The ancient Chinese, more than 2000 years ago, used to savour a dish which is now a German delicacy known as “Sauerkraut” or Lacto fermented cabbage. Since early ages, fermenting vegetables has been a common practice worldwide. Even before cultivating vegetables, man fermented wild plants. Globally speaking, the earliest record of fermentation dates back as far as 6000 B.C. in the Fertile Crescent in Western Asia and nearly every civilization since has included at least one fermented food in its culinary heritage. From Korean kimchi and Indian chutneys to the ubiquitous sauerkraut, yogurt and cheese, global cultures have crafted unique flavours and traditions around fermentation.
What are fermented foods?
Fermentation is the chemical breakdown of substances (typically sugars) by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms, involving effervescence and the giving off of heat. Food items that undergo such process fall into the fermented food category. Fermentation is also used as a way to preserve food items.
What are probiotics?
Speaking of fermented food, another commonly used word today is Probiotics which are often referred to as “good bacteria”—they help the body absorb important vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, chromium, and vitamins A, D, E, and K, just to name a few. The intestines being home to more than 500 million bacteria, more good bacteria in your gut implies stronger immunity. Here are 7-types of ‘friendly’ bacteria that are normally used as probiotics and means to ferment food:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus bulgarius
- Lactobacillus reuteri
- Streptococcus thermophilus
- Saccharomyces boulardii
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bacillus subtilis
Benefits of Fermented food and probiotics in diet include
- Stronger immune system
- Improved digestion
- Increased energy from production of vitamin B12
- Better breath because probiotics destroy bad breath causing fungi – candida
- Healthier skin, since probiotics reduce eczema and psoriasis
- Reduced cold and flu
- Healing from leaky gut and inflammatory bowel disease
- Weight loss
Seven fermented foods that should be in your diet and how to make them at home
Speaking of fermented foods and probiotics, yoghurt is often the first thing that comes to mind. Yoghurts are made from cow’s milk, soy milk, or nut milk (e.g. almond milk) under the action of lactobacillus bacteria. Look for the words “live and active cultures” on the container to ensure that it packs a probiotic punch. Add yogurt to smoothies, top it with your favourite fruit, or enjoy it straight up. With its brilliance in terms of taste and health, it’s rightly India’s favourite dessert. Here’s how to make a delicious mango yoghurt recipe at home –Mango Yogurt
Sauerkraut or fermented cabbage
This popular German dish has been a staple for the Chinese since ages. Traditional sauerkraut preparation uses water, salt, and cabbage, and very little heat is applied to the final product in order to prevent killing off beneficial microbes. The sour taste comes from lacto-fermentation, an ancient method used by people worldwide for preserving vegetables. A serving gives you a powerful dose of healthy probiotics that aid digestion, and research has found raw sauerkraut prevents cancer cells from forming. Be sure to purchase raw sauerkraut, or better yet, make it yourself with organic cabbage and salt. Learn to make Sauerkraut at home
Kombucha or fermented tea
This dish originates from ancient China. This sweet, fizzy concoction is the result of sweet black tea fermented with a mushroom-like colony of bacteria called a “scoby”. Have it hot or slurp it chilled, satisfaction and health guaranteed. Here’s how to make Variety of Kombucha tea at home –
A very popular Korean side-dish, Kimchi is fermented and pickled cabbage, cucumber or radish; in a very hot sauce. Loaded with vitamins, calcium, and probiotics; it’s an excellent and hot & sour way to stay healthy. Here’s recipe for a basic Kimchee preparation.
Low in calories, Miso soup packs a delicious punch of proteins and probiotics. A very popular Japanese dish, it has a strong, salty flavour and lots of sodium. Typically produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and a fungus called kojikin, add it to soups and stews or try this classic recipe: Miso Soup
A beverage crossing between yoghurt and milk and originating in Russia and Turkey, Kefir is thought to be a better source of probiotics than yoghurt. Made by fermenting goat, cow or sheep’s milk with kefir “grains,” this drink contains ten to 20 different types of bacteria. What’s more? It even helps ease lactose intolerance. So, go out and pack this into your favorite smoothie. Here’s a recipe for Kefir
Due to its nutty flavour and chewy texture, tempeh is often used as a replacement for meat in many vegan recipes. Traditionally made from soybeans and a yeast starter, this Indonesian ‘cakey’ dish undergoes controlled fermentation that makes it a great source of probiotic bacteria. Tempeh is also a great source of calcium, iron, and magnesium and vitamin B12. Try this delicious recipe- Tempeh
Can one be allergic to fermented foods?
But just before we dive into an all-fermented meal plan, let’s also look at some of the side effects or allergies they might cause in some people. Fermented food allergy includes diarrhoea, headaches, runny nose, itching and low blood pressure to name a few. These symptoms or reactions are most likely to develop in people who have a deficit of the MAO (Monoamine Oxidase) enzyme in their intestines resulting in a failure to break down the biogenic amines (histamines) present in fermented foods leading to histamine intolerance. But even for people with such symptoms, avoiding all fermented foods is never the last resort for they can still enjoy varieties of home-made fresh fermented food dishes after careful analysis of their condition.
Nevertheless, fermented foods are rich in probiotics and essential health-giving nutrients and make up for a preparation that neither your gut nor your tongue could ignore.