By Davinder Marjara
Oakville, October 21 (CINEWS): Fermented foods are a special group of foods that have gone through a fermentation process, creating a deliciously pickled or strongly flavoured condiment, food or drink.
Some of the most commonly known food ferments include wine, cheese and pickles. However, there are many others that involve the use of vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, beans or liquids such as vegan milks, teas or even water.
These “cultured foods”, like sauerkraut and coconut kefir, tempeh, vegan seed cheese and miso, contain communities of friendly microscopic bacteria that are extremely beneficial to the health of the colon and the entire digestive tract.
Fermentation is essentially the bacterial conversion of starches and sugars into lactic acid and acetic acid. It is one of the most ancient forms of food preservation.
Healthy microbial balance and diversity
There are approximately one hundred trillion microorganisms, between 400-500 different species, present in healthy human intestines. “The metabolic activities performed by these bacteria resemble those of an organ, leading some to liken gut bacteria to a ‘forgotten’ organ.” (Source) Many health experts agree that a healthy balance of gut flora, or also called gut microbiota, in the digestive tract and specifically the intestines is extremely important for maintaining the health of the entire body, organs and systems.
Achieving a healthy ratio of bacteria and yeasts within the body helps to improve metabolism, enhance hormonal production and increases the synthesis certain B complex vitamins and other nutrients, increasing their uptake.
Since gut flora is fed through dietary intake, when you consume an assortment of different live ferments, you encourage greater microbial biodiversity in your body that can be helpful for re-establishing a stable “inner ecosystem”, improving overall health and enhancing immune function. When the fungal group of microorganisms, which are naturally helpful in small amounts, take over we become more susceptible to disease and yeast infections.
One of the leading causes of this type of overgrowth is the ever so common use of antibiotics (against-life), which kill the friendly bacteria and cause the fungal species, like candida, to dominate. Fermented foods, including sauerkraut, kefir and others, contain billions of natural probiotic (pro-life) organisms, like Bifid bacterium or Lactobacillus strains, and can be very beneficial for counteracting the negative impacts that antibiotic (anti-life) use can have on gut flora.
In addition, unbeneficial yeast overgrowth’s can also occur from the frequent consumption of low quality foods, obesity, stress, diabetes as well as a number of prescribed medications. In extreme cases, it is additionally helpful to eat these cultured foods when supplementing with lab-produced probiotic powders, which increases their effectiveness.
Our top 7 fermented foods list
Here is our list of fermented food favourites, some of which you may wish to explore according to your own personal needs, desires and health goals. All of them can be produced “homemade-style” which is, in our opinion, the best way to consume them for the highest possible nutritional benefits as well as flavour.
You can enjoy these top fermented foods as zesty condiments, tangy beverages, rich flavourings and some of the most savoury of foods all by themselves.
Kombucha is a tangy and slightly fizzy beverage drink made from fermenting a sweetened tea liquid with the kombucha “mushroom” culture, a thick gelatinous mat made up of multiple species of bacteria and yeasts.
Sauerkraut, also referred to as “raw cultured vegetables”, is a fermented food made by culturing chopped or shredded cabbage in its own juice or brine solution. This can be achieved with or without the use of a probiotic culture starter as cabbage has naturally occurring beneficial microbes present on its leaves. Sauerkraut is still used as a pickled condiment served all across Europe, as well as in Asian countries with the popular Korean version known as “kimchi.”
Tempeh (pronounced “tem-pay”) is a fermented bean cake known to have originated from the Indonesian island of Java, one of the main chain of islands located next to Bali. It is traditionally made with soybean but can also be made with a single bean variety or a mixed combination of beans and grains.
Kefir is believed to have come from somewhere in the Caucasus Mountain region, specifically Armenia, Georgia, Turkey and Iran, where it has thrived as a sacred cultured food for centuries. It is a tart yogurt-like drink that is traditionally made by fermenting dairy milk, but other vegan milk varieties can also be used such as coconut milk and nut milks. There are also versions of water kefir that are lower in calories and fat content. Kefir is originally made using “kefir grains” but can also be fermented these days with a powder culture starter.
Miso is a traditional fermented food native to China and Japan, but is used in all parts of Southeast Asia especially Korea, Vietnam and Indonesia. It is a rich salty bean paste, created by fermenting mashed cooked beans and salt with a culture starter called “koji. Soybean is often the main ingredient found in Asian miso’s, but it can alternatively be made with other types of legumes.
6. Seed cheese
Seed cheese is a delicious tangy vegan cultured cheese commonly made from sunflower seed, pumpkin seed as well as other seeds, nuts or combinations of both. The process of fermenting seed or nut based cheeses involves soaking, straining and blending the mix with a probiotic powder to initially inoculate the ferment. Similar to making dairy milk cheese, the whey is drained out allowing the kurds or cheese to thicken to either a ricotta-type consistency or a firm sliceable cheese.
Rejuvelac is a refreshing, slightly sour and fizzy liquid ferment made from a combination of sprouted grain and pure water. The traditional grain used is wheat berry but rejuvelac can be made from most any grain including gluten-free versions like millet or quinoa. All grain selections have their own unique bouquet of flavors and some are preferred over others.
Fermentation of vegetables at home
You can do fermentation, or allowing whatever is on the vegetable or fruit that you’re culturing to simply take hold and culture the food. However, this method is very time-consuming.
It is suggested that you inoculate the food using a starter culture to speed up the fermentation process.
Here’s a summary of Caroline’s recipe for making your own fermented vegetables:
• Shred and cut your chosen veggies.
• Juice some celery. This is used as the brine, as it contains natural sodium and keeps the vegetables anaerobic. This eliminates the need for sea salt, which prevents growth of pathogenic bacteria.
• Pack the veggies and celery juice along with the inoculants (starter culture, such as kefir grains, whey, or commercial starter powder, all of which can be used for vegetables) into a 32-ounce wide-mouthed canning jar. A kraut pounder tool can be helpful to pack the jar and eliminate any air pockets.
• Top with a cabbage leaf, tucking it down the sides. Make sure the veggies are completely covered with celery juice and that the juice is all the way to the top of the jar to eliminate trapped air.
• Seal the jar store in a warm, slightly moist place for 24 to 96 hours, depending on the food being cultured. Ideal temperature range is 68-75 degrees Fahrenheit; 85 degrees max. Remember, heat kills the microbes!
• When done, store in the refrigerator to slow down the fermentation process.
When first introducing ferments into the diet it is normal to experience some initial gas and bloating, excessive amounts however can cause stomach upset and loose stools in some cases. It is important to consider avoiding food ferments if you have severe allergies to moulds.
Reviewed and compiled from various sources.