Fermented foods are a hot topic right now – everyone is talking about them and I guarantee you most people you know have a jar of kombucha or kimchi in their fridge. But humans have been controlling the fermentation process for thousands of years, primarily in the form of fermented alcoholic beverages in the earliest days. But even before alcoholic beverages (as far back as 10.000 BCE) the milk of camels, goats, sheep and cattle was naturally fermented, most likely spontaneously due to the hot climate and the naturally existing microflora present in the milk.
So let’s get into the geeky stuff… What is fermentation and how does it work?
Fermentation is the process of converting sugars into organic acids using yeast and bacteria. In the case of preserved vegetables and dairy like kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt or kefir the sugars are converted into lactic acid but can also be transformed into alcohol in the production of alcoholic drinks like beer, cider or wine. Similar processes take place in the leavening of bread where CO2 is produced by yeast activity.
So are fermented foods as beneficial for our health as the hype claims? The answer is yes, HOWEVER, different fermented foods and drinks will have different effects on different people so the key is to find the one that works for you. For me, it’s milk kefir. I can’t live without it – It helps with my anxiety, when I drink it before bedtime it puts me into a coma and if that wasn’t enough to love it, I haven’t had to take a single pill to treat my chronic heartburn and mysterious stomach pain since I started drinking it about a year ago.
It’s well known that fermented foods add beneficial bacteria and enzymes to your overall intestinal flora, increasing the health of your gut microbiome and digestive system and enhancing the immune system but there are other benefits people may not know about like for example, that they are anti-allergenic, they help metabolize cholesterol, they are anti-carcinogenic, they help with digestion, they can also increase the availability of vitamins and minerals for our bodies to absorb and if you eat them most days, you’ll be as regular as you’ve ever been! They have also been proven to be beneficial for our mental health (psychobiotics), not only because the healthier you feel the happier you are but because the gut is lined with neurons that can influence our emotions and feelings and most of our serotonin is produced in it.
A lot of people are afraid of making these type of foods at home because they think is super complicated and that if they go off, it may make them really sick. Well, neither of them are true. People have been fermenting foods for generations and I honestly don’t think they had a masters degree in microbiology to do so. It’s a very simple process and it’s so much cheaper (and I mean SO MUCH CHEAPER) than buying them in the shops and by making them yourself, you know exactly what goes into it plus the end product is much more tasty and nutrient dense – A lot of the commercially mass produced fermented products have very limited strains of bacteria in them that are normally added to them rather than them being produced naturally in the fermentation process (wild fermentation). These are what we call “domesticated bacteria”, they are just added “to do the job”.
Fermenting or pickling vegetables and fruits is also a great way to avoid waste and how amazing is it to preserve food by the season turning your kitchen into a life-giving, sustainable food system.
I’m not expecting you to finish reading this article and run to the shop to get jars, cheese clothes and nylon strainers but I would be immensely happy if at least made you think or even feel like you want to know more about this wonderful magic world of friendly microorganisms and yummy sour foods that is fermentation.
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