Fermented foods are one of the foods that have been lost through the generations, and I am somewhat baffled as to why. My favourite way of enjoying fermented foods is in the form of kim chi, a Korean accompaniment to every meal, and the famous German sauerkraut, which I generously spoon onto my hamburger and savour every mouthful. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy this slightly salty, sometimes spicy condiment with their main meal? Thinking about it makes my mouth water with anticipation. However, apart from their tantalising flavours, the health benefits of fermented foods has, just recently appeared to make a resurgence and can now be found readily in health food stores around Australia. This time honoured tradition of pickling is making a come back, and I for one am delighted!
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process of lacto-fermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. Not only does lactic acid provide the ‘sour taste’ but it also preserves the food and creates beneficial enzymes, vitamins and various strains of probiotics. The enzymatic reactions that take place during fermentation actually help ‘break down’ the food to a more digestible form. This may explain why people who consume fermented foods experience less abdominal discomfort. Now here comes my caveat – whilst fermented foods are jam packed with goodness, there’s no need to rush into consuming large quantities at once, especially in the early stages. A teaspoon at a time with your main meal will suffice for the first week. It takes the gut time to get used to all the new friendly bacteria. Side effects of over consumption may lead to … not so lovely fragrances being emitted. Over time you may increase the quantity until you feel comfortable. But about 2-3 tablespoons with a main meal will do.
Why are fermented foods so important?
Our gut is a formidable force against bugs and one of the most important lines of defence for our body. The trillions of tiny friendly bacteria living in our digestive system help us fight off nasty bugs and assist us in breaking down and digesting our foods. There has been research to suggest that fermented foods may improve digestion, boost immunity and—according to some preliminary studies—they may even help us get leaner. Research is still emerging on just how important these mighty microbes might be for our health, but the early results are promising. There’s plenty you can do now to encourage their growth. The most effective way is by eating foods packed with probiotics—good bacteria that live in your gut and show up in fermented foods. However there is a 3-step process to improving your gut bacteria. It’s not as easy as slugging down a yakult everyday (which by the way is loaded with sugar). Don’t be fooled by marketing madness, a tub of yogurt overloaded with sugar and preservatives will not suffice. See my blog on Weed-Seed-Feed for great tips on how to get your gut back on track and kick the bloating belly and the violent diarrhoea.
Fermented foods come in all shapes and sizes…here’s my list (and it’s not just polski pickles that I’m interested in,)
Kim Chi – Fermented cabbage, radish, carrot loaded with chilli (I kid you not; my mouth waters EVERY time I think about this magical concoction.
Sauerkraut – My kids go crazy for cabbage. Plain, coleslaw or sauerkraut. They have so much of the stuff, they’ve become real cabbage aficionados. Loaded with probiotics and fibre.
Kombucha – a weirdly delicious effervescent tea. Found in health food stores.
Kefir – I have such fond memories of this drink come. As a child trudging through the tumultuous tracks in the Persian Bazaars, mum would take us to a stall where an elderly woman would ladle fresh kefir into tin cups and we would savour each mouthful. Sometimes our kefir would be laced with orange blossom or rose water. D-vine. Essentially it’s a yogurt drink. I’ve seen kefir sold at Woolworths in the fridge section.
Tempeh – A real favourite amongst vegetarians and vegans due to its complete amino acid profile (which meat provides for carnivores). This sprouted soybean is loaded with probiotics and super easy to digest as well as being high in protein and a great source of complex carbohydrates and fibre.
Miso – though high in sodium, only a small amount is required, 1 teaspoon in a cup of hot water sipped slowly. Divine. Consume before eating a main meal. Helps to keep you full, and loaded with B-vitamins as it’s derived from soybeans and rice.
Yogurt – the real stuff. I must say I was always baffled by the sweet ‘fruit’ flavoured yogurt. It’s not the way we were brought up to enjoy it. In our family, and I’m guessing most European, Middle Eastern and African families, yogurt is an accompaniment to savoury dishes. Sometimes spooned on top of soups, other times, mixed with grated cucumber and crushed garlic or simply served as a large dollop on a mountain of rice. But definitely not sweetened. There’s something sacred about plain yogurt, it’s almost archaic – I can imagine caveman milking his cave-cow and leaving it in his cave-bowl, by the cave-fire and allowing the natural fermentation process to take place. The cave-family would consume the yogurt over several days. Nowadays, yogurt takes up a good ½ an aisle at the supermarket – riddled with flavours and sweeteners, “low fat” and not even using WHOLE milk – but rather milk solids. There’s a clear difference between the two. Real yogurt should be quite runny, and taste tart. Paris Creek and Mungalli Creek yogurts are fabulous and highly nutritious. If you must have it sweetened, do it yourself – slice some fruit or add honey/agave/coconut nectar to taste. My kids do, unfortunately, enjoy it sweetened. I mix in cacao (not cocoa, these are quite different), coconut nectar and cinnamon. More often it serves as a wonderful dessert.
On a personal note…
I really enjoy fermented foods, especially kim chi, sauerkraut and miso. I can confidently say that I would have two generous servings a day. A typical 400 calorie day is a miso soup with my lunch, which suppresses my appetite; and at least 2 tablespoons of kim chi with my dinner. Of course I change it up and have yogurt, kefir or sauerkraut regularly too, but for some reason I’ve found my ‘click’ and stick to it. Since these foods have been introduced to my diet, I have noticed that I don’t ‘crave’ sweets after my meal and my belly bloat has reduced significantly. Maybe I feel satisfied with eating less due to the high impact flavours; I don’t need so much food. But, definitely, I really have no sugar cravings. It’s been amazing.
On my 5:2 diet days (the nasty and dreaded 400calories), miso soup is my only meal for lunch and it really does feel the void. Again, the flavour and saltiness helps regulate my satiety.
For my patients who suffer from IBS and even ulcerative colitis, I always suggest modifying their diet and have strongly suggested the introduction of fermented foods. These help to break down the cellulose which we can’t digest and the high content of butyric acid helps protect and repair the digestive tract. Kombucha consumed daily has helped many patients alleviate their nasty tummy symptoms.
If you haven’t jumped onto the fermented foods band wagon, I really suggest you try it. Just for 30 days. See what a difference it can make to your health. I guarantee by the end of the 30days you will be fermenting your own veggies!
I'm a lover of fine food, amazing cheese and sharing with people I love.