The Power of Fermented Foods!
The Power of Fermented Foods
Oh the glory that is fermentation! From kimchi and sauerkraut, to kombucha and apple cider vinegar and everything in between - what a powerful and intriguing technique of not only preserving fruits and vegetables, but of increasing the healing benefits of what are already natural super foods: plants. The gut and intestines are really the cornerstones of health, so taking care of them and nurturing them into well-being is vital to our health and longevity.
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process called lacto-fermentation. This is the process whereby bacteria feeds off of the natural sugars and starches within foods creating what is known as lactic acid. In this process foods are preserved - which came in handy in older times when fresh produce wasn’t so readily available throughout the year, allowing people to preserve food and its nutrients for the tougher, long winter months. Fermentation is known to maintain and preserve the nutrients in various foods and help to break food down into a very easily digestible form. By consuming fermented foods with your meals you also make the breaking down of, and assimilation of nutrients from the food you’re eating much easier for the body. During this process of lacto-fermentation highly beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids as well as very beneficial strains of probiotics are formed.
Fermentation in cultures around the world?
Different cultures all around the world have been eating fermented foods for ages, from sauerkraut to kimchi, kefir to kombucha. Unfortunately, in today’s day and age with the increased demand for instant gratification and advances in food preparation and technology this has resulted in a decrease in these profound time-honoured traditional foods. In the orient, people prepare and eat cultured foods with every meal. In Japanese cuisine as well as in Macrobiotic cuisine they often use miso, tamari, umeboschi plums and natto in their daily cooking - all of which are fermented and therefore contain the beneficial bacteria and enzymes created through the lacto-fermentation process. In Indonesia, tempeh, a fermented soy bean product is eaten on the regular and is one of the few forms of soy that is easily digestible. Fermented food items are often added in small quantities to most meals of the day, by simply adding a tablespoon or so of sauerkraut to two meals a day you will likely feel the benefits of the fermented foods within days.
Apart from their delicious taste and tangy nature, these probiotic and nutrient dense foods are excellent for your health in many different ways. As we age, our production of digestive enzymes begins to decrease. These digestive enzymes are really important for digestive ease and assimilation of nutrients from the foods we eat. Fermented foods also eliminate anti-nutrients, which are “natural or synthetic compounds that interfere with the absorption of nutrients”. These anti-nutrients are destroyed by fermentation, pair that with a whole foods diet with lots of fresh vegetables and fruit and you’ll likely be able to let go of relying on vitamin and mineral supplements for good. Fermented foods also have the unique ability to help regulate the digestive enzymes and acids within the stomach - creating more hydrochloric acid when needed, and decreasing hydrochloric acid when there is an excess. In short, eating a small amount of fermented foods daily will greatly aid in digestion and help us to reap more of the benefits of the foods that we already eat due to the increased ability to assimilate nutrients from the foods we're eating.
The beneficial bacteria in fermented foods is often used to naturally eliminate or combat the harmful bacteria within our bodies, and particularly in our gut - creating a balance of the beneficial bacteria and the disease causing bacteria. Eating fermented foods is one of the best known ways to cure leaky gut. While taking supplements such as acidophilus capsules is beneficial in so far as it helps to populate the intestines with beneficial bacteria, but without the foundational bacteria system established through dietary means it can be hard for the microflora in the supplements to properly colonize the intestines. Through eating fermented foods on a daily basis we can improve the health of our inner ecosystem which protects us from disease and illness as well as environmental toxins.
Other health benefits:
- Improved digestion
- Elimination of joint pain
- Easier, less painful menstrual cycles
- Improved vision
- Improved energy and overall wellbeing
- Healthier hair & nails & skin
- Increased immunity
- Weight loss/management
In the 1850’s, a man called Louis Pasteur discovered that the process of lacto-fermentation was in fact catalyzed by living organisms. His discoveries of microbial fermentation allowed him to show the world that bacteria was the cause of milk going sour and vegetables turning ‘bad’. He went on to create what is known today as pasteurization. He then later wrote a book called “Studies on Fermentation” in which he accurately demonstrated that specific types of microorganisms invoke different fermentation processes and thus create different results/end products, thereby creating different strains of probiotics and beneficial enzymes.
The use of fermentation has existed since the Neolithic times and has been dated back to 7000-6600 BCE in places like China and Jiahu. Whereas in India and in the practice of Ayurveda it dates back to 5000 BCE. Even though Pasteur’s discoveries were profound, he was unsuccessful in the quest to really understand the nature of the fermentation process and was unable to extract the fermentation enzyme from yeast. Later, in 1897, Eduard Buechner (a German scientist) was able to do just that, and this marked the “birth” of biochemistry.
How to include these powerful healing tools into your daily life?
Unlike the use of superfoods in ones daily diet, these power house food items can be highly budget friendly, particularly if you are making them from scratch (which is a lot easier than a lot of people care to admit!). They cost just pennies to make per serving and are often made using very affordable ingredients (think cabbage, carrots, salt and tea for example). Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and water kefir are incredibly cheap and when you compare that with the high nutritional value, it becomes clear that one really should be using these age old techniques of maintaining and improving health more often.
Fun ways to make & consume fermented foods?
- Introducing some fun, fruity fermented beverages into your life (especially for kids to get those beneficial bacteria and probiotics in!) such as strawberry kombucha or ginger and mango kombucha. Kombucha has a natural slight carbonation, so swap some homemade kombucha with store bought carbonated “cool drinks”.
- Fermented mayonnaise in place of store bought or conventional mayonnaise
- Pickled vegetables on sandwiches, wraps or salads
- Topping food with fermented salsa instead of regular salsa
- Get creative with adding some interesting flavors into your homemade sauerkraut - things like adding cumin seeds, dill seeds, caraway or fennel seeds
- Add lacto-fermented chutneys to your dishes instead of regular chutneys
- Coconut kefir added to your breakfast bowls/smoothies or added into salad dressings or ontop of your curries to add a soothing tangy flare
- One of my favourites is adding miso paste into my meals - in the form of salad dressings or sauces, in soups and I even smear some miso paste on my toast and top it with avocado!
- Eating “buddha bowls” or any savory meal topped with some of these highly beneficial condiments is highly beneficial and delicious
It’s important to note that these are beneficial when added to a meal as a sort of salty condiment to add balance and flavor, as is taught in Macrobiotics - not as a main component to the dish itself. Things like sauerkraut and kimchi are very salty by nature and therefore consuming too much could raise sodium levels quite substantially. Again, a prime example of balance & moderation being key.
Fermentation really is a whole world in and of itself - something that really deserves more of the spot light, particularly in todays society where people’s health and wellbeing have decreased a lot as we’ve moved away from these traditional ways of preparing and enjoying living foods towards faster, more convenient and ‘cheap’ foods that contain little to no nutritional value. Spread the fermentation word and get creative in the kitchen, creating health supportive and delicious creations that will help to bring health, wellbeing and longevity to those around us as well as to ourselves. A recipe for a spiced sauerkraut and kimchi are likely to be coming onto the blog soon! Keep your eyes peeled under the "Savory" category :)