With the exception of yogurt and miso soup, I confess to a great deal of ignorance about fermented foods. I thought this write-up from Tufts health & Nutrition Letter was very informative.
Fermented foods may be the oldest “new” food trend around. The process is as old as civilization itself, and fermented foods are consumed in nearly every culture in the world. While researchers attempt to tease out how the changes caused by fermentation actually impact health, many not-fully-substantiated health claims are being made. Let’s take a look at what we know, and don’t know, about these promising (and tasty) foods.
What is Fermentation? Fermentation occurs when microorganisms (certain species of bacteria, yeast, or mold) feed on starch, sugar, and other food components. This ancient process was originally used for preserving foods, but it fell out of favor in the age of refrigeration and pasteurization. Many foods and beverages that are commonplace in the U.S. are a result of fermentation. Grains are fermented to make beer and bread; wine is made by fermenting grape juice; and yogurt and cheese are popular forms of fermented milk. Any foods can be fermented, and there are many examples of fermented foods around the world, such as Korean kimchi and the Swedish fermented fish Surstrmming.
For a change of pace, try including these fermented food products as part of a healthy dietary pattern:
-Yogurt: Yogurt is the result of bacterial fermentation of milk. For probiotic benefits, look for yogurts with live, active cultures. Watch out for high levels of added sugars.
-Kefir: This slightly tangy, yogurt-like drink is fermented with both bacteria (like yogurt) and yeast.
-Cheese: Some studies show potential positive health effects of diets that include some cheese, possibly due to the fact that cheese is fermented. While evidence is limited on type, hard and aged cheeses tend to be more fermented.
-Kombucha: Black tea and sugar fermented by bacteria and yeast, this drink is growing in availability and popularity in the U.S.
-Sauerkraut*: Fresh sauerkraut contains live cultures.
-Kimchi*: This spicy Korean dish of fermented cabbage has been made for centuries. (See Recipe below.)
-Miso*: This fermented soybean paste is commonly used in Japanese cooking, particularly in miso soup.
-Tempeh: This cake of fermented soybeans can be used as a meat substitute.
*These foods contain high levels of sodium and should be eaten in small quantities.