Fermented or cultured foods may sound a bit off-putting, but they can be quite delicious and extremely healthy.
Fermented foods contain millions of healthy bacteria known as probiotics. The fermentation process also increases the amount of minerals and vitamins present in food.
Fermented foods are actually quite common; cheese, milk, and yogurt are all examples of traditional fermented foods.
We’ll go over what the fermentation process is, why cultured foods are healthy, give you examples of fermented foods, tell you how to get 5 of the most popular cultured foods in your diet and give you a list of 25 recommended fermented foods.
What is fermentation and what does it actually do?
Fermentation originated as a technique for preserving food. Humans have been fermenting foods for thousands of years and show no signs of slowing down thanks to all the benefits that come with fermentation.
Fermenting food is a process where you expose food to healthy bacteria and yeasts, which wipe out dangerous bacteria usually present in old food.
Before the invention of the refrigerator, pickling vegetables and curing meats were popular techniques used to make food last.
Lactic acid, alcohol, and acetic acid are common in the fermentation process. Examples of foods fermented for storage are cheese, salami and pickled vegetables.
The fermentation process adds tons of nutritional value to the food. Fermented foods can be quite healthy, as long as they don’t contain high levels of fat, salt or sugar.
The fermentation process increases the levels of B vitamins in food while eliminating compounds that interfere with your body absorbing nutrients.
Phytic acid is a common compound that prevents your body from absorbing materials such as iron and zinc, however when fermented, phytic acid quickly breaks down.
So what are the benefits of fermented foods?
Fermented foods are rich in healthy bacterias, which help strengthen your bodies immune system as well as protect you from dangerous bacteria. These good bacteria contained in fermented foods are known as probiotics.
Probiotics are live micro-organisms that help your body with digestion and improve how well your immune system works.
The scientific names for some of the most common probiotics are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.
Having digestion problems?
Fermented foods have a well-documented, positive effect on digestion. If you suffer from stomach aches, heartburn or excessive stomach acid, fermented foods can be a natural remedy for you.
Cultured foods promote the production of the digestive enzymes that we need to digest food properly and without discomfort.
Sometimes the production of these enzymes can decrease with age or our health; fermented foods are a natural way to get them back in your body.
There’s debate in the medical community on whether or not fermented foods have a positive effect on fighting cancer. Signs point towards cultured foods being able to protect and prevent cancer from developing.
However, cultured foods high in salt and fats (which are quite popular), can contribute to cancer developing.
To get the full benefits of fermented foods, you need to enjoy them in moderation as a part of a complete diet.
Cultured foods can clear you out
Cultured foods can also help with constipation. Fermented foods help your body produce acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that stimulates the movement of your bowels. If you’re constipated, this will give you relief.
This neurotransmitter also releases extra digestive enzymes and juices, making your stomach much more efficient at digestion.
Here are 5 of the best fermented foods
Yogurt is the most common fermented food and one of the healthiest. You can make yogurt by fermenting milk with yogurt cultures.
Yogurt most commonly comes from cows but can also come from goats, mares, camels, yaks and water buffalo.
Yogurt is high in tons of nutrients essential to your health. Yogurt is an excellent source of calcium, vitamin B6 & B12 as well as protein and riboflavin.
Thanks to the fermentation process, yogurt is a great source of healthy bacteria’s that have a positive effect on your immune and digestive systems.
Yogurt is great on its own, but you can also enjoy it mixed with granola or your favorite cereal.
Adding yogurt to pancakes or waffles helps you get more protein, leaving you fuller for longer and reducing the need for adding syrup.
As you can see, yogurt is probably the most versatile fermented food; there are lots of different ways you can enjoy it. Yogurt is also great for baking or adding nutrients to a milkshake.
Sauerkraut is another popular and extremely healthy fermented food. Sauerkraut is internationally popular, originating in China and brought to Europe during the Roman Empire.
The process for making sauerkraut is extremely similar to making kimchi.
Sauerkraut has high levels of iron, which gives you a substantial energy boost. It’s also rich in vitamins A, K, C and numerous B vitamins.
This fermented food is also good for supporting heart health and getting high levels of dietary fiber. A single serving of sauerkraut has 35% of the vitamin C you need in a day, making it great for your immune system.
Sauerkraut is also an excellent anti-inflammatory agent; it can help reduce pain in joints, muscles or any other inflamed area. Sauerkraut is an excellent addition to the diet of people who suffer from chronic pain conditions.
The only downfall of sauerkraut is its high sodium content, which can negate the health benefits when you eat too much. When used in moderation, sauerkraut is one of the healthiest cultured foods.
Tempeh is made from fermented soybeans and has a slightly nutty flavor. Tempeh can act like a complete source of protein for vegetarians, thanks to all the essential amino acids it has.
Tempeh is sometimes confused with tofu, but tempeh is made from soybeans whereas tofu is made from soy milk.
Tempeh is a little more healthy than tofu as it’s less processed and has more fiber and protein per serving.
Tempeh makes a great addition to salads, casseroles, soups or even pasta sauces. Tempeh is also a great addition to stir fry’s; it adds a subtle nutty taste while boosting the overall protein content.
Vinegar may not be food, but it’s a healthy addition to a wide variety of meals, and it has tons of health benefits.
Making vinegar is a two step process. First, yeast is mixed with carbohydrates, which turns to acetic acid. This is known as alcoholic fermentation.
In the second step, more bacteria is added that converts the alcohol to acid, which turns into what we know as vinegar.
Vinegar gets most of its benefits from its high acetic acid content. Acetic acid is anti-microbial, kills bacteria and can be used to treat lice, warts, and other bacterial infections.
Vinegar can be a bit tricky to add to your meals. One option you have is to mix your own salad dressing using vinegar as the base.
Vinegar is also an excellent addition to sauces and acts as a natural digestion aid that helps your body absorb more calcium.
Kimichi is another delicious and versatile fermented food. Kimchi is similar to saurkraut and originates from Korean.
Kimchi is made by fermenting vegetables with probiotic lactic acid bacteria, and then adding a variety of herbs, sauces, and spices. There are over 300 different kinds of kimchi, so recipes vary by location and from person to person.
Kimchi is packed with trillions of healthy bacteria. It’s particularly rich in vitamins C and A, which gives it strong anti-oxidative and immune system boosting effects.
Kimchi helps with the absorption of nutrients and minerals which contributes to breaking down and eliminating toxins from your body.
Kimchi can is served with all kinds of dishes. It’s delicious in stir fry’s and fried rice dishes. It’s commonly added sandwiches as a substitute for pickles. Kimchi can be used to add excitement to chicken dishes, soups, and salads.
Remember to enjoy fermented foods in moderation, especially if they have high amounts of salt or fat!