In the days before refrigeration, fermenting food was an important way to extend its shelf life and preserve the food. Cultures around the world have been eating fermented foods for years, from Sauerkraut in Germany to Kimchi in Korea, and now eating fermented food seems to be gaining popularity with new products popping up regularly.
What are Fermented Foods?
Fermented foods go through a process of lacto-fermentation in which natural bacteria, yeast or fungi feed on the sugar and starch in the food—this creates alcohol or acids and preserves the food.
What Makes Fermented Food So Special?
Fermentation is special because it creates beneficial enzymes, B-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of beneficial bacteria called probiotics. Fermenting food also improves the absorption of nutrients by making them easier to digest. This improvement in digestion, along with the multitude of probiotics created during the fermentation process, could explain the link between consumption of fermented foods and improved digestion.
Why Eat Fermented Foods?
Fermented foods might be an acquired taste, but if you can learn to like it, there are numerous great reasons to start eating fermented foods:
1. Probiotics – Eating fermented foods and drinks like Kefir and Kombucha introduces beneficial probiotics to promote a good balance of bacteria in your digestive system. Good gut bacteria are critical because nearly 80% of your immune system is located in your digestive tract. This makes a healthy gut a major factor in maintaining optimal health. Probiotics have also been shown to aid digestion and support healthy bowels. If you think you need to heal your gut, check out this proven 4R Program for leaky gut.
2. Makes Food More Digestible & Absorbable – Some foods contain "anti-nutrients," which get their name because they bind with nutrients like vitamins and minerals and will slow their absorption, if not completely prevent absorption. Fermentation breaks down these anti-nutrients so the nutrients within are ready for absorption. You won’t need as many supplements and vitamins, and you’ll absorb more of the live nutrients in your foods.
3. Preserves Food Easily– Homemade salsa only lasts a few days in the fridge. Fermented homemade salsa lasts months! The same goes for sauerkraut, pickles, beets and other garden foods. Lacto-fermentation allows you to store these foods for longer periods of time without losing the nutrients like you would with traditional canning.
4. Added Nutrients – Some fermented foods are excellent sources of nutrients, such as vitamin K2, which supports a healthy heart. Fermented food is also a potent producer of many B-vitamins.
5. A Natural Variety of Microflora –If you vary the fermented foods you eat, you’ll get a much wider variety of beneficial bacteria than you could ever get from a supplement.
Fermented Food Options
Fermented Vegetables: cabbage, carrots, turnips, cucumbers, squash, kale, collards, celery spiced with herbs like ginger and garlic. If you want to make your own fermented veggies, try out your own fermenter starter kit.