Korean traditional foods as antiviral and respiratory disease prevention and treatments: A detailed review

Trends Food Sci Technol. 2021 Oct;116:415-433. doi: 10.1016/j.tifs.2021.07.037. Epub 2021 Jul 30.


Background: Korean traditional food (KTF), originated from ancestral agriculture and the nomadic traditions of the Korean peninsula and southern Manchuria, is based on healthy food that balances disease prevention and treatment. Fermented foods that include grains, herbs, fruits, and mushrooms are also an important practice in KTF, providing high levels of Lactobacilli, which confer relevant health benefits, including antiviral properties. Some of these probiotics may also protect against the Influenza virus through the modulation of innate immunity.

Scope and approach: The emerging of the COVID-19 pandemic, in addition to other diseases of viral origin, and the problems associated with other respiratory disorders, highlight how essential is a healthy eating pattern to strengthen our immune system.Key Findings and Conclusions: The present review covers the information available on edible plants, herbs, mushrooms, and preparations used in KTF to outline their multiple medicinal effects (e.g., antidiabetic, chemopreventive, antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial), emphasizing their role and effects on the immune system with an emphasis on modulating properties of the gut microbiota that further support strong respiratory immunity. Potential functional foods commonly used in Korean cuisine such as Kimchi (a mixture of fermented vegetables), Meju, Doenjang, Jeotgal, and Mekgeolli and fermented sauces, among others, are highlighted for their great potential to improve gut-lung immunity. The traditional Korean diet and dietary mechanisms that may target viruses ACE-2 receptors or affect any step of a virus infection pathway that can determine a patient's prognosis are also highlighted. The regular oral intake of bioactive ingredients used in Korean foods can offer protection for some viral diseases, through protective and immunomodulatory effects, as evidenced in pre-clinical and clinical studies.

Keywords: Antiviral; COVID-19; Coronavirus; Functional foods; Korean traditional diet; Pathogens; Plant extracts; Respiratory infections; SARS-CoV-2; Viruses.

Publication types

  • Review