Japanese natto, Korean kimchi, and German sauerkraut; what do all of these tasty dishes have in common? Hint: they have all been fermented by good bacteria.
While fermented food might sound like the newest health food trend, it’s been around for generations. In fact, cultures all over the world have been fermenting for thousands of years as a means of food preservation.
Now we know that the fermentation process offers much more than a way to preserve food, and many health-conscious consumers are swapping empty carbs for fermented fare with amazing health benefits.
What makes fermented foods so healthy?
The simple answer is that they are packed with probiotics, good bacteria that provide us with a startling number of health benefits, such as balancing immune function, aiding digestion, helping us absorb nutrients from the food we eat, improving our mood, balancing our blood sugar, relieving temporary inflammation, and even helping us maintain our body weight.
So, how does fermentation work?
Fermented foods go through a specialized lacto-fermentation process. During this transformative process, naturally-occurring microorganisms (Lactobacillus) feed on sugars and starches in the food to create lactic acid, a natural preservative that inhibits harmful bacteria and gives fermented foods their unique taste.
The end product? A healthy, effervescent probiotic and nutrient-rich food that is easy to digest.
You see, during the fermentation process, the probiotics start to break down the food, increasing the amounts of available vitamins and minerals. By the time you ingest the fermented food, some of the digesting work has already been done for you, so you can begin absorbing nutrients right away.
Studies even show that fermented foods have much higher concentrations of vitamins and minerals than their raw counterparts. Researchers at Cornell University discovered that fermented cabbage provides up to 12 times more vitamin C than raw cabbage1! Another study found that serving lacto-fermented vegetables with meals increased the subjects’ absorption of iron, a mineral that helps the body make red blood cells2.
Unfortunately, with the advent of modern food preservation processes, fermentation isn’t nearly as common as it used to be and our modern diets are often filled with chemically-preserved foods lacking in valuable nutrients.
The good news is that you can easily optimize your health by introducing several simple fermented recipes into your regular dietary regimen. Although you can find some fermented treats at your local health food store in a pinch, it’s more cost-effective (and fun) to make them yourself!
Fermenting foods at home can be a little intimidating at first, but it’s much easier—and tastier—than you may think.
The fermenting process is slightly different for each type of food, but the basic guidelines are the same. In simple terms, fermenting involves using natural organisms living on the food—or a starter culture of bacteria—in an oxygen-free environment to transform the food into a bona fide nutrient powerhouse!
While you can buy fancy “fermentation vessels,” all you need to start your fermentation journey are a few glass jars and your willingness to try. The entire process can take one day to several weeks, depending on the food and your particular tastes.
You can easily ferment a variety of foods at home—from vegetables and fruits to dairy and even water. Here are some of the easiest fermented foods to get you started!
Almost any vegetable that appeals to you can be fermented; cucumbers, asparagus, cauliflower, and carrots are popular options. When it comes to fermentation, you are only limited by your imagination.
Before you dive in, make sure that you understand the difference between pickling and fermenting. Pickling uses acidic ingredients like vinegar and doesn’t result in health-promoting probiotics. Natural brine (usually sea salt and water) or a starter culture is what gives fermented foods their probiotic punch.
There are endless vegetable fermentation recipes online. Start with these easy tried-and-true combinations:
• Sauerkraut: Made of cabbage, salt, and caraway seeds (optional), sauerkraut is a great beginners recipe.
• Kimchi: Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean dish made of cabbage, daikon radish, scallions, ginger, garlic, fish sauce, and seasonings. If you’re wondering if the probiotics from fermented foods actually make it into your gut, the answer is yes, at least to some degree! In one study, researchers gave volunteers kimchi for ten weeks. At the end of the trial, they discovered that the number of Lactobacillus bacteria in their guts increased significantly3.
• The easiest—and arguably the tastiest—way to ferment fruit is by making chutney, a traditional Indian fermented condiment or relish to accompany your meals. The possibilities are endless, from cinnamon apple to peach, rhubarb, or pineapple varieties, so let your taste buds decide! Because fruits have a much higher sugar content than vegetables, they ferment more quickly, sometimes in just 1-2 days.
• Coconut kefir: Depending on what type of beverage you are craving, you can make easy non-dairy coconut kefir with either coconut milk or coconut water. For a yogurt-like version, simply combine a can or 1-2 cups of coconut milk with 1 tablespoon of kefir grains, cover, and wait 12-24 hours until desired level of fermentation. You can also add kefir grains to coconut water or regular water for a lemonade-like refreshment!
• Kombucha: Kombucha is a popular sugary tea, fermented with a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) to create a fizzy, tangy, and decidedly nutritious drink. You can obtain a scoby—the rubbery blob that floats at the top of the tea—online or from an acquaintance already making kombucha (a scoby has “babies” every few batches, so there is usually plenty to share).
Are fermented foods enough?
Even the most avid ferment-fanatics may have a difficult time consuming enough beneficial bacteria from diet alone. This is because much of the bacteria in foods won’t make it past the acidic environment of your stomach. Equally, it’s most beneficial to get the right variety of strains into your gut—and this can be difficult just from eating lacto-fermented food.
That’s what makes taking a natural probiotic supplement one of the best things you can do to support your microbial health. Hyperbiotics PRO-15 is a high-quality probiotic formula with 15 different strains of targeted probiotics that go straight to your gut for optimal health and digestion.
Combining a daily probiotic like PRO-15 with fermented foods will give your body the maximum probiotic and nutrient boost that it needs so you can live your best, vibrant days!
Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.