Fermented foods have been used for centuries by cultures all over the world and now they’re making a serious comeback. Pickled, fermented, and preserved foods are showing up on the best menus, being touted as superfoods, and receiving praise from a wide range of food and nutrition experts. But what’s so great about the humble pickle? Aside from allowing us to enjoy foods during all seasons and adding a distinct delicious flavor, fermentation offers the benefits of probiotics!
What the Heck is Fermentation?
Fermentation is the chemical breakdown of a food product by converting sugars to acids, gases, and alcohol. Thanks to this process and the bacteria that make it possible, we get yummy foods like yogurt, olives, sauerkraut, kefir, pickles, miso, tempeh, tofu, kimchi, kombucha, sour cream, beer and wine. We also get probiotics or ‘good’ bacteria, which are responsible for exerting all the health benefits. Not sold by the idea of eating bacteria? No need to fear, our digestive systems are already filled with all kinds of creepy crawlers, so the more good bacteria we consume, the more our bodies can use it to keep us healthy.
What are the Benefits of Probiotics?
As always, research is ongoing in this expanding field, but here’s a quick roundup of some of the benefits of probiotics:
1) Bacteria present in fermented foods can help alleviate symptoms of lactose intolerance through their galactosidase activity (that’s the enzyme missing in those with lactose intolerance). Also, fermented dairy products like yogurt and kefir have lower lactose contents, allowing those with lactose intolerance to enjoy them in small amounts. They also have higher concentrations of vitamins such as B12, K, folate and riboflavin- bonus!
2) Preliminary research has shown that probiotics can lower serum cholesterol and blood pressure, therefore helping reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. How this happens is still not clear and more research is needed.
3) Since the intestinal tract has such a large role in the immune system, filling the gut with helpful bacteria helps regulate immunity.
4) Probiotics can be used to treat inflammation as a result of inflammatory bowel disease or inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS).
5) Fermented foods are often easier to digest because the fermentation process breaks down compounds referred to as ‘anti-nutrients,’ which humans cannot easily breakdown themselves.
6) Fermented foods have been found to alleviate constipation and keep things moving smoothly.
7) When good bacteria binds to the urinary and intestinal tract, there’s less space for bad bacteria to do so, preventing bacteria such as E. coli from colonizing in the body.
Now you know the benefits of probiotics. I’m sure you know how to sip wine and snack on pickles, but what are you supposed to do with miso, kombucha and tempeh?! I’ve got you covered. Here are some great recipes to get you started with fermented foods:
Best Fermented Foods
Ready for another bonus? Making your own preserved and canned foods is a simple task you can do in your own kitchen. In fact, it may be a better idea since many commercial products are not actually fermented but rather, just doused in vinegar. Also, a lot of commercial food safety practices have the potential to kill all that beneficial bacteria. There are many types of fermentation, but the basic recipe for preserved foods is to completely submerge (no air!) any vegetable or fruit in salty brine with your choice of seasonings, seal the jar and let it sit. Other fermented foods like yogurt and kombucha require a starter culture, which you can buy, or just use some of the existing product to start off the process. Here are some DIY fermentation recipes to bring out your inner food chemist:
Are you convinced by the benefits of probiotics? Have you ever tried your own home fermenting? Leave me a comment and tell me about your favorite fermented foods!
Contribution by AK Taster: Olivia Cupido
Abbey Sharp is a Registered Dietitian, an avid food writer and blogger, a cookbook author and the founder of Abbey’s Kitchen Inc.