Few of the scientists I interviewed had much doubt that the Western diet was altering our gut microbiome in troubling ways. Some, like Blaser, are concerned about the antimicrobials we’re ingesting with our meals; others with the sterility of processed food. Most agreed that the lack of fiber in the Western diet was deleterious to the microbiome, and still others voiced concerns about the additives in processed foods, few of which have ever been studied for their specific effects on the microbiota.

So I gave up asking scientists for recommendations and began asking them instead how, in light of what they’ve learned about the microbiome, they have changed their own diets and lifestyles. Most of them have made changes. They were slower to take, or give their children, antibiotics. (I should emphasize that in no way is this an argument for the rejection of antibiotics when they are medically called for.) Some spoke of relaxing the sanitary regime in their homes, encouraging their children to play outside in the dirt and with animals — deliberately increasing their exposure to the great patina. Many researchers told me they had eliminated or cut back on processed foods, either because of its lack of fiber or out of concern about additives. In general they seemed to place less faith in probiotics (which few of them used) than in prebiotics — foods likely to encourage the growth of “good bacteria” already present. Several, including Justin Sonnenburg, said they had added fermented foods to their diet: yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut. These foods can contain large numbers of probiotic bacteria, like L. plantarum and bifidobacteria, and while most probiotic bacteria don’t appear to take up permanent residence in the gut, there is evidence that they might leave their mark on the community, sometimes by changing the gene expression of the permanent residents — in effect turning on or off metabolic pathways within the cell — and sometimes by stimulating or calming the immune response.

...something a gastroenterologist at the University of Pittsburgh told me. “The big problem with the Western diet,” Stephen O’Keefe said, “is that it doesn’t feed the gut, only the upper G I. All the food has been processed to be readily absorbed, leaving nothing for the lower G I. But it turns out that one of the keys to health is fermentation in the large intestine.” And the key to feeding the fermentation in the large intestine is giving it lots of plants with their various types of fiber, including resistant starch (found in bananas, oats, beans); soluble fiber (in onions and other root vegetables, nuts); and insoluble fiber (in whole grains, especially bran, and avocados).

With our diet of swiftly absorbed sugars and fats, we’re eating for one and depriving the trillion of the food they like best: complex carbohydrates and fermentable plant fibers. The byproduct of fermentation is the short-chain fatty acids that nourish the gut barrier and help prevent inflammation. And there are studies suggesting that simply adding plants to a fast-food diet will mitigate its inflammatory effect.

...I began to see how you might begin to shop and cook with the microbiome in mind, the better to feed the fermentation in our guts. The less a food is processed, the more of it that gets safely through the gastrointestinal tract and into the eager clutches of the microbiota. Al dente pasta, for example, feeds the bugs better than soft pasta does; steel-cut oats better than rolled; raw or lightly cooked vegetables offer the bugs more to chomp on than overcooked, etc. This is at once a very old and a very new way of thinking about food: it suggests that all calories are not created equal and that the structure of a food and how it is prepared may matter as much as its nutrient composition.