The availability of fermented foods on the market and the relationship of these foods and our health has become a big topic these days! I want to share some of these foods with you and a few of my favorite ways to prepare some of them.
I wanted to share first a little bit about probiotics and the fermentation process in general.
Probiotics: Good bacteria that are often eaten for their health benefits. Especially the ones that live in our G.I. tract.
Fermentation Process: Is the process where carbohydrates either break down into an alcohol to make a wine or beer or another process is when food goes through a lactic acid fermentation which is kind that food goes through in preservation process and that is the focus of this blog. It is driven by good bacteria (probiotics) to make the “lacto-fermentation” process.
According to Sandor Katz, one of my favorite authorities on fermented food, he suggests almost any food has the capability to be fermented. Here are the main ones that I eat but there are more out there and many of these you can learn to make at home. I encourage you to get a copy of Sandor’s book Wild Fermention or The Art of Fermentation. Find out more about his books here.
Another great resource to help learn how to make some of these foods is the company Cultures for Health. They have starters and lots of things to help get you started.
Here are some powerful reasons to add some fermented foods to your meals. When we have antibiotic therapy, this often rids us of our healthy bacteria balance and fermented foods can help build back these healthy populations. There have been several studies out there looking at an increase in healthy bacteria and the benefits in digestion especially with people having irritable bowel syndrome. Other research has looked at a lower incidence in the development of bladder and colon cancer. One study found that fermented foods may also suppress of bad bacteria that helps prevent disease and may even boost T cells which is an important part of the immune system. This science is still pretty early in its base of knowledge to say for certain. There may even be a role for healthy bacteria and its role in achieving a healthy weight! However, in Japan where they eat a high amount of fermented foods that there is an increase in stomach cancer. Scientists have not determined why this may be the case. Here is a nice summary of the research on fermented foods and its affect on cancer risk. .
Having a healthy balance of good bacteria in our bodies, especially those that live in our gut helps improve digestion, boost our immunity and may even help us achieve a healthy weight. Although there are lots of probiotic supplements on the market, some of them may not have very much of the active ingredients needed in them. The processing, the storage and the type of probiotics that they contain can make a difference in their benefit. The very best way to get more of the good bacteria in your body is to eat more fermented foods. Below, I am sharing a quick guide to some of the fermented foods that can benefit our health.
Vine Ripe Nutrition’s Guide to Fermented Foods
Fermented Dairy Products
Some people may not have enough lactase enzyme to break down the sugar in milk easily. When this happens, dairy can ferment in the gut and cause diarrhea. Lactose free dairy products or a lactase enzyme can help with the digestion of milk products. Some people don’t drink milk for dietary reasons and there are other fermented foods that you can have that are not dairy and you can work hard on getting the missing nutrients also. There are some non-dairy yogurts available also.
The label on yogurt that says Live and Active Cultures on the yogurt container lets us know that it should have 100 million probiotic cultures per gram. There are lots of yogurts that contain this that do not have this seal so it is good to do your homework. Some favorite ways for me to get yogurt are to make a fruit parfait with plain yogurt, fruit and granola layered. Smoothies and other yogurt drinks are also an easy way to make. I also like to make savory dips with it. Check out my raita recipe at the end of this blog along with a yogurt drink.
This fermented milk is a drinkable product and tastes a lot like yogurt. I have to say, I do not drink a lot of kefir and tend to keep yogurt instead but it is tasty and you can even use it in smoothies out of it. The healthy bacteria in it can be slightly different than yogurt so it is worth giving it a try also.
My great-grandmother and also my father-in-law enjoyed having a bowl of buttermilk and crumbled cornbread. Although, this is not one of my ways to get my probiotics, it is definitely a way to eat them up! You can also add to smoothies and use for salad dressings and dips.
We often don’t think of cheese as being fermented but it is milk that has been allowed to sit and transform. The live cultures would probably be in the raw cheese and some people because of their immune systems may not do well with this so each of us need to access if this is the best choice for us and consult our health care provider.
