Fermented foods are finally making a bit of a comeback, and just as well—they’re super good for your gut! This is your quick and easy guide to some of the different types of fermented foods, so you can begin experimenting and adding more to your diet—your tummy will thank you for it!
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods have been around since ancient times and traditionally, they were simply the product of a common way to preserve foods. But nowadays, we’ve become a little lazy, we rely on our fridges and freezers to preserve our food instead and have fallen away from the tradition of fermenting foods. As a result, we may be missing out on the crucial health benefits that these processes offer too!
Lactic acid-producing bacteria (LAB) are key to the fermentation process. A number of foods contain naturally occurring LAB, such as the skins of fruits and vegetables. By allowing LAB to multiply (by carefully creating the right conditions), they can produce lactic acid, which helps to lower the pH of the product and act as a preservative. Then, as pH lowers and LAB numbers increase and thrive, the bad bacteria are kept in check.
Why all the hype? Why are they so good for us?
Fermented foods are so special because they help support the balance of bacteria in our intestines, which contain naturally occurring bacteria—billions and billions of them. These bacteria help support the metabolism of sugars and starches in our gut, and are thought to exert positive effects, not only in the gut, but also elsewhere around the body. They are thought to have effects on everything from our mood, to our immune functions and even weight management!
In conditions such as IBS (which as we know is associated with a whole host of horrible symptoms including bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea), dysbiosis, or an imbalance in gut bacteria, is thought to play a major role. So, by supporting your gut bacteria you could well see some positive improvements!
Not only do our good gut bacteria have all these direct benefits, but they also help to make nutrients in the food we eat more accessible. These bacteria work by gently metabolizing the sugars and starches in the food we eat, turning them into lactic acid. By gently breaking down some of the tougher carbohydrate matrixes in the food, they actually unlock some of the nutrients, allowing for better absorption. Pretty neat, huh?
What are the different types of fermented foods?
Dairy products or vegetables are often subject to fermentation as they contain naturally occurring lactic bacteria, although in some cases, a little extra is added to help the process along a bit, but they make great fermenting agents! Some warmth (often room temperature is sufficient) is also a common feature of these methods.
So now that we have an idea of how the process works and the proposed benefits, let’s run through some popular choices of fermented foods. You may even be tempted to try some, or perhaps you’ll find you already have without even realizing it! Remember that many of these are available in your local health food store, and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can make your own at home.
Fermented dairy options
Yogurt is a popular, readily consumed food, but did you know it was fermented? Yogurt is made by fermenting milk, which is gently heated to allow the LAB to multiply and convert the milk sugar, lactose, into lactic acid as they go, hence the mild, sour taste of yogurt.
Kefir can be described as a super-charged, drinkable yogurt. Made by fermenting milk with kefir grains, it contains an extra dose of live bacteria. Once the fermentation process is complete, the kefir grains are strained off leaving a tangy, slightly fizzy milky drink.
Perhaps one of the most well-known fermented products, sauerkraut is made from fermented cabbage. Typically white cabbage enhanced with some salt (another natural preservative to help fend off any bad bacteria), and sometimes some mild spices or fruit. The end product is often delightfully tangy and enriched with LAB—great for your gut!
Originating from Korea, kimchi is similar to sauerkraut and is typically made from salted and fermented cabbage and other vegetables such as radish. It generally packs a bigger punch than regular old sauerkraut and is typically enhanced with stronger flavours such as garlic, ginger and chilli pepper.
Natto is fermented soy beans and quite a delicacy in Japan. With a stringy texture and acquired tastes, it’s not to everyone’s’ taste, but the supposed health benefits are quite impressive, so it might just be worth a try!
A traditional Japanese seasoning, miso is a paste made from fermented soy beans. The soybeans are often fermented with some salt, a type of fungus called koji which acts as a starter culture, and sometimes some other grains. Different variations of miso, such as red or white, depend on whether the beans are initially steamed or boiled and what other ingredients are added.
This time originating from Indonesia, Tempeh is another variant of fermented soy beans. In this case, the beans are binded and packed tightly into a dense block, which is then sliced up.
Pickles, chutneys and more
Generally, vegetables are good fermenting agents, which is why a variety of ingredients can be used, from cabbage to some peppery radish or pickled cucumber.
For all you tea lovers out there—you might want to try this—there’s a healthier, fermented version called kombucha. Originating in China, kombucha is black or green tea which has been gently fermented. Sugar is added to the fermenting mix initially along with some bacteria and fungi that naturally convert the sugars into more beneficial agents. Along the way some natural gases are released which give this beverage a very slightly, fizzy texture.
Fermented vegetable juices
Vegetable juices fermented with lactic acid producing bacteria (LAB) are the perfect addition to your digestion-boosting regime. The bacteria help to convert the natural sugars in the juice into L+ lactic acid. This acts as a natural preservative, so lots of added extras aren’t required, but it also helps support your internal gut environment too! Not to mention, they’re super tasty and nutritious! Browse the Biotta range to find out tasty varieties available.