Updated: Feb 25
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods have gone through a natural process of lactofermentation, whereby natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food, creating lactic acid. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria, and gives that sour or ‘tang’ taste to fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi and tempeh.
Healthy gut, happy you
Normally, there are trillions of friendly and not-so friendly bacteria colonizing our guts that all live together in a harmonious ecosystem. However, this delicate balance can easily be disrupted by numerous factors, such as high-sugar foods, lack of sleep, stress, food intolerances, antibiotics and medications.
The process of lactofermentation creates a bevy of probiotics (i.e. friendly bacteria) in the food, which significantly contributes to the health of your gut. These friendly bugs have been shown to significantly improve digestion, calm IBS symptoms such as constipation, diarrhoea and bloating, and improve intestinal inflammatory conditions such as Crohns Disease. They also help destroy and inhibit the growth of opportunistic invaders such as pathogenic bacteria, yeasts and parasites, which can also lead to digestive issues.
And the benefits don’t stop in the gut – a 2011 study published in the Nutrition Research Journal found that kimchi, a fermented vegetable dish, helped overweight patients shed weight and improve blood sugar imbalances. In addition, according to some preliminary studies, probiotics can help reduce the risk of anxiety, depression and even certain types of cancer.
Another major factor in good digestion also relies on the amount of digestive enzymes in our guts. Stress, pollution, age, illness, poor diets and chemicals can diminish the body’s ability to effectively produce these enzymes.
Those friendly bacteria found in fermented foods can actually produce numerous digestive enzymes. These help break down protein, carbohydrates and fats, which significantly takes the pressure off the digestive system and helps you extract and absorb all the nourishment from the food that you eat. This can be a huge advantage for those who find it difficult to digest certain foods, such as grains or dairy.
In addition, the process of food fermentation also helps destroy ‘anti-nutrients’ found in legumes, making minerals more bioavailable to the body. Phytic acid, for example, is a naturally occurring compound found in legumes that inhibits the absorption of minerals such as zinc and iron into the body. Miso and temped are examples of fermented legumes.
Make your own Sauerkraut
You can buy fermented products at most health food stores and some supermarkets, but fermenting your own foods is easy and inexpensive to do at home.
If you have never tried fermented foods before, sauerkraut the perfect place to start. It makes a delicious digestive aid served alongside meat, or in salads sandwiches, or even added to soups and stews.
Simply take 1 large head of cabbage (approx. 1.5kg). Remove the outer leaves and set aside. Shred the rest of the cabbage and place it in a mixing bowl along with the salt and mix well. Add handfuls of this cabbage to a sterilised 500ml jar, using your fist or the back of a rolling pin to pack it down tightly. This will remove help remove water from the cabbage and create a brine. If you need to, top the cabbage with 1 tbsp. of water so that it is fully covered.
Roll up the outer tougher leaves of the cabbage that you set aside and use them to wedge the rest of the cabbage down, so that the shredded cabbage is completely submerged in the brine. Leaving 2 -3cm at the top of the jar sauerkraut to expand. Leave this jar to ferment at room temperature for 1 – 5 days. When there are bubbles inside the jar, it is ready and should be refrigerated where you can keep it for up to one month.
Be sure to lift the lid off slowly or use clip-top jars to stop any explosions!
Get creative! Use red or white cabbage, or a mixture of both. And why not add a little spice such as 1/2 tsp. of caraway seeds.