Fermented foods are becoming more and more popular in the west as people are starting to realise what an important role our gut plays in our overall health and wellbeing. Eastern philosophies and medicine have long been prescribing a diet high in ferments in order to keep our body running efficiently, with probiotic goodness coming from fermented food and drinks creating a happy and healthy gut microbiome. Read on to find out why you should introduce more fermented food into your diet and which ingredients and meals you can enjoy that will help keep your body feeling blissful.
What Is Fermentation?
Fermentation is a process that creates chemical changes in organic products such as food and drink that produces a desirable and healthy result. The process of fermentation does occur naturally in the gastrointestinal tracts of humans (and other animals) but it can also be done as part of the food manufacturing process to create long-lasting pickled products such as kimchi and sauerkraut or probiotic items like yoghurt.
The process of lactofermentation, as it’s also known, sees good bacteria feed on the sugar and starch within the foodstuff, turning it in to lactic acid helping to preserve the product and in turn creating beneficial enzymes, Omega-3, B vitamins and probiotics.
Humans have been fermenting foodstuffs for since the Neolithic Age but it is only more recently that we have begun to understand the health benefits of consuming fermented produce.
Why Are Fermented Food and Drinks Good For Your Gut Health?
One of the main benefits of eating fermented food is that the enzymes and probiotics within these products aid with digestion and help to balance bacteria within your gut. When your gut is then full of this beneficial bacteria (probiotics) your body is likely to have an improved immune system, a well-functioning digestive system and a happy, healthy heart.
Having a lack of good bacteria (or more likely an overgrowth of bad bacteria – aka dysbiosis) is thought to contribute to diseases and conditions such as IBS, Coeliac Disease, POS and even diabetes.
The fermented food is also thought to be more nutritious than their unfermented counterparts as the fermentation process breaks down antinutrients such as phytates and lectins that can inhibit the body from properly absorbing the nutritious elements of foods such as seeds, grains and legumes. Sprouting also helps with this.
In addition, many fermented foods have been found to be rich in fibre, zinc, vitamin C, and other micronutrients that can help to support your immune system and contribute to improved overall health and wellbeing.
What Type Of Food Is Fermented?
It’s important to note that not all fermented food and drink is created equal, so while some fermented foods can be great for your health, you can’t take fermentation as an excuse to drink all the wine and beer and hope for a strong and healthy gut! Below I’ll detail some of our favourite fermented food and drink options so that you can try a few into your diet.
Kombucha is one of the trendiest fermented drinks out there at the moment, with this live cultured drink coming in all types of flavours and colours! Kombucha is created (like most ferments) by using a starter culture which is placed in a tea brew and left to enrich and ferment. This results in a tangy, naturally fizzy drink that is full of health benefits and flavour.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink that has the tang of yoghurt and all the health benefits (and more) of kombucha. Rich in calcium and probiotics, kefir is a great addition to smoothies or as a morning drink, and as the fermentation process helps to break down the lactose it can be a good option for those who are lactose intolerant but who want to try to reintroduce dairy into their diet.
Kimchi and sauerkraut are made from fermented cabbage that creates a natural pickling effect. The flavoursome fermented cabbage is salty and sour at the same time and if you pick a traditional Korean kimchi it will be spicy too! These are wonderful options for those who want to try adding ferments into their diet just by having a little on the side of each meal.
Most people only know miso as a type of soup, but it’s actually a fermented paste that is traditionally made from soybeans. It is known for its rich umami flavour that adds depth to dishes and as it’s quite salty you’ll only need to add a little into your meal while cooking to introduce the benefits of fermentation.
Tempeh is another fermented soybean product that is a favourite among vegans due to its chunky texture and ability to take on flavour from marinades. It has a slightly nutty flavour and texture and is a good source of protein and amino acids.
Yoghurt is essentially fermented milk but to really make the most of the good bacteria you’ll want to look out for yoghurts that mention ‘live and active cultures’ on the label. Coconut yoghurts also contain probiotics and live cultures so can be an excellent alternative for vegans or those who are lactose intolerant.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar is fermented cider that reduces the amount of sugar and turns it into acid. This process aids with digestion, can help to balance your blood sugar, can lower cholesterol and even boosts skin health. Again, you’ll want to seek out raw apple cider vinegar with live bacteria to really reap the rewards.
Douchi is one of the lesser-known ferments that is popular in Asian dishes. Made from fermented black soybeans, douchi offers a savoury, salty flavour with rich probiotic effects and when paired with high-starch carbs like potatoes can make them easier to digest.
We’d love to hear what you think about fermentation and which fermented food and drinks you loved or hated – so let us know in the comments below!