Fermented foods are finally making a bit of a comeback and just as well – they are super good for your gut! Here I outline a quick and easy guide to some of the different types so you can begin experimenting and adding more to your diet – your tum will thank you for it!
Fermented foods have been around since ancient times and traditionally, it was a common way to preserve foods. However, 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. However, this also means 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. See, a number of foods contain naturally occurring LAB, for example on the skins of fruit and vegetables. By allowing LAB to multiply (by carefully creating the correct conditions) they are able to firstly produce lactic acid, which helps to lower the pH of the product and act as a preservative. Then, together with the lowering pH and increasing numbers of LAB, the bad bacteria are kept in check as these good guys thrive.
Then, not only does our good gut bacteria have all these direct benefits, but actually, they also help to make nutrients more accessible from the food we eat. See, the bacteria work by gently metabolising the sugars and starches in the food we eat and turn them into lactic acid. By gently breaking down some of the tougher carbohydrate matrixes in the food, they actually unlock some of the nutrients which allows for better absorption – neat!
So now we have an idea of the process and the proposed benefits, now I run through some popular choices when it comes to fermented foods. You may even be tempted to try some, or perhaps you’ll find you already have without even realising! Remember many of these are often available in local health food stores or, if you’re feeling adventurous, why not make your own at home.
Fermented dairy options
Yoghurt is a popular, readily consumed food, but did you know it was fermented? Yoghurt is made by fermenting milk which is gently heated in order to allow the LAB to multiply and convert the milk sugar – lactose, into lactic acid as they go – hence the mild, sour taste of yoghurt.
Kefir can be described as a super-charged, drinkable yoghurt. 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.
Natto is fermented soy beans and quite a delicacy in Japan. With a stringy texture and acquired tastes it’s not to everyones’ 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 are added. Different variations of miso such as red or white depend on if 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, this time the beans are binded and packed tightly into a dense consistency which can then be 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. Below our nutritionist Emma’s show you how to make a delicious, tangy fermented tomato ketchup. It really is delicious, it’s food for your gut and it can be used as a healthier condiment or as a rich base in heartier dishes.
For all you tea lovers out there – you might want to try this – 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 which 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.
Hello. My name is Alison Cullen and I am an experienced nutritional therapist with a clinic in Ayrshire, Scotland. I currently combine running my clinic with the role of Education Manager for A Vogel. I lecture, train and write extensively on health issues, which I find endlessly fascinating.
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