Written by Jacqui Campbell MS, RD, CDN
Lactic-acid fermented foods are set to be all the rage in 2016, and are rightly so making their comeback. Fermented foods are nothing new and go back to the beginning of mankind as a way to preserve food over long periods of times.
Lacto-fermentation happens when beneficial bacteria (Lactobacillus) naturally present on the foods surface feeds on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This process preserves the food, breaks the food down into a more digestible form and creates B-vitamins, enzymes that helps with digestion, and various strains of probiotics.
Fermented foods provide several health benefits:
- They acidify the gastrointestinal tract creating the right environment for healthy bacteria to thrive. Nearly 80% of our immune system is located in the gut so making sure you have the good bugs there to fight off the bad ones keeps you healthy.
- They balance the stomach acid. If you have too little acid, the fermented foods help to increase the acidity of the gastric juices. If your stomach acid is high, these foods help to protect the stomach and intestinal lining. Having the correct balance of stomach acid aids in digestion by improving the release of digestive juices and enzymes.
- They help the body produce acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter responsible for transmitting nerve impulses. These nerve impulses impact the movement of the bowels helping to keep things moving. Acetylcholine also plays a role in the release of digestive juices and enzymes.
- They also produce vitamin K2, which helps reduce plaque buildup in the arteries.
Popular Fermented Foods:
Kombucha – fermented drink made with tea, sugar, and “scoby” – a symbiotic colony of bacteria & yeast. The scoby consumes the sugar, transforming the tea into a refreshingly fizzy, slightly sour ferment. You can buy kombucha at most health stores and even places like Target. We tried a few different brands, both flavored and unflavored and enjoyed the fizzy drinks.
Sauerkraut – fermented cabbage, popular in many eastern European cultures. In Belarusian, Russian and Ukrainian cuisine, chopped cabbage is usually pickled together with shredded carrots. Other ingredients may include apples or cranberry. The resulting sauerkraut salad is typically served cold. In Germany, sauerkraut is often flavored with juniper berries and served warm. Sauerkraut is actually fairly easy to make at home. Check out this simple recipe.
Kimchi – fermented vegetables with spices from Korea. There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi made from napa cabbage, radish, scallion, or cucumber as a main ingredient. Kimchi is a very popular side dish served with many Korean meals. South Koreans consume 40 pounds of kimchi per person annually. You can make your own at home with this basic recipe.
Pickles and other fermented vegetables – All fruits and vegetables have beneficial bacteria on the surface so truly any can be fermented. Whole Foods has a great selection of fermented veggies including pickled beets which we sampled. Interested in making your own? The Kitchn has got you covered.
Kefir – mainstream kefir is made from milk, which is not promoted in a Paleoesque™ diet. However, kefir can be made with any dairy free milk, juice, coconut water or just plain water. Kefir are actually grains that are used to ferment said beverages. Kefir grains can be purchased online and mixed with any type of “milk”, juice or water (plus added sugar that the bacteria feed off). Here is a great how-to article on making your own. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on our experience making kefir.
Apple Cider Vinegar – vinegar made from apples. Unpasteurized or organic ACV contains mother of vinegar, which houses the probiotics and health benefits. ACV can easily be used in place of any other vinegar and can be added to any foods for an added nutritional boost.
Some of these foods may be intimidating at first, but we encourage you to be adventurous and try some not only the health benefits, but for the experience. Maybe start at a local ethnic restaurant like East Side Restaurant in New Britain for authentic German bratwurst, knockwurst, or German sausage with sauerkraut or Angry Tofu in Wethersfield for a Korean meal featuring kimchi.