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In past centuries, many of our ancestors preserved foods, eating pickled produce and fermented foods such as kefir and sauerkraut on a regular basis. In modern times, processed, easy-to-prepare foods have replaced fermented foods in the standard Western diet. In the past few years, however, there’s been a revival in interest in the fermentation process.
Fermented foods have ample health benefits, from healing the gut to boosting the endocrine system. Are you interested in consuming more fermented foods? Read on to learn more about different fermented foods, their health benefits, and how to make them for yourself!
Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
In addition to being packed with nutrients, fermented foods are great for the body. The microbes found in fermented food support the digestive system, creating an even stronger community of microbiota in the gut. A healthy gut naturally improves digestion. The acidic byproducts of these enzymes also aid in the breakdown of macro- and micronutrients, making it easier for the body to digest complex sugars like lactose. The enzymes found in fermented foods also help convert digested nutrients into their most bioavailable forms. Certain nutrients, such as calcium, are made much more bioavailable as a result of the lactobacillus bacteria found in many fermented foods. In consuming fermented foods, one can therefore indirectly support the health of one’s bones, teeth, and more.
Recent research is beginning to reveal the ways in which the health of the gastrointestinal tract is linked to the rest of the endocrine system. A healthy gut microbe may contribute to better emotional regulation, improved weight management, and a more robust immune system. Fermented foods also synthesize nutrients such as biotin, folic acid, and vitamin B12, leading to healthier hair and brighter, clearer skin.
In short, fermented foods are great for the entire body, both inside and out! Adding a few fermented products to your diet is a great way to naturally improve your health.
Common Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are all around us. Chances are, you already consume a number of fermented foods on a regular basis! Common foods and beverages, such as chocolate and coffee, are generally fermented during processing. Even if you’re a regular drinker, you may not have put much thought into the fact that beer, wine, and other alcoholic beverages are technically fermented drinks, too! Wine is derived from fermented fruit juice, whereas beer is generally derived from fermented barley malt. Kombucha, made from a special culture paired with black tea and sugar, is another powerful, nutritious fermented beverage.
Pickled vegetables, such as pickled peppers, beets, sauerkraut, and kimchi, are some of the healthiest ways to get in your daily greens while also harnessing the power of fermentation.
Traditionally-made salami actually undergoes the fermentation process, too! A special culture is used to naturally cure the meat without the use of extra additives.
Many dairy products are also fermented. Cheese is made from cultures, and sour cream and crème fraîche are produced by adding cultures and bacteria to cream. Minimally-processed yogurt is another excellent source of ferments. If you’re a fan of drinkable dairy and are looking to really boost your microbiome, drink kefir, a bacteria-packed dairy drink guaranteed to heal your gastrointestinal tract.
The list of fermented foods and ingredients is long. Sourdough bread, miso, soy sauce, tempeh, vinegar, and fish sauce are just another few common fermented products.
Whether you’re a dairy lover or a veggie fanatic, there’s guaranteed to be a few fermented products out there that you’ll enjoy!
Fermentation 101: The Basics
Though you can buy fermented foods at many grocery stores and organic shops, fermenting food yourself is one of the best and most affordable ways to acquire nutrient-dense fermented products.
First, research the type of fermented food you’d like to make. Though most fermented foods and beverages can be made at home, some are more complicated to make than others. To make any fermented product, you’ll need a starter of some sort. To make kombucha, for instance, you’ll need to acquire a special “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast” (“SCOBY” or “mother”) to get started. Pickling vegetables, on the other hand, can be done more simply by creating a pickling liquid consisting of vinegar, water, salt, and sugar. If you need a starter to make a particular fermented product, look online or at a health food store in your area.
The best way to get started with fermenting is to begin with all-natural, minimally-processed ingredients. Seek out organic produce, for instance, at local markets, as organic fruits and vegetables will contain more good bacteria than produce that has been sprayed with pesticides.
Use clean jars and containers for storing your product as it ferments. Simple glass jars, such as Mason or Weck jars, are ideal for home fermenting.
Next, find a recipe and get started! If you’re making pickled vegetables, you’ll want to add seasoning to a jar filled with vegetables and your liquid starter. If you’re making something simpler, like kefir, you may simply need to add milk to your starter.
The waiting process now begins! Most products need to ferment for at least a week or two before they’re fully fermented. Set your jars on the counter and wait. Occasionally taste your fermented goodies to see if they’ve acquired the flavor you desire. If you notice any strange growths or excessive bubbling in your jars, run a quick Google search to ensure that your products are fermenting normally and haven’t gone bad.
Once your food or beverage is properly fermented, place the jar in the fridge and enjoy it at a later date! Depending on what you’ve made, your new creation may stay fresh for a few days up to a few months; when in doubt, consult internet resources for further information.
If you enjoy what you’ve created, make sure to take good care of your starter! A well-cared-for starter can be infinitely reused to create more fermented snacks!
Not everyone loves fermented foods, and the home fermentation process can be tricky at times. If you’re not excited about fermented food, still consider giving it a chance. If you can’t stand sauerkraut and kimchi, try making sourdough bread, yogurt, or kefir instead. If you’re not interested in fermenting your own foods, look for minimally-processed, naturally-fermented foods at a health food store in your area.
Start slow. Eating too many fermented foods at once may be a shock to your system! Instead, start with a few scoops of a fermented food each day; once your body is used to processing fermented foods, you can gradually increase your intake.
Give fermented food a chance! Before you know it, your taste buds and your intestines will be in agreement; fermented foods are both delicious and nutritious!