Living Well: Fermented foods… what are they and why do we need to know?
By Hope Williams, RD, CD, CDE, CLS
Health & Wellness Specialist, Ministry Medical Group Rhinelander.
Fermented foods; sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread, yogurt, wine, kombucha. What do these foods have in common? They are fermented. What does that mean?
Fermentation is a process that uses yeast and bacteria to convert sugars into lactic acid, carbon dioxide, and alcohol. The type of yeast or bacteria used during fermentation can produce different food textures and flavors. Salt also plays an important role in the fermentation process; it slows the growth of harmful bacteria and enhances the flavor of the fermented food.
Fermented foods also contain probiotics. These are live bacteria that can help keep your gut healthy. Probiotics are added to foods to trigger the fermentation process.
You can add fermented foods to a balanced diet that includes protein, grains, fruit, vegetables and dairy. Some fermented foods you can look for in the grocery store:
FERMENTED DAIRY PRODUCTS. Yogurt, cultured buttermilk, sour cream and some cheeses are fermented.
SOY PRODUCTS. Miso, soy sauce and tempeh are fermented soy products.
FERMENTED VEGETABLES. Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) and kimchi (a spicy Korean condiment often made with pickled cabbage) are examples of fermented vegetables.
Fermented foods may be healthy for many people. Fermentation helps the body to absorb antioxidants, such as the polyphenols and flavonoids found in red cabbage. And the live bacteria in some fermented foods may bring health benefits by restoring a healthy balance of different types of bacteria in the gut. It is thought that some of our health problems today that our grandparents did not have are because we don’t eat as much fermented foods as they did.
Not all fermented foods contain live probiotics or bacteria. Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut that are sold in grocery stores have been heated to a very high temperature. This kills all of the bacteria present in the food. The Nutrition Facts label on foods will contain the phrase “contains live and active cultures” if probiotics are present.
Try these 7 probiotic foods:
1. Tempeh: is made from naturally fermented soybeans. With a slightly nutty flavor, it’s a good source of probiotics—and, it’s a complete source of vegetarian protein.
2. Miso: A fermented paste made from barley, rice or soybeans, miso adds a nice umami flavor to dishes. It’s bold, so a little goes a long way (which is good because it’s also high in sodium).
3. Sauerkraut: Made from just cabbage and salt, this fermented food delivers a healthy dose of probiotics and fiber.
4. Yogurt: labeled with the “Live & Active Cultures” seal guarantees 100 million probiotic cultures per gram (about 17 billion cultures in a 6-ounce cup) at manufacturing time. Even yogurts without this seal will usually contain some probiotics.
5. Kefir: A fermented milk drink—it tastes a bit like drinkable yogurt—kefir is full of calcium and probiotics.
6. Kombucha: A tangy, effervescent tea—typically black or green. The drink is often flavored with herbs or fruit. You can find it in many natural foods stores and some farmers’ markets. Locally, Trigs and Golden Harvest have Kombucha. You may notice something floating in your kombucha-this is called a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) A tiny amount of alcohol is sometimes produced during fermentation—usually less than 0.5 percent alcohol by volume
7. Kimchi: Sauerkraut’s Korean cousin, this fermented cabbage is spicy. Look for it in the refrigerated section near other Asian ingredients or pickles and sauerkraut.
Try some fermented food today!