Embrace The Funk: Everything You Need to Know About Fermented Foods
Fermented food. Doesn’t really sound so appealing, does it? If we told you that eating them would do great things for your health, do they sound more appealing? Nah. We didn’t think so. While the word ‘fermented’ may be off-putting, chances are you’re already eating loads of fermented foods without even knowing it. Yoghurt, cheese, beer and coffee don’t seem so scary do they? Well, at some point in their production, these foods will have gone through a form of fermentation. Now, while chocolate may be fermented that doesn’t mean you can scoff down as much as you want, it simply means that fermented foods don’t always mean gross, smelly things.
So what does fermentation mean?
Well, fermentation is a process of preserving or producing food through the introduction of good-for-you bacteria and yeast. Scientifically, the carbohydrates and sugars in these foods are converted into lactic acid under anaerobic conditions. This method of preservation has been around for nearly as long as the earth has existed, and was a way for food to be stored prior to the discovery of refrigeration. In this case, we’re specifically talking about lacto-fermented foods, where the lactobacillus bacteria has been allowed to develop. Along with preserving the food, lacto-fermentation creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics. The evidence of a lacto-fermented food is lots of carbon dioxide (read: smelly), fizzing, popping and an overall tangy kind of flavour. These descriptors may not sound appetising, and fermented foods can be an acquired taste but they really are delicious. If you’ve ever eaten kimchi, you’ll know exactly what we mean.
Why are fermented foods so good for you?
Well, as we said above, fermented foods are packed full of vitamins, fatty acids and those all important probiotics. Probiotics are essential to the health and wellbeing of your gut, and they’ve been proven to introduce beneficial bacteria into your digestive system. Basically, they help balance the bacteria in your digestive system and have been shown to help slow some diseases that culminate in your stomach, as well as improve bowel health, aid digestion, and boost immunity. If you’re struggling with some kind of digestive upset, then adding some fermented food into your diet will make a huge difference. These probiotics will also help you absorb more nutrients, making all the healthy things you eat that much more beneficial to you.
So what fermented foods should you be eating?
We’re going to assume that you’re already eating yoghurt but you should really only be eating the full cream, plain yoghurt, which is packed full of probiotics. Flavoured and sweetened yoghurts are full of sugar, preservatives and stabilisers. Similar to yoghurt, but more drinkable, is kefir. The cultures within kefir are known to soothe intestinal irritation, while adding loads of nutritional yeast to your gut. Kombucha, lightly effervescent fermented black of green tea, is also exceptionally good for your gut. It’s packed full of probiotics, has detoxifying qualities and can strengthen your immune system. Plus it tastes delicious. We’re also partial to the health benefits of sauerkraut, a traditional fermented cabbage dish that hails from Germany. Along with the probiotics, it’s full of vitamins B, C and K, and is often used to treat stomach ulcers. Kimchi is another delicious fermented cabbage dish from Korea that is good for your gut, as well having antioxidant qualities. Miso, fermented soybean paste packed full of umami, is also very good for you, and a great way to add depth and flavour to your food. It is best to eat fresh or whisked into dressings to tap into its health benefits, as too much heat can kill the natural bacteria.
So, don’t fear the funk, embrace it. Fermented foods may seem a little scary but just try one and you’ll see how tasty they can be.
Start small, with maybe a little side dish of kimchi the next time you see it on a menu. If you’re feeling brave, and so you should, then why not try your hand at your own kimchi? You can make it as spicy or as mild as you want. This is our version of the spicy Korean condiment but is like a store cupboard take on it. The traditional recipe will include dried shrimp, but we’ve adapted this to include fish sauce, which is easier to find and still adds that necessary umami punch.HERE for the recipe.