What do foods such as kefir, miso, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, tempeh, and sourdough bread (not to mention beer, wine, and cider) have in common? They’re all fermented foods, and fermented foods provide super health benefits: anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, antioxidant, anti-aging, and more.
Fermented foods are a tasty source of probiotics (live micro-organisms) that support hard-working good bacteria living within our microbiome which, in turn, protects against infection-causing pathogens that also room within our gut. Deprived of sufficient probiotics our guts can begin to resemble a gassy, crampy war zone.
Fermented foods are first-rate first aid for everything from your sinuses to your small intestine. Every slice of yummy sourdough bread, bowl of miso soup, and/or yogurt smoothie enhances your overall health. As a bonus, there’s nothing like a little bit of kimchi, sauerkraut, or smear of miso to add unique complexity and savoriness to your meals. You’ll join the rank of not just yogurt lovers and sauerkraut addicts, but great chefs. The Noma restaurant in Denmark (named the best restaurant in the world — four times ) features fermented ingredients in each of its dishes. Fermentation is the secret to their out-of-the-ordinary gastronomic experiences.
Fermentation is nothing new. The earliest record of it dates back as far as 6000 B.C. —and nearly every civilization since has included at least one such food on its menus.
Whether you buy them or make them, here’s how to use fermented foods to maximal gastronomic effect.
First, the fermented facts
- So what happens when foods ferment? When placed in an oxygen-free environment, lactic acid bacteria turns sugars into lactic acid. In turn, this lactic acid prevents the growth of harmful bacteria and gives fermented foods their tang. These bacteria also synthesize vitamins and minerals; produce biologically active peptides with enzymes known for their whole-body health benefits. Did you know that your gut, plays a big role in your body’s defense system, in the regulation of blood pressure, and the digestion of food? Believe it or not, there are one hundred thousand billion microorganisms divided into more than 3,000 species living in our guts! The probiotics and prebiotics in foods like yogurt, kombucha, miso, and all the rest keep them happy.
- Health benefits? Conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) produced by lactic acid bacteria have a blood pressure-lowering effect, and so-called exopolysaccharides exhibit prebiotic properties in foods like miso, while substances called bacteriocins show anti-microbial effects. Miso which comes in white, yellow, red, and brown varieties — is modest in calories, but delivers a high level of protein, fiber, manganese, and vitamin K, plus important micronutrients, including copper, zinc, riboflavin, and phosphorus.
Miso has been shown effective at slowing the development of many cancers. In humans, studies report that regular miso consumption may reduce the risk of liver and breast cancer by 50–54%. Miso also helps prevent colon cancer and has been linked in animal and observational studies to a lower risk of stomach tumors according to studies from the Hiroshima University in Japan.
- Gut benefits: Fermented foods are more digestible than their unfermented counterparts. They help support your gut by reducing the symptoms of chronic gastrointestinal diseases, (think IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, gas, bloating, and poor digestion). In addition to increasing the nutritional value of the vegetables, beans, nuts, and fruits being treated and improving the bioavailability of vitamins C, B, zinc and iron, fermentation improves the concentration of enzymes that help us digest food.
Bonus: Fermentation releases proteins, amino acids, and antioxidants and even increases the nutritional value of other foods you eat. Fermented food may even help decrease cholesterol absorption and reduce the incidence of food allergies.
- Try to include a fermented food in a meal or snack at least once a day. For starters: keep a small side dish of kimchi on the dinner table.
- Substitute a fermented vegetable for another vegetable in a recipe (try sauerkraut in place of shredded cabbage, pickled beets in place of boiled beets)
- Spread toast, Panini, or sandwich bread with hummus and top with kimchi or crumbled pan-sautéed tempeh
- Instead of salt, add fermented vegetables to any dish that calls for more salt, acidity, or tang
- Sauerkraut or kimchi will give plain tomato sauce or scrambled eggs more zip
- Make mashed potatoes or pureed cauliflower a little less boring with a tablespoon of kimchi
- Fold some sauerkraut into stir-fried kale or spinach
- Use sourdough instead of ordinary bread for your next batch of French toast
- Dip baked French fries into a little kimchi instead of catsup, or into miso- enhanced yogurt instead of mayo
- Make super-healthy miso dressing for salads, steamed vegetables or grains: 1 Tbs miso paste, plus rice wine vinegar and sesame oil to taste
- Can’t digest nuts and seeds? Try fermenting them: soak in warm filtered water with 1 tbs vinegar or lemon juice overnight. Drain and rinse. Eat raw or use toasted in other recipes This prep also releases harmful substances like phytates which can block iron and zinc uptake
1-2-3- FERMENTED VEGETABLES
4 cups of vegetables of your choice washed and cut into roughly evenly-sized pieces (best choices: carrots, beets, green beans, cauliflower, turnips (avoid watery produce like cucumbers and summer squash)
Seasoning options: basil, parsley, cilantro, garlic, dill, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, curry powder, etc.
4 cups filtered, chemical-free water
2 Tbsp. sea salt
- Fill a clean, wide-mouth jar with vegetables, leaving at least 1½ inches of headspace.
- Add seasonings and mix together 4 cups of water with salt, until salt dissolves. Pour this brine over the vegetables in jar.
- Place a smaller clean jar or other weight inside the fermentation jar to keep vegetables submerged.
- Cover the jars with a paper coffee filter with a rubber band to hold it in place, or layers of cheesecloth. Leave vegetables to ferment on counter in a warm kitchen for 2-3 days. Check daily until you see bubbles forming. Start tasting after 2-3 days. Got the flavor that you like? Remove weight, cover the jar tightly, and place fermented vegetables in the refrigerator.
PROBIOTIC BELLY SHOT
Packed full of good bacteria and enzymes. Take a shot morning, noon, or night for a pick-me-up.
16 oz. Coconut water or naturally sweetened lemonade
3-4 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice (omit if lemonade is used).
1 tablespoon ginger root, minced (or 1/2 teaspoon ginger powder)
1 tablespoon raw honey (omit if lemonade is used)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
Dash of additive-free salt
Process all ingredients at high speed in a blender till smooth.
Strain and refrigerate in a closed jar. Keeps up to 7 days.
(Makes four 4 oz. shots)
Photo of kimchi: ANTONI SHKRABA (Pexels.com)