Choose Fermented Foods for Health and Flavor

Humans have used fermentation for centuries to preserve food. Today, we know that fermentation also makes some foods more nutritious.

  • Wine, cheese and cured sausages — all made possible by live cultures. No wonder we love fermentation so.
    Photo By Fotolia/beta artworks
  • Sauerkraut uses lactic fermentation to add flavor and preserve for longer keeping.
    Photo By Fotolia/herby
  • Traditional Korean kimchi is credited with health benefits as well as fine flavor.
    Photo By Fotolia/dream79
  • Traditional dill pickles are lactically fermented.
    Photo By Fotolia/handmade picturees
  • Both beer and bread are fermented by yeast that convert sugars to alcohol and carbon dioxide.
    Photo By Fotolia/Africa Studio
  • Yogurt, a classic fermented food, can be served sweet or savory.
    Photo By Fotolia/Cook_Inspire

Like artisanal cheeses? Surely you’ve enjoyed a hand-crafted wine and a fine loaf of whole-grain bread. Cheese, beer, wine and bread are all fermented foods — as is a range of other foods. Fermentation serves a variety of purposes in food, as people discovered thousands of years ago. One is functional: Fermenting preserves foods. Another purpose is to improve or change food’s flavor. Less obvious, however, is that fermented foods contribute to good health. Following is an article about this age-old technique by Sandor Katz, one of the world’s leading fermentation experts. — MOTHER EARTH NEWS

Fermented foods and drinks are quite literally alive with flavor and nutrition, and are more common than you may realize. Cultured foods’ flavors tend to be strong and pronounced. Think of stinky aged cheeses; tangy sauerkraut; rich, earthy miso; smooth, sublime wines. Humans have always appreciated the flavors resulting from the transformative power of microscopic bacteria and fungi.

One major benefit of fermentation is that it preserves food. Live-culture yeasts and bacteria produce alcohol, lactic acid and acetic acid, all “bio-preservatives” that retain nutrients and prevent spoilage. Vegetables, fruits, milk, fish and meat are highly perishable, and our ancestors used whatever techniques they could discover — including wild fermentation — to store foods.

Fermentation not only preserves nutrients, it also breaks them down into more easily digestible forms. Soybeans are a good example. This extraordinarily protein-rich food is largely indigestible without fermentation, which breaks down the soybeans’ complex protein into readily digestible amino acids. Fermented soy gives us traditional Asian cultured foods, such as miso, tempeh and tamari (soy sauce), which have become staples in contemporary Western vegetarian cuisine. (Tofu is not fermented, but its manufacturing process makes it easier to digest.)

The fermentation process also creates new nutrients. Some live cultures have been shown to function as antioxidants, scavenging cancer precursors known as “free radicals” from the cells of your body. Fermentation also removes toxins from foods. Eating raw, fermented foods is an incredibly healthy practice, directly supplying your digestive tract with living cultures essential to breaking down foods and assimilating nutrients.

Cultural Theory

DIY fermentation is a journey of experimentation and discovery. Every ferment yields unique results, influenced not only by ingredients, but also by environment, season, temperature, humidity and other factors affecting the behavior of the microorganisms — think of them as your micro-livestock — whose actions make these transformations.

2/12/2019 6:27:12 PM

Interesting. Thank you.

10/19/2013 9:44:49 AM

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9/9/2013 12:40:24 PM

There are many of us who think that cheese is disgusting non-food not just because we are lactose intolerant but also because we are intolerant of disgusting things masquerading as food. Having studied the commercial production of cheese and fermented dairy products it is clear that even if the starting ingredients were not GMO, that the other additives in the process are. Wine is another one of those yeasty abominations that does not even require a religious bias to prevent us from drinking it. We don't even need allergy to sulfites (used to kill the yeast, and I am told that beer is treated with multiple antibiotics) to remain alcohol free from a tradition that used to use athlete's foot fungus as its primary bouquet. And finally: bread. The US statistics is that about 40% of the population is now showing up with gluten allergy. Given that they low-ball the numbers that probably makes it a conservative 50% of everybody you know having gliadin (yes, I said it right) allergy. Even if those Americans do not have overt symptoms. But then weighing around 400-pounds from the edema of hypersensitivity might qualify for symptoms --- So, three strikes in the arena of enticing anyone into food fermentation. At least within the fungal kingdom. Given that a proper hermetically sealed vessel can provide a safe, scientific, anaerobic bacterial and friendly fungal ferment with consistent results every time with minimal attention to detail regardless of outside conditions, then anyone who is having troubles with home fermentation to correct intolerances, allergies, and repulsion of the standard yeast-infested foods that made us sick in the first place, air-locked anaerobic ferments a useful alternative. Although some ferments can be eaten within three days of the process, that attitude is unreasonable and the full course of most vegetable ferments should be allowed to progress for three WEEKS. For something like cabbage it takes over three MONTHS to detoxify the starter material. Home fermenting is not for the weak of mind or weak of will. You have to know what you are doing to protect yourself, if, after all, you are doing it to get better. And you have to have the patience to let that process finish in its own time. There is not a serious brewer of fermented beverages that does not employ science and precise methodology to their work; so neither should the home fermenter.

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