Fermented Foods: The Case for Reviving An Ancient Technique
hat do kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso have in common? They may hail from different culinary traditions, but they’re connected by the fact that they are all products of the process of fermentation.
Fermentation is an ancient technique that cultures have used throughout history to preserve and enhance foods. Pre-refrigeration, it was one of the smartest hacks for keeping food safe and unspoiled. In developing fermentation techniques, our ancestors created a way to make foods and drinks with distinctive tastes and health benefits. Fermenting food used to be incredibly common, but as refrigeration, preservatives, and processed foods made their way into our lives, its popularity dropped. Thankfully, fermentation is yet again gaining momentum both as an at home activity and on our grocery shelves as we collectively return to many of the ways our ancestors ate. This is a change for the better.. Fermented foods and beverages are one of the best examples of food as medicine.
What is fermentation and how does it work?
Fermentation takes place thanks to a chemical reaction when microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast, or fungi are used to convert organic compounds, such as starches and sugars. If that sounds a bit off-putting at first, remember that this same process is responsible for alcohol. These organic compounds are then converted into acids or alcohol.
Fermented foods and the gut
Fermented foods help immensely with gut health. Keeping your gut in check is critical on many levels, as poor gut health is linked to autoimmune disorders, depression, headaches, fatigue, bloating, and so much more. (For more on gut health, read our deep dive here.) Fermented foods pack a pro-biotic punch which will strengthen your microbiome. When you see “live cultures” on a label, such as Kefir, it refers to the living organisms that result from and are the cause of fermentation. If you’ve been looking to improve your gut health naturally, fermented foods are the perfect place to start.
There are other benefits to fermented foods, many of which are linked to the bigger picture of gut health. Remember: bodies are complex and our systems interconnected. The health of one “individual” organ or system always affects the bigger picture.
Digestion: Acidic by-products from live ferments will help break down the micronutrients and macronutrients from the rest of your diets. Digestion is a critical component of one’s overall gut and intestinal health. This can help reduce bloating, stomaches, and other issues associated with GI issues.
Nutrition absorption: In addition to aiding digestion, you’ll also increase the number of nutrients your body can absorb from foods as they’re transformed into their most bioavailable form. The nutrients are then more easily and quickly used by the body. For example, calcium’s bioavailability is increased due to acid from the lactobacillus bacteria found in ferments.
Beautiful, glowing skin: As above, so below. When your insides are healthy you can often see it reflected in your body’s largest organ, skin! When probiotics that clear up your digestive system they can also clear up acne in the process. Inflammation causes problems for those predisposed to skin issues such as acne, eczema, and/or rosacea. A healthy gut improves inflammation, which is also often reflected in the epidermis.
Weight loss: Fermented foods have been associated with weight loss, most likely through the introduction of probiotics.
Fermented foods and products to try
At Rebecca’s Natural Food, we’ve been on board with fermented foods and popular fermented drinks such as kombucha long before they became trendy (again). We strive to carry the most well-reputed brands, as well as cutting-edge up and comers. Popular fermented foods include kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, miso, sourdough bread, yogurt (but not all are created equal, read the label!), and several drinks, including kombucha.
We carry respected brands such as Gathered Threads, Farmstead Ferments, Superkrauts, locally-made Blue Ridge Bucha on tap, Wild Tonic Kombuchas, and Swiss Villa Elderberry Kombucha.
If you have any questions related to fermented foods and beverages, come see us at Rebecca’s Natural Food! We’re happy to point you to products you can try or ferment at home on your own.