Fermented Food | A Simple Guide
Fermented Food and The Connection To Good Health
As scientists learn more and more about the microbiome, the term given for the bacterial makeup of an organism, the connection between healthy bacterial flora and overall organism health is gradually being discovered. From the first day we consume breast milk from our mother, we begin to line our intestines with probiotics, the term given to healthy, beneficial bacteria. As this gut flora develops, it influences who we are, becomes the first line of immune system defense, and has a significant bearing on our overall health.
Unfortunately, our gut bacteria are bombarded by environmental toxins like chemicals, most notably antibiotics, giving opportunistic organisms like unhealthy bacteria and Candida a chance to gain a foothold. For many, once probiotic bacteria is displaced, it becomes an uphill battle to recolonize the gut with beneficial bacteria. However, fermented foods contain probiotics and when consumed on a regular basis can facilitate a healthy balance of essential bacteria.
Here are some ways to ensure your body receives essential probiotics :
Kimchi is a staple in Korean cuisine and traditionally consists of salted and fermented vegetables such as napa cabbage and Korean radishes. The lacto-fermentation process works because bad bacteria that can be harmful to us can’t tolerate much salt, while healthy bacteria can. Lacto-fermentation wipes out the bad bacteria in its first stage and allows good bacteria to thrive in the second stage.
According to a study by Park et al., the benefits of eating kimchi are plentiful. It includes “anti-cancer, anti-obesity, anti-constipation, colorectal health promotion, probiotic properties, cholesterol reduction, fibrinolytic effect, anti-oxidative and anti-aging properties, brain health promotion, immune promotion, and skin health promotion.”
In Chicago, you can find Kimchi in most Korean grocery stores and restaurants such as Whole Foods, H Mart, Joong Boo Market, Crisp, Kimchi Pop, and Del Seoul.
It’s fairly easy to make your own kimchi.
Here is a Recipe for White Kimchi that we find is easy to make and goes well with hard boiled eggs, roasted sweet potatoes, bibimbob or bulgogi. We use the radishes and chives we find at the store and an asian pear.
Similar to kimchi, sauerkraut is another viable probiotic rich food that is fermented with salt. There are many great benefits to eating sauerkraut. It provides fiber, vitamins C and K, and boosts your energy and immune system with iron.
There are many great restaurants on Belmont, Lincoln Square, or Ukrainian Village that serve naturally fermented sauerkraut.
The Brinery, based in Ann Arbor, MI, produces local, organic sauerkraut, Kimchi and hot sauce. The Brinery’s vegetables are locally sourced from family-run farms and processed in small batches to preserve quality. All of their veggies are raw and not pasteurized. This helps the vegetables retain nutrients and also keeps veggies crunchy. In Chicago, The Brinery products can be found at Augusta Food and Wine, Publican Quality Meats, Olivia’s Market, La Sardine, and Whole Foods.
Recipe: How To Make Homemade Sauerkraut
*Use caution with the amount of sauerkraut and kimchi you consume because both are high in sodium.
Eat Natural Yogurt.
Yogurt is the number one natural source of probiotics. Natural yogurt, such as Greek yogurt, is different than regular yogurt because it contains live microorganisms. These microorganisms help improve your digestive system, helps your body absorb nutrients, and improves your immune health. Natural yogurt can be purchased at some grocery stores but it is important to read the label as most come with added sugar and other additives.
Homemade yogurt is easier to make than you may think and you can add lots of different fresh flavors to it before you eat it so it makes it incredibly versatile.
Recipe: Homemade Plain Yogurt
Eat Miso Soup.
Miso soup is a traditional Japanese soup that contains a host of probiotics that is now common among Asian and Western cultures. The most traditional way of making miso stock is to start from scratch. The stock is made with dried baby sardines, dried kelp, dried bonito flakes, or dried shiitake. You can also opt to make instant miso soup using a fermented soybean paste. You can purchase different varieties of miso paste in natural foods stores, in many Asian markets, and even your local supermarkets. The most popular way to serve in Western cultures is with tofu and seaweed.
Note: Do not add your paste directly to boiling water. Doing so will kill off the probiotics. Instead, wait until your soup is taken off the heat. Using the residual heat, stir in the paste to taste.
Recipe: Classic Miso Soup with Tofu
Drink Kombucha Tea.
Making your own Kombucha tea is easy and a great choice for people who like to try different flavors. Fortunately, Kombucha tea is becoming more popular and can be purchased at many local grocery stores. However, be certain to only purchase naturally fermented Kombucha tea that doesn’t contain added preservatives.
Kombucha tea, also known as sugar-tea, is a fermented beverage that contains black tea (or green tea) and sugar. Bacteria and yeast are added and then it’s fermented for a week. During this period, the bacteria feeds on the sugar and multiplies. The end result is a rubbery disc on top of the tea called SCOBY, or “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.” If you are worried about adding sugar, know that it is not possible to make kombucha without it, as the yeast and bacteria need to feed on the sugar (not artificial sweeteners) to thrive. You can reduce the amount of sugar in your finished Kombucha by allowing it to ferment until all the sugar has been eaten up, but this can lead to some really sour kombucha.
Note: You can replace cane sugar with alternatives such as honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, coconut sugar, fruit or fruit juice. When brewing at home, make sure you keep everything very clean and sanitary, otherwise, your tea can get contaminated with harmful bacteria.
Drink Kefir Milk.
Kefir is easily made when kefir grains are placed in raw milk and sit at room temperature. After fermenting Kefir for about a week, it is quite a tangy, tasty treat similar to yogurt. In addition to containing probiotics, it also contains other beneficial enzymes. Kefir is now widely available at supermarkets. If you are lactose-intolerant, you can substitute raw milk with coconut milk.
Recipe: Coconut Milk Kefir Recipe
Sourdough is a type of bread that is made by the fermentation of dough using yeast and lactobacilli cultures. It is healthier than other types of bread like white bread because it contains no sweeteners or oil.
To begin making sourdough, you will need a sourdough starter which consists of water and whole wheat flour. You can purchase the starter at Berkshire Mountain Bakery or make your own. Even though the cultures do not survive the baking process, lactic acid is produced instead. Lactic acid helps decrease phytic acid levels and in turn helps other nutrients become more readily available, digestible, and absorbable.
Recipe: Fermented Sourdough Bread
The Connection Between Fermented Food and a Health
Anyone who is looking to improve their overall health should consider adding probiotics to their diet to improve their gut flora. In countries like Japan and Korea, consuming probiotic-rich food has been a part of their culture for eons. Typically, these groups of people have been healthier than the global average, and many attribute this to a healthier diet that contains probiotic-rich food.
If you are going to start eating probiotic-rich food, do keep in mind how much you eat and try to incorporate a variety of them. As a rule of thumb, too much of anything is not good for you so eat these in moderation.