Most of us consume fermented foods in some form or the other ranging from dairy products such as yogurt and kefir to pickled vegetables. Perhaps the most common fermented food consumed in the United States is sauerkraut followed by pickles.
What is Fermentation?
Fermentation is the process in which friendly bacteria cause the breakdown of carbohydrates into simpler substances, for example, the process of making beer and wine. Sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, kombucha, and yogurt are all fermented products. Fermentation is an ancient process that has been used for thousands of years to preserve food from spoilage. A variety of bacteria existing within the digestive system is beneficial to our well-being. Not all bacteria are germs, although the layman associates bacteria to germs that must be destroyed. Fermented foods are predigested by friendly bacteria or probiotics, which make it easier for our body to digest and absorb the nutrients. Probiotics can be bacteria, molds, or yeast.
Benefits of Fermented Foods
Probiotics play an important role as part of a healthy diet by maintaining health and preventing disease. Probiotics maintain an inner ecological balance with the intestinal environment and transfer nutrition to parts of the body.
Probiotics benefit common allergies to preventing dental decay to weight loss. Fermented foods are most effective in healing digestive problems. What most of us do not know is that intestinal bacteria affect not only our digestive tract but also our immune and nervous systems. Optimal functioning of immune and nervous system function are enhanced in the presence of friendly gut bacteria. Probiotics in the fermented food help to restore balance caused due to poor diet, stress, bloating, diarrhea, etc. These bacteria boost our immune system to fight disease and build strength.
Some vegetables such as cabbage are packed with nutrients that can be difficult to absorb in its raw state, but making it into kimchi makes it easier to digest and absorb the high amounts of vitamin K and C. Dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and cheese lose considerable amounts of lactose during the process of fermentation rendering it easier to digest and reduce symptoms of lactose intolerance. Fermentation produces anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B complex, and digestive enzymes.
Some other potential benefits include reducing risk of certain cancers, treating colitis, lowering serum cholesterol concentrations, reducing hypertension, and improving female urogenital infections and Helicobacter pylori infections.
Common Fermented Foods
Pickles, sauerkraut, soy sauce, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, buttermilk, yeast, kombucha, tea, are some of the commonly used fermented foods.
How to Ferment Foods
The process of fermentation is very simple and if you ferment your own foods, you can have homemade fermented products handy. Slice or chop the vegetables for fermentation and submerge them in water in a glass or ceramic pot. Never attempt to ferment food in plastic containers as trace amounts of plastic can leech into the fermenting produce. Add salt, weigh the vegetables down, and leave for several days. Spices and any flavoring of your choice can be added as the vegetables begin to ferment. Fermentation begins within a few days and the longer the vegetables are left to ferment, the better they will taste.
Sources for this article include:
- Khani S et al. Probiotics as an alternative strategy for prevention and treatment of human diseases: a review. Inflamm Allergy Drug Targets. 2012 Apr;11(2):79-89.
- Parvez S et al. Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health. J Appl Microbiol. 2006 Jun;100(6):1171-85.