The gut is made up of millions of microbes. The “good” bacteria play a role in synthesizing vitamins, digesting food, destroying the bad bacteria and enhancing the immune system. That said it is very important to make sure that you have enough good bacteria in your gut.
Fermented foods produce the good bacteria in foods that will populate your gut.
The following are popular fermented foods.
This fermented tea is characterized by a gelatinous “mushroom” of bacteria. It is made by fermenting a mixture of yeast, bacteria, sugar, and tea.
Compared to a “liquid yogurt,” kefir was originally made from camel’s milk, but today it usually is made from fermented cow’s milk. It contains about 2.5% alcohol.
This is a fiery, pungent condiment made from fermented vegetables, such as cabbage or turnips. Kimchi is served at almost every Korean meal, and is made by pickling the vegetables and burying them in tightly sealed pots.
Black garlic is a South Korean delicacy prepared by fermenting raw garlic for 1 month. It is described as tasting sweet and syrupy with a licorice flavor.
Mead is a beverage made by fermenting honey, water, and yeast with flavorings such as herbs, spices, or flowers. It dates back to Biblical times.
Miso is a fermented soybean paste, which is an important part of Japanese cuisine. Cooked soybeans are injected with a mold cultivated from a barley, rice, or soybean base. It is aged from 6 months to 3 years. Miso is used in sauces, soups, marinades, dips, main dishes, salad dressings, and as a table condiment. More than 200 types of miso are available.
Natto is steamed, fermented, and mashed soybeans that has a strong cheeselike flavor. Natto is very popular in Japan, and often is mixed with mustard, soy sauce, and/or chives.
Tempeh is a fermented soybean cake, similar in texture to tofu, with a yeasty flavor.
Common fermented foods
Some of the more commonly known fermented foods are:
- Greek olives
- Sour cream
- Ginger ale
- Pickled fruits and vegetables
- Soy sauce
Note: Many mass-produced varieties of these foods are pasteurized during processing and do not carry the health benefits associated with fermented foods.
It is true that consuming fermented foods may improve digestive and immune health via the probiotics that these products contain. Further, it is thought that fermented foods contain higher levels of vitamins and minerals, and that these nutrients are easier to digest because they already are broken down to some degree by the fermentation process. Many of these foods are potent sources of antioxidants.
The proposed benefits of probiotics include:
- Improved digestive health
- Improved urinary and genital health
- Improved immune function
- Improved nutrient bioavailability
- Improved management of atopic allergies
- Improved synthesis of vitamins (niacin, folic acid, biotin, and vitamin B6)
- Decreased lactose intolerance
- Decreased blood cholesterol
Regulating these foods is becoming a tricky undertaking as the lines blur between food and supplement. It also is important to note that many of the herbs and raw products used in these foods can interact with medications. Many experts warn that pregnant women, people diagnosed with yeast or bacterial overgrowth, the elderly, children, and people with compromised immune function should not consume homemade fermented foods.