On Trend… fermented food

Pickled Vegetables image

Fermented food and beverages are becoming increasingly popular. Have you tried sauerkraut and kimchi recently? Fermented food has been part of the human diet for centuries. It was initially produced to preserve food, improve flavour and eliminate food toxins. Today, more people are turning to this food for its potential health benefits.

What is fermented food?

Fermented food is food and beverages that has 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 food its unique and desirable taste, aroma, texture and appearance. There are thousands of different types of fermented food, including; cultured milk and yoghurt, wine, beer, cider, tempeh, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut and fermented sausage.

Most food can be fermented e.g. whole foods like vegetables, fruits, cereals, dairy, meat, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts and seeds. While these foods are nutritious in their original form, through fermentation, they have the potential to carry additional health benefits.

What are the benefits of fermented food?

Fermented food has historically been valued for its improved shelf life and unique taste, aroma, texture and appearance. It also allows us to consume otherwise inedible foods. For example, table olives must be fermented to remove their bitter-tasting phenolic compounds.

Many health benefits have been associated with fermented food, including reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and inflammation. It also has been linked to better weight management, better mood and brain activity, increased bone health and better recovery after exercise. When looking at heart health, probiotics may help to decrease total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, however, the evidence for this is still very limited.

One explanation for these effects is the production of bioactive peptides, vitamins and other compounds produced by the microorganisms involved in fermentation, and which have key roles in the body, such as blood health, nerve function and immunity.

It’s important to remember that these health benefits are probably dependent on the type of fermented food and microorganisms involved. For example, yoghurt consumption has been associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, while fermented milk that contains Lactobacillus helveticus has been associated with reduced muscle soreness.

How can I eat more fermented food?

The practice of fermentation is simple and affordable. It only requires a few ingredients and when done at home, can save money, while adding variety, new flavours and interesting textures to your 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 making your own sauerkraut, kimchi and pickled seasonal vegetables, including prebiotic-rich foods such as onion and garlic to add flavour and extra health benefits. See the kimchi and pickled vegetables videos on the vegetables.co.nz website.

However, there is no single food that improves our heart health – it is our overall diet that matters. Fermented food is best eaten in the context of a heart-healthy eating pattern that emphasises vegetables, fruit, whole grains in place of refined grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and oily fish.

For a more detailed article about fermented with references visit www.vegetables.co.nz/health/

For videos on how to make pickled vegetables and kimchi go here.

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