Decoding the healthy bacterium your body needs RN.
FULL DISCLOSURE: we may or may not have originally jumped on the fermented food bandwagon upon discovering that both wine (yes) and chocolate (you see where we’re going here) are fermented. It didn’t take long, however, for us to get on board with the tangy diet’s seemingly never-ending list of other digestive and mental-health benefits.
Here’s the deal: fermentation is this biological process in which sugars are converted into cellular energy and lactic acid — an ancient form of food preservation dating back thousands of years. “The sugars in vegetables are consumed by beneficial bacteria that release lactic acid and carbon dioxide,” explains David Klingenberger, CFO (Chief Fermenting Officer) of The Brinery. Still with us?
“Fermentation pre-digests foods, making many nutrients more bio-available to us by reducing certain food toxins, elevating B-vitamins, and producing unique micro-nutrients,” adds Sandor Ellix Katz, self-proclaimed “fermentation revivalist” and author of Wild Fermentation, The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, and The Art of Fermentation. “Fermented foods ingested without cooking them first, have live bacteria that can be thought of as probiotic.”
These probiotics not only benefit digestive and immune function, but have also been found to play a part in brain chemistry. “Our mental health is directly affected by the health of our gut; it is truly a second brain. Remember the old sayings, ‘trust your gut,’ and ‘gut instinct’? The gut appears to help maintain brain function and has been increasingly proven to influence the risk of psychiatric and neurological disorders, including anxiety, depression, and autism,” says Klingenberger.
Now before you go off on an exclusively wine and chocolate diet claiming, “The Cov made me do it,” we enlisted some further natural-minded foodies to give us the lowdown on some of their favorite fermented foods and how to integrate the enzymatic eats into our everyday diet, you know, in an actual balanced fashion. And yes, we consider a hotdog doused in sauerkraut 100% balanced. JK.
EASE INTO IT
“Many people eat fermented foods nearly everyday and don't realize it. Bread, cheese, yogurt, wine, beer, coffee, vinegar and even chocolate are all fermented. If you're looking to incorporate more foods with live, active cultures into your diet, try shooting for fermented versions of foods you already love, or spoon a dollop of fermented veggies alongside your meals using them as a condiment. Curtido, kimchi and sour pickles are all lovely.” —Jenny McGruther, Food Educator & Writer, The Nourished Kitchen
“Start small with just a few spoonfuls of something like kimchi, or a small glass of kombucha. Let your system get used to it and then build up to more if you like. There are a huge variety of fermented foods out there, so if you don't like one, try another. You're sure to find something you like!” —Emma Christensen, Recipe Editor, The Kitchn; Author, True Brews and Brew Better Beer
MIX INTO YOUR MEAL PLAN
“Fermented foods, like kimchi and lacto-fermented pickles, are often very good incorporated into sandwiches or salads. I especially like folding kimchi into scrambled eggs. Fermented beverages like kombucha and kefir can be consumed on their own in place of soda or juice, or alongside a meal. For full health benefits, fermented foods shouldn't be cooked, as heat destroys the healthful bacteria they contain.” —EC
“Kombucha is fermented from strong black tea—though you would never guess that by tasting it! Fermented kombucha has a bright, tangy, somewhat vinegary flavor and a refreshing fizziness. It's fantastic when infused with fresh fruits. If it's too strong for your taste, try mixing it with a half glass of sparkling water.” —EC
For the culinary-brave, here’s how to make your own kombucha tea.
Kimchi is a traditional spicy, slightly tangy Korean side dish made of seasoned fermented vegetables. “Researchers are looking into the role of kimchi and its beneficial bacteria in preventing cancer and improving immunity. Researchers out of the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Pusan National University in Korea found that kimchi supports systemic wellness and acts as a functional food that supports the immune system, brain and gut health, and may have anti-aging properties.”—JM
“Homemade tempeh is nothing like the stuff many of us grew up eating from the store. It has a nutty, complex flavor and a toothsome texture. Tempeh is most often made with soybeans, though you can actually make it with any bean or grain you like.” —EC
Try the DIY version
“Sauerkraut [or fermented cabbage], is rich in the same bacteria that are present in kimchi, and it also conveys many of the same benefits. Like the research on many fermented foods, research on sauerkraut has indicated it may offer anti-carcinogenic properties.” —JM
“Think of milk kefir like drinkable yogurt—it's thinner and more liquidy than yogurt, but tastes nearly identical. I love it on its own, or blended into a smoothie. Kefir can also be used in place of buttermilk, milk, or other dairy in most baked goods. Some people with lactose intolerance also find it easier to digest kefir than plain milk.” —EC
“A few things happen when you make sourdough bread: First, the beneficial bacteria gobble up some of the naturally present sugars in flour and convert them into lactic acid, which gives sourdough its characteristic tang. That process also reduces the carbohydrates in sourdough bread, resulting in bread that is lower on the glycemic index. In addition, the process of fermentation increases the folate content of the grains. Sourdough leavening also reduces a naturally present component of grains called food phytate. Food phytate can bind minerals and prevent their full absorption. The process of sour leavening however, deactivates food phytates to some degree, meaning that those minerals become more bioavailable to you, so you get more nutrients out of every bite.” —JM
In case you need something to do on a Sunday: Recipe: whole grain no-knead sourdough bread.
— Naomi Nachmani