Fermented foods such as kimchi, kefir and miso have been sprouting up everywhere from grocery stores, restaurants to farmers markets. Their popularity is attributed to the potential digestive health benefits specifically your gut microbiome - the microorganisms that live in your digestive tract. Let’s take a closer look at the history behind fermentation and how fermented foods affect your health.
Fermentation in food and beverage preparation dates as far back as 7000 BC. It was born as a simple method to preserve food and has been used by many cultures around the world. In particular, Asian civilizations have a rich history of fermenting a wide variety of foods — Japanese natto (soybeans), Chinese douchi (black beans) to Korean banchan (side dishes). Europeans also crafted their unique foods including sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt and cheese.
The Science of Fermentation
Fermentation is an anaerobic process which takes places without oxygen. The most common method is lactic acid, or lacto-fermentation, whereby lactic acid bacteria convert sugars in food to lactic acid as means of preservation. Additionally, digestive enzymes are released from the food during the process. This natural fermentation or culturing process produces foods like yogurt drink kefir, kimchi, saukerkraut, and sour cream.
Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
Naturally fermented foods contain a winning combination of probiotics (the good gut bacteria), prebiotics and enzymes that benefit the gut microflora and help strengthen our immune system. With 80% of our immune cells residing in the gastrointestinal (GI) track, it is the first line of defense against harmful bacteria. Fermented vegetables are especially rich in fiber and serve as prebiotics that provide fuel for the good bacteria in our gut. Additionally, fermenting food makes it easier on digestion as the bacteria break down the carbohydrates and sugars in food. Natural enzymes present in fermented foods also aid in better digestion and absorption of nutrients. For example, people who are lactose intolerant may be able to consume yogurt and aged cheese with minimal discomfort.
Not All Fermented Foods Are Created Equal
Before you rush to the store and grab a jar of pickled vegetables, be aware that not all fermented foods provide the same digestive benefits. The foods that replenish your body with beneficial probiotics and enzymes are those made using natural fermentation process described above. They contain live cultures that have not been destroyed in the process. Some of the jarred pickles sitting on the supermarket shelf are pickled using vinegar - not natural fermentation, therefore don’t provide optimal digestive health benefits. To ensure you get the maximum health benefits from fermented foods, look for naturally fermented on the label. Finally, it is the combination of digestive enzymes, pro- and prebiotics that make fermentation vital to digestive health.
As with any healthy diet, consistency is the key and it is especially true when it comes to a healthy gut. Adding fermented food especially fermented vegetables in your diet is a wonderful way to improve digestive health and alleviate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and prevent certain cancers. Our prebiotic supplement Kiwi-Klenz is rich in soluble fiber, enzymes and phenolics - it is a natural kiwifruit based prebiotic supplement and a convenient daily solution to boost your digestive health.
Lacto-fermented Mixed Vegetables
from TheKitchn | SERVES 8
- 3 tablespoons sea salt, pickling salt, or kosher salt
- 1 quart water (filtered, spring or distilled)
- 1 cup small cauliflower florets
- 1 cup carrot chunks or slices
- 1 cup red bell pepper chunks or slices
- 1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1-2 grape leaves (optional, to help keep vegetables crisp)
- Combine salt and water in a measuring cup and stir until the salt is dissolved. (You can heat the water first to make the salt easier to dissolve, but it's not necessary. Let it come to room temperature before proceeding.)
- Place the remaining ingredients in a very clean, large jar (a half-gallon mason jar works well). Pour the salt water over the vegetables, leaving at least 1 inch of headspace at the top of the jar. If necessary, add more water to cover the vegetables. (Optionally, place a small bowl or jar on top of the vegetables to hold them under the brine.)
- Cover the jar tightly and let it stand at room temperature. About once a day, open the jar to taste the vegetables and release gases produced during fermentation. If any mold or scum has formed on the top, simply skim it off. (If using a jar fitted with an airlock, you don't need to "burp" it; just open occasionally to taste.)
- When the vegetables taste to your liking (anywhere from a few days up to 10 days), transfer the jar to the refrigerator. They will continue to ferment very slowly, but cold storage will largely halt fermentation. As a fermented food, they will last at least a month not longer.