Vegetables and Fruits
I have dabbled making pickled vegetable but I have not really fermented fruit. For the holidays, my mom would ferment fruit by adding a bottle of brandy for her fruit cake. The fruit in her glass decorative container would really bubble before it was used for the cake and it was always delicious!
This traditional Eastern European food is so simple to make, just cabbage and salt in a crock. The best sauerkraut that I ever had was made by a friend who added carrots and Brussels sprouts. That was my introduction to learning how to make fermented foods and I am happy to say, I have made one very similar to his and it was very easy! You can add sauerkraut to sandwiches, salads and as a side dish.
Kimchi is very similar to sauerkraut but originated in Korea and is often spicy with garlic. It can be eaten as a side dish and is a great condiment with Korean and other Asian foods.
Cucumbers, carrots and beets are some of the most popular pickles that are made. I have included a picture of some of our pickles at the beginning of this post.
Many of us are familiar with tofu but may not have heard of its fermented cousin from Indonesia, tempeh. Tempeh is most often made with fermented soy beans and has a nutty flavor and contains all the essential amino acids so it is considered a complete protein. My friends at Smiling Hara Tempeh also make tempeh from black beans and black eyed peas. They also make a fermented food called hempeh. They have their product available at several locations and can also be ordered online! Some of you have have been reading my blog, notice that I share a lot of tempeh recipes, We eat it about once a week and have quite a few tasty ways to prepare it! Many of them are on this blog and will have more coming up so check them out!
This is a fermented paste made from either barley, rice or soy beans. It has a savory taste that makes a great way to season food instead of salt. Here is Western North Carolina, we have a local miso company. You can add it to salad dressing, dips and sauces. You can find lots oftasty recipes for sauces and other delicious foods at Great Eastern Sun Miso Maker.
Meat and Fish
Many cultures also ferment fish or meat but this is less common in the United States. This is not an area that I have explored much but slow cured sausages and pickled fish like herring are some examples.
My husband has kept a sourdough starter for almost 10 years and makes bread almost every weekend. There are several traditional fermented grains around the world that look like they would be tasty things to incorporate. This is definitely an area that will be interesting to explore!
I remember about 6 years ago, my son introduced me to kobucha. He brought over a big mason jar and wanted me to keep it alive on my counter. I was not successful keeping it going but luckily for me there are several great kobucha makers around like our local Buchi! For people wanting to avoid alcohol, care should be taken with kobucha because it does contain some of it. It is not hard to make if you don’t have a local kobucha-maker.
I was inspired by Indian with the raita and lassi drink. I hope that you enjoy them! I also am sharing again, an open faced tempeh reuben sandwich that has two fermented foods, tempeh of course and sauerkraut!
Whether served as a condiment, side dish with a meal or a dip, this raita is refreshing!
Makes 3 cups. 6-8 servings
2 cups yogurt
1 large cucumber, seeded and chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 minced garlic clove
1/4 cup chopped cilantro ( you can also substitute fresh basil)
In a medium sized bowl, mix yogurt, seeded, chopped cucumbers, cumin, salt, garlic and cilantro. Cover the raita until ready to serve.
Try locally grown peaches instead of mango for you lassi next time for something very refreshing!
Makes 2 servings.
2 cups fresh peaches, sliced
1 cup yogurt
1 slice crystallized ginger
2 teaspoons local honey
Add peaches, yogurt, ginger and honey in a blender and mix well. Pour into cups. Garnish with a slice of fresh peach, crystallized ginger or fresh mint.
If you are looking for a great way to try some tempeh, try our open faced tempeh reuben sandwich.
I hope that you find it easy and delicious to add some fermented foods to your diet. As a registered dietitian nutritionist here in Asheville, I love to teach people tasty ways to stay healthy. You can find out more about me and some of my interests here!