Cabbage dish gaining popularity as flu-fighter

By Dominique Patton

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Lactic acid bacteria, Influenza

Sales of kimchi, a Korean dish made with fermented cabbage and
spices, are surging after scientists found that a lactic acid
bacteria in the dish helped poultry fight bird flu.

And the research, first reported in February this year, has also prompted interest in Europe's version of the dish - sauerkraut.

When Professor Sa-ouk Kang and colleagues at Seoul National University tested a patent-pending lactic acid bacteria strain derived from kimchi on chickens with the bird flu virus, 11 out of 13 recovered from the disease.

Following this experiment, the results were repeated in a larger study on at least 200,000 chickens in Korean poultry farms fed a culture filtrate of the bacteria Leuconostoc Kimchii​. It has been sold since August to farmers but surging sales in kimchi across Asia suggest that many consumers believe that it might protect them against catching bird flu.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, kimchi exports have risen by 226 tons this year compared to the first nine months of last year, reaching 28,380 tons.

Taiwan's imports are up 72 per cent and Malaysia is importing 150 per cent more.

But Professor Kang told NutraIngredients.com that he has not yet tested the bacteria on bird flu in humans. In a lab experiment, however, it did show a "very potent effect" against human flu.

The researcher still does not know how the bacteria produce this effect. But despite this, media reports in the UK look set to drive sales of sauerkraut, made using a similar process to kimchi.

A number of national media have reported on the Korean research.

A spokesman for Euro Food Brands, the biggest importer of sauerkraut into Britain, said that sales this year are already up around 20 per cent but probably not due to any reported health effects.

"We do anticipate an increase in sales. The Korean process is exactly the same as that for sauerkraut,"​ he said.

Professor Kang said despite this, his research cannot be used to demonstrate similar benefits from sauerkraut.

"I do not know what kind of lactic acid bacteria are found in sauerkraut and all the culture filtrate of lactic acid bacteria reveal no same effect. That means that the effect is strain-specific."

Whether or not sauerkraut does cure bird flu, the dish is said to have a number of other health benefits, including anti-cancer activity, and is also rich in vitamins.

A recent study on sauerkraut by Polish and American scientists concluded that the meal might be the reason for the lower breast cancer rate observed among Polish immigrants in America.

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