Fermented foods are those that are produced through controlled, microbial growth, and are typically fizzy or sour. The process of fermenting foods is actually an ancient technique over 13,000 years old, forming an important part of the diet in many cultures. The fermentation process acts as a natural preservative and gives food a distinct, zesty taste.
There are two main methods through which foods are fermented. Foods can be fermented with a starter culture comprised of bacteria and/or yeast, with kefir and kombucha as examples. The other method is a natural fermentation where the fermenting microorganisms are naturally present in the raw food, like in the cabbage of sauerkraut and kimchi.
The process of fermenting foods causes probiotic cultures to develop, which are considered crucial to optimal digestive health. These probiotic cultures help to feed and colonise the good bacteria in our gut, resulting in better food digestion and absorption, and can also decrease symptoms like constipation, bloating and diarrhoea.
Did you know that consuming fermented foods can also support our immune system? Fermented foods help to increase the number of IgA cells in our gut, which are immune cells involved in the body’s first line of defence against pathogens. Certain probiotics found in fermented foods can also activate our body’s immune cells including macrophages, natural killer cells and T-lymphocytes.
Here are some fermented foods to include in your diet that can be enjoyed by the whole family:
A familiar product that we see in the local supermarket, made from milk with added live bacteria. Yoghurt has been eaten for thousands of years, and to this day is still frequently consumed as a snack and as a component of sauces and desserts. There are plenty of varieties of yoghurt available for purchase, including plant-based ones made from coconut, soy or almond milk.
Enjoy yoghurt as a snack with toppings of your choice; spoon over pancakes; add a few heaped tablespoons into your smoothie; freeze into ice block moulds with berries; or make your own tzatziki dip with chopped cucumber and fresh mint.
The word ‘sauerkraut’ literally translates to ‘sour cabbage’ in German. Sauerkraut is traditionally made with just two ingredients: cabbage and salt. The cabbage is finely sliced, then salt is added to help draw out moisture, creating a brine. The watery, salty cabbage is pressed tightly into a glass jar and stored with a weight (to keep the cabbage covered by the brine) for at least a week before consuming. During this week (and for up to 4 weeks), the cabbage begins to ferment - if making it at home, the fizzing sound and the presence of bubbles indicates this fermentation process.
Enjoy sauerkraut as a side to grilled fish or chicken; turn it into a salad by adding some roasted beetroot and sliced cucumber; add into wraps; or eat straight from the jar!
You probably know miso as the delicious salty soup, perfect accompaniment to sushi. The base of miso is made from a paste of fermented soy beans, rich in probiotics. The paste is then used to make miso soup and a range of other dishes for a kick of flavour and gut-loving bacteria.
Enjoy miso soup as a warm addition to any meal or use it as a base for noodle soups; glaze vegetables or meat with miso paste; or use miso paste as a salad dressing.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish comprised of Napa cabbage, radish and salt, usually seasoned with garlic, ginger and chilli. Kimchi is similar to sauerkraut due to the fermentation of cabbage and salt, however the added seasonings make it unique and tangy. Also, the cabbage used in kimchi is usually chopped much thicker compared to that in sauerkraut. Kimchi can be added to stir fries; used a side to grilled meat, chicken or fish; you can use it as a topper for roasted potatoes; or eat straight from the jar with a spoon!
Kefir is a fermented milk drink with a creamy texture, sour taste and subtle effervescence or fizziness, produced by adding a starter culture called ‘kefir grains’ to milk. Kefir grains are not like grains used to make cereal or bread, rather they look like tiny heads of cauliflower and contain yeasts, lactic acid and acetic acid-producing bacteria. A dairy free version of kefir also exists – this is known as water kefir, which is a fermented drink made from water, sugar and water kefir grains that also contain bacteria and yeasts.
Use kefir in smoothies to replace regular milk; turn it into a creamy salad dressing with herbs and garlic; use it in baking to replace buttermilk; or simply drink it straight up.
Found in the fridge, this fizzy drink is rich in probiotics to help support a healthy gut. Kombucha is a traditional Chinese recipe involving the fermenting of tea with sugar and a starter culture called a ‘Scoby’ (which stands for Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast). It is found refrigerated in most supermarkets, health food stores and even service stations! There are plenty of flavours to choose from, including ginger, watermelon, turmeric, berry and more.
Replace soft drinks in the home with kombucha for a healthier, fizzy drink; soak your oats in kombucha overnight for a tangy alternative to milk; or soak plain, unsalted nuts in kombucha for 24 hours, then roast for a crunchy treat.
Not only is a slice of crunchy, sourdough bread the perfect base for some smashed avocado and a poached egg, it is great for our health thanks to the fermentation process of flour, water and a starter culture containing yeast and other beneficial microorganisms.
Sourdough bread be eaten fresh or toasted topped with anything you like, from jams to peanut butter or avocado; use it as a base for bruschetta, or cut into cubes & oven roast to make croutons.
Not all fermented foods are suitable for everyone. Please consult your healthcare professional if you experience any digestive or immune system complaints, and before making significant changes to your diet.
- Ashraf, R., Shah, N.P. (2014), Immune system stimulation by probiotic microorganisms, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 54(7): 938-956.
- Bumpus, J. (2019), The Facts on Fermented Foods, Avance Care, <https://www.avancecare.com/the-facts-on-fermented-foods/>
- Coyle, D. 92019), What is Fermentation? The Lowdown on Fermented Foods, Healthline, <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fermentation>
- Dimidi, E. et.al. (2019), Fermented Foods: Definitions and Characteristics, Impact on the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Gastrointestinal Health and Disease, Nutrients 11(8): 1806.
- Howe, H. (2019), How to Make Sauerkraut in a Jar, A Complete Guide, Make Sauerkraut, <https://www.makesauerkraut.com/sure-fire-sauerkraut-in-a-jar/>
- Link, R. (2017), 8 Fermented Foods to Boost Digestion and Health, Healthline, <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/8-fermented-foods>