Before the art and science of fermented foods went under the microscope, people primarily used fermentation to preserve foods, enhance shelf life, and improve flavour. (1) Nowadays, fermented foods are on trend with many artisanal products found in health food stores and due to popular demand, several brands of kombucha have appeared in supermarkets. Traditional food and beverage methods are now being backed by science which is starting to reveal that the fermentation process may have many potential health benefits such as anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic activity. (1)
The Fuss About Fermented Foods
The popularity of fermented foods and beverages is due to both their sensory and nutritional properties. (2) The refreshing tang of sauerkraut that accompanies a rich meal, the similarity to soft drink that kombucha offers or the umami flavour of kimchi all provide an appetising sensory experience. Add to that the powerhouse of nutritional value that lactic acid bacteria effects by way of fermentation, ultimately creating a probiotic food and synthesising vitamins and minerals, (1) and you have yourself some highly regarded food sources.
Fermented from Farm to Fork
A range of different foodstuffs can be fermented but the number of beneficial organisms in fermented foods varies greatly, depending on the manufacturing process, and storage conditions. The most commonly consumed fermented foods include:(2)
- cultured dairy products including yoghurt, cheese and milk kefir
- fermented sausage
- fermented vegetables
- soy-fermented foods (natto, miso, tempeh and tofu)
- fermented cereal products (including rice and corn)
In general, cultured dairy products provide higher levels (2) of beneficial bacteria, while the trend towards non-dairy based products have resulted in the rise of coconut yoghurt and coconut water kefir as popular alternatives. Many people have consumed at least one type of fermented food in their lifetime, with some varieties appearing more exotic – read more about the amazing health-giving properties of the elusive soy-based Natto here
Don’t Lament if you can’t Ferment
While regular consumption of fermented foods may potentially counter the pro-inflammatory effects of gut dysbiosis,(3) one thing to keep in mind, is that for some people, there is a downside to fermented foods. People with gut issues like IBS and SIBO may actually find they worsen their symptoms. This is because often these conditions are accompanied by histamine intolerance which means that high histamine foods are problematic – including some of the ‘good guys’ like fermented food products. The good news is that when it comes to consuming fermented foods, it is usually a case of too much too soon, and some types may eventually be tolerated with a little guidance. You can read more about histamine intolerance here.
Food for Life
Regular consumption of a range of fermented foods is a great way to add some variety to the diet, enrich the nutritional properties of meals and frequently incorporate probiotics into food sources. Sipping on a cup of miso soup, snacking on your yoghurt of choice and enjoying a side of sauerkraut has never been more beneficial. And if you are asked “do you want fries with that?” make sure to ask for a pickle instead!