Fermented foods carry beneficial microbes that support our gut health and immune system. Fermentation is a process in which the chemical breakdown of a substance occurs and it is carried out by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms.
During fermentation carbohydrates disintegrates into gases and alcohol and other nutrients such as proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins are also broken into smaller and easily digestible parts.
Foods such as bread, cheese, chocolate, coffee, and yogurt are prepared by fermentation. Popular beverages such as wine, beer, and cider, and traditional beverages such as kanjika, kefir, and lassi are prepared after fermentation. Fermentation usually introduces a unique pungent, sour, and acidic taste into the foods.
Fermented Foods have enhanced nutritional and functional properties
In old days, fermentation was used as a way to preserve, hence extend the shelf life and the availability of food products. With the prevalence of refrigerators, fermentation was not needed and hence fermented foods started disappearing from our diets. However, there are innumerable good reasons for the health of our body and mind to reintroduce the foods and fermentation process into our daily foods.
Fermented Foods Health Benefits
Fermented foods contain plenty of beneficial probiotic bacteria. The lacto-fermentation improves the nutrient contents of foods and builds the minerals in cultured foods readily available. By eating fermented or cultured foods, we can get daily doses of good bacteria.
- The advantage of fermented food is that these foods improve overall health:
- Support digestion and improves the health of the intestinal tract
- Brings the gut microflora back to balance
- Enhance Cognitive function
- Boost immunity
- Treat IBS
- Provide minerals to strengthen the bones
- Reduce the effect of allergies by boosting the exogenous immune system
- Kill pathogenic yeast and microbes that cause problems like candida
- reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance
- reduces the risk of certain cancers
- The microflora that lives in fermented foods makes a defensive lining in the intestines and protects it from pathogenic factors, for example, salmonella and E.coli.
- Fermented foods help increasing antibodies and a stronger immune system.
- Additionally, they control the appetite and decrease cravings of foods made of sugar and refined carbs.
- Probiotics in raw fermented foods also produce additional water-soluble vitamins such as B Vitamins and Vitamin.
- They enhance the bioavailability of certain nutrients such as proteins and carbohydrates
Studies show that fermented foods reduce social anxiety. A big part of our emotions seems to be controlled by the nerves in our gut. Microbiota persuades the gut-brain communication, mood control and behaviors. It has also seen that people with chronic fatigue syndrome have got relief by taking probiotics.
Common Fermented Foods to include in meals
Fermentation in tofu is carried out by several microorganisms such as yeast Saccharomyces, fungi as Aspergillus and Rhizopus, or bacteria as Bacillus and Pediococcus. When a food is fermented, it’s left to sit and steep till the microbes change the chemical structure of the food. This also often changes the external properties such as the smell, texture, colour, and shape of the food.
By the process of fermentation, foods such as milk and vegetables can be preserved for a longer period of time and their nutrients are more absorbable.
Here are some of the common fermented foods that you can add to your diet:
Kefir is a fermented milk product prepared from the milk of cow, goat, and sheep. While the taste, outlook, and initial product is the same as yogurt, Kefir differs from yogurt via the fermenting agents – which is both bacteria and yeast.
These days both water-based kefir (in which microorganisms are fed on sugar) and milk-based kefir are available. With some starting cultures, kefir can be easily made at home. Kefir provides high levels of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, folate, enzymes, and probiotics.
Kanjika or kanji is lactic fermented rice water. Indian Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe this for different chronic diseases. Carrot Kanji is given for high nutritional value and cooling and soothing properties. Beetroot kanji is considered to be able to prevent infection and malignant diseases.
Fermented Tofu or Sufu has much higher nutritional value than other variations of Tofu. Fermented Tofu contains Isoflavones and their aglycones, which act as phytoestrogens and powerful antioxidants.
Nearly 80% of soybeans is made up of conglycinin and glycinin proteins. During fermentation conglycinin is broken down into smaller peptides which have antioxidant activity and can improve immune system and prevent excessive inflammatory response. Fermentation also increases absorption and bioavailability of Calcium, as phytic acid that prevents mineral absorption, is converted to inorganic phosphates.
Fermented milk with bacteria is called yogurt or curd. It is one of the top dairy products that people take regularly for its anti-cholesteric, anticarcinogenic, anti-diabetic, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibition effect and anti-atopic dermatitis effect. It can cure intestinal disease such as diarrhea.
Kombucha is prepared from black tea and sugar (from different sources like cane sugar, fruit or honey). It contains a colony of bacteria and yeast which when combined with sugar makes the food fermented. Kombucha has some small amount of alcohol, but other fermented foods, like yogurt and fermented veggies do not contain any alcohol.
Idli and Dosa
These foods are very popular in the southern part of India. To prepare these, black lentil and rice are soaked in water for a couple of hours. This mix is then ground to a fine batter and let to ferment overnight or for minimum 6-8 hours. Sometimes, salt is added to the mix after grinding as it aids the fermentation process and enhances the taste of the batter.
This batter is then used to make flat pancakes called Dosa or can also be steamed into molds, called Idli (as shown in the picture below). The fermentation process of black lentils and rice not only makes the nutrients such as proteins more bioavailable but also provides with additional gut-friendly bacteria that support the health.
This fluffy and moist cake is made from the mixture of besan (gram flour), curd, water, turmeric, and soda. This mixture needs to be fermented for a few hours and then steamed for about 15 minutes.
Bread, bun, and cakes
These foods are also prepared by fermenting the dough. White flour, yeast, sugar etc are kneaded properly and then left for half an hour for fermentation. After that, these are baked.
Miso Soup – Japanese Fermented Foods
Miso (traditional Japanese seasoning) is prepared by fermenting soybeans, barley or brown rice with koji (the fungus Aspergillus oryzae). It’s usually used in recipes including miso soup.
Jalebi and Imarti – Popular North Indian Sweets
These are also prepared by fermenting the mixture. Jalebi is made by mixing maida, corn flour, baking soda, turmeric and curd, and leaving the mixture for overnight in a warm place to rises and it also gives out a pungent smell. After that, it is fried. The imarti is prepared in the same process but from black lentils and rice.
Fermented pickles contain plenty of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and gut-friendly probiotic bacteria. Usually, homemade pickles are fermented, but the store-bought pickles are made with vinegar. Though these taste sour, they do not contain probiotics.
To get probiotics, always choose “lactic acid fermented pickles” made by a manufacturer that uses organic products. Some manufacturers refrigerate the pickles and say that the pickles have been fermented. You can get the best probiotics for your health from the farmers market.
Tempeh is a beneficial fermented food made with soybean. It is prepared by mixing soybeans with a tempeh starter. If you live this mixture for a day or two, it will become a thick, cake-like structure which is rich in both probiotics and protein also.
Fermented Foods Precautions
Though fermented foods have lots of benefits for our body, consumption of too much too quickly might cause digestive problems like bloating or diarrhea. Begin with taking little amounts and try different kinds to find your favorites.
For the better results, try to purchase fermented foods which are organic and contain “live and active cultures.” If possible, choose raw, organic and local products which do not contain a high amount of sugar or additives.
Fermentation: microbiota and beyond