Pages Navigation Menu

Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Kimchi and Ginseng: The Korean Method of Health Maintenance

(Originally written for the Ulsan Pear in 2004, this article discusses the virus scare of that era – SARS. It’s interesting to note that since the Swine Flu pandemic, the same claims still have some legs. – Editor)

Is there something that Koreans know that the World Health Organization should be told about? Is there a cure for SARS sitting right here in Korea while the rest of the world waits on edge for the next outbreak to occur? Last year’s SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) scares that hit China, Japan, the U.S and Canada had little impact on the lives of Koreans. Not a single person in Korea came down with the dreaded pneumonia-like disease, even though it was hundred kilometers away in China. Multiple people in Japan have also contracted the disease. Why is it that countries on either side of the Korean peninsula have had a number of SARS outbreaks, but not a single case has been diagnosed here? Koreans know. It’s the kimchi. Or at least that’s what they believe.


The logic behind it is not without merit. Kimchi is the ubiquitous Korean side dish of pickled cabbage, garlic and red pepper. It is present at every meal, and is eaten by both young and old. The logic goes like this:

  • All Koreans eat kimchi all the time.
  • No Koreans contracted SARS.
  • Therefore, kimchi prevents SARS.

Although the rules of logic do not specifically work that way, it seems plausible enough. There are several studies on garlic, a prime ingredient of kimchi, and its abilities to produce an anti-biotic, virus-fighting compound called allicin. While several labs and universities around the world have conducted studies on garlic, there is yet to be definitive proof that garlic and kim-chi have a positive effect on viruses such as SARS. Even so, the numbers are hard to deny. Naturally, the claim that kimchi can prevent SARS has given some entrepreneurs additional ammunition to promote kimchi as a preventative for AIDS as well. The logic surely doesn’t hold up here, though. As of December 2003, an estimated 8,300 Koreans had the HIV virus.

Yet another gastric delight that is popular in Korea, is ginseng. Ginseng’s reputation and popularity are unparalleled by any other herb, especially in Asia. Ginseng‘s influence is cumulative and slow, and usually not noticeable within days. Ginseng’s action is also rather gentle, non-specific, and broad, which is the reason why ginseng is a general ingredient for almost every Asian herbal formula. Grab anyone in Asia and ask what to do if you are tired, weak, sick, or want to improve your health and become stronger. He or she will recommend taking ginseng. Hundreds of herbal supplements proclaim that the addition of ginseng will dramatically (choose all that apply to you) improve circulation, act as an antidepressant, increase energy, enlarge the penis, and so on. One of this author’s favorite tag lines on ginseng products is “Enjoy the fresh taste, fill your body with superfluous nutrients.” Whatever ills befall you, there’s sure to be a cure in Korean food, medicine or supplements. After all, Korean culture has been around for over 5000 years. Koreans must know something about staying healthy. However, it isn’t all as good as it might seem. South Korean life expectancy is just 8th in line when compared to its 15 Asian neighbors.

Reprinted from the Ulsan Pear, September 2004