What are Fermented Foods?
Fermented foods are a special group of foods that have gone through a fermentation process, creating a pickled, or strongly flavored food, drink, or condiment. Unless you are used to these flavors they may take a few samplings to acquire a taste for the food. During the fermentation process natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics.
Natural fermentation of foods has also been shown to preserve nutrients in food and break the food down to a more digestible form. This breakdown of the food combined with the production of probiotics during the fermentation process, could explain the link between consumption of fermented foods and improved digestion.
Some of the most common fermented foods include wine, cheese, and pickles. Cultures around the world have been eating fermented foods for years, from Sauerkraut to Kimichi to Coconut Kefir and everywhere in between. These fermented foods contain microscopic bacteria that are extremely beneficial to the health of the digestive tract. Unfortunately with all of the advances in food processing many of these practices have been lost.
Why eat fermented foods?
Besides the fact that they taste great and really grow on you, there are several great reasons to start making your own fermented foods:
- Probiotics– Eating fermented foods and drinking fermented drinks like Kefir and Kombucha will introduce beneficial bacteria into your digestive system and help the balance of bacteria in your digestive system. Probiotics have also been shown to help slow or reverse some diseases, improve bowel health, aid digestion, and improve immunity.
- Absorb Food Better– When your gut microbiome is functioning properly you will have enough digestive enzymes so that you absorb more of the nutrients in the foods you eat. Add to this a diet consisting of organic fruits and vegetables and you’ll be absorbing more of the live nutrients in your foods.
- Budget Friendly– Changing to a diet of healthy foods can get expensive. Making drinks at home such as Water Kefir and Kombucha cost only pennies per serving.
- Preserves Food Easily– Fermenting food was common for centuries before electricity made refrigeration common. Fermented homemade salsa, sauerkraut, pickles, beets and other garden foods will last for months. This allows you to store these foods for longer periods of time without losing the nutrients like you would with traditional canning.
Top Five Fermented Foods
Kombucha is a tangy and slightly fizzy beverage drink made from fermenting a sweetened tea liquid with the kombucha “mushroom” culture, a thick gelatinous mat made up of multiple species of bacteria and yeasts. It is known to be high in B vitamins, and contains several nutritional elements including amino acids and polyphenols. Kombucha can assist in detoxification and can be a great aid in boosting immunity.
Sauerkraut also referred to as “raw cultured vegetables”. It is made by culturing chopped or shredded cabbage in its own juice or brine solution. Cabbage has naturally occurring beneficial microbes present on its leaves, so no other culture starter is needed. Other vegetables and spices can be added for extra flavor and variety, but cabbage is usually always a main ingredient. The process is very quick and within 4-10 days (or much longer depending on how you like them), the vegetables become slightly pickled, zesty and incredibly tasty.
Sauerkraut, or types of cultured cabbage, originated north of China as far back as 200 B.C. It was introduced to European countries, like Germany where the word “sauerkraut” was coined. Sauerkraut is still used as a pickled condiment served all across Europe, as well as in Asian countries with the popular Korean version known as “kimchi.”
Tempeh is a fermented bean cake that was first introduced on the Indonesian island of Java. Traditionally it was made from soybean, but is often made with a mixed combination of beans and grain. The white mycelium spore, forms the tempeh cake. It can be sliced raw, fried , steamed or served as a meat alternative. You can make it easily using garbanzo beans.
Kefir origionated from somewhere in the Caucasus Mountain region, specifically Armenia, Georgia, Turkey and Iran. It has been considered a sacred cultured food for centuries. It is a tart yogurt-like drink that is traditionally made by fermenting dairy milk, however it can also be made from vegan milk such as coconut and nut milks.
During the fermentation process, kefir develops a complex matrix of beneficial microorganisms that can greatly improve the health of the colon and entire gastrointestinal tract as well as boost immune functions. Providing natural probiotic properties that can be extremely helpful for reestablishing healthy gut flora, drinking a glass in the morning on an empty stomach is especially recommended for those who have a past history of antibiotic use as these drugs tend to kill all microflora in the body.
Miso is a traditional fermented food native to Southeast Asia especially Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia. It is a rich salty bean paste, created by fermenting mashed cooked beans and salt with a culture starter called “koji” or Aspergillus oryzae. Soybean is often the main ingredient found in Asian miso’s, but it can alternatively be made with other types of legumes.
Most people worldwide are familiar with “miso soup”, which is the paste dissolved in hot water heated below boiling temperature to preserve its nutritional components. Containing a certain compound, called dipicolinic acid, miso soup consumption has been proven helpful for chelating the effects of radiation exposure. It may offer protective properties against certain types of cancers, especially breast and prostate.