Fermented foods and beverages

kimchi

Fermented foods and beverages are becoming more popular. However, they have been part of the human diet for centuries and were initially produced as a way to preserve foods, improve flavour, and eliminate food toxins. Today, there is increasing interest in their health promoting benefits. Kombucha, sourdough bread and yoghurt, sauerkraut and kimchi are all fermented foods available in local supermarkets.

What are fermented foods?

Fermented foods can be defined as foods and beverages which have undergone controlled microbial growth and fermentation. Fermentation is an anaerobic process in which microorganisms like yeast and bacteria break down food components (e.g. sugars such as glucose) into other products (e.g. organic acids, gases, or alcohol). This gives fermented foods their unique and desirable tastes, aroma, texture, and appearance.

Fermented foods include cultured milk and yoghurt, wine and beer, cider, tempeh, miso, kimchi and sauerkraut, and fermented sausage. Also, most foods can be fermented from whole foods like vegetables, fruits, cereals, dairy, meat, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, and seeds. Many foods are nutritious in their original form, but through fermentation, they can potentially have additional health benefits – especially when they contain probiotics and prebiotics.

Probiotics

Probiotics are ‘good’ or ‘friendly’ bacteria for the gut, with the most well known being Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium (especially in yoghurt). They benefit the gut by creating a more favourable environment. Probiotics support a healthy immune system, however, some strains may be more effective than others.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics ‘feed’ the gut bacteria, encouraging their growth and survival. These include the non-digestible oligosaccharides fructans and galactans. Good sources include asparagus, garlic, onions, wheat, chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, tomato, barley, honey, rye, and milk (human and cow’s milk). However, most fruits vegetables, and legumes contain some type of prebiotic. As with probiotics, prebiotics have primarily been associated with improving the gut environment.

Fermented foods

Fermented foods have an improved shelf life and provide unique tastes, aroma, texture, and appearance. They also allow us to consume otherwise inedible foods. For example, table olives must be fermented in order to remove their bitter-tasting compounds.

Many health benefits have been associated with fermented foods, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), hypertension (blood pressure), diabetes, obesity, inflammation, and oxidative stress. They have also been linked to better weight management, enhanced mood and brain activity, increased bone health, improved glucose metabolism and reduced effects of muscle soreness after high-intensity exercise. This may be due to the bioactive peptides, vitamins and other compounds produced by the microorganisms involved in fermentation. More studies are required on the health benefits of these foods, however worldwide, fermented foods are being seen as a recommended group of foods to include in eating patterns.

Although fermented foods may sound fancy, the practice of fermentation is actually simple and affordable. It requires only a few ingredients and when done at home, can save a lot of money, while adding variety, new flavours, and interesting textures to the diet. Vegetables such as cabbage, beetroot, radish, turnip, and carrots are some of the easiest foods to ferment at home, as the bacteria living on the surface does the fermenting for you.

Try these recipes, Kimchi, and Pickled vegetables. Watch the kimchi video here and the Pickled vegetables video here.

Research article available here.