Kefir, Kombucha, Kimchi, Yogurt! Surely these are treats you would enjoy, but there’s another similarity between these delicacies. All of these fall under the fermented foods category and have been an integral part of cultures and food histories worldwide for a long time. Thanks to advancements in food science and technology, these are becoming increasingly popular due to their proposed health benefits.
What are Fermented Foods?
Fermentation occurs when food has been left to sit and steep such that sugar and carbohydrates naturally present in the food interact with bacteria, yeast, and other microbes, causing a change in the chemical structure of the food. By definition, fermentation is a chemical reaction that causes a substance breakdown by specific microorganisms by producing effervescence and heat. The compounds produced due to fermentation breakdown include carbon dioxide, alcohol, and organic acids.
Fermentation enhances a food product’s shelf life, taste, and texture. Moreover, fermentation also brings the added benefit of increasing the nutrient profile of foods. Minerals in cultured, fermented, and probiotic foods are more bioavailable and assimilate easily into the body. Nutritionists and doctors recommend including fermented foods to reap their multiple health benefits.
- Yogurt: Prepared by fermenting milk, yogurt is a rich source of beneficial probiotic bacteria that support and enhance gut health. These probiotic bacteria also help break down some lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid, meaning you can enjoy yogurt even if you’re lactose intolerant. Dairy-free and vegan yogurt options with probiotics are also available these days.
- Kefir: A fermented milk drink, kefir is similar to yogurt. Loaded with calcium and probiotics, recent studies maintain that kefir may prove beneficial in managing diabetes, heart diseases, immunity, and neurological disorders. Much like yogurt, kefir is easily digestible, even for lactose intolerant people. It is a great addition to delicious smoothies or can be consumed as a chilled drink.
- Kimchi: Made from fermented cabbage, spices, and salt, this spicy Korean side dish is one of the most popular probiotics. According to a 2018 study, kimchi offers various health benefits, including protection against cancer, asthma, hypertension, and inflammation. A great side to any meal, kimchi can also be eaten as is or as a topper to snacks, salads, burgers, etc.
- Kombucha: A tangy, effervescent fermented tea, kombucha is packed with good yeast, healthy bacteria, and antioxidants.
Often flavored with herbs or fruit, kombucha is characterized by a sour taste. The recent wave of healthy eating has caused a rise in kombucha’s popularity, with several brands creating kombucha in various flavors.
- Miso: Made from barley, rice, or soybeans, miso is a fermented paste used as a condiment in various foods, such as soups, salad dressings, and marinades. Characterized by a rich, umami flavor and bold taste, miso is loaded with good bacteria and a considerable amount of protein, isoflavones, minerals, and fiber. Miso paste also contains a lot of sodium, so a little goes a long way.
Why Fermented Foods?
The microbes in fermented foods are a rich source of vitamins and enzymes important to maintain gut health and digestion at optimal levels. Eating fermented and probiotic foods introduces a host of healthy, useful microbes into our bodies. These bacteria form a protective lining along our intestines, shielding us against gut pathogens that could disrupt digestive health.
Some other health benefits associated with fermented foods include better digestive health, stronger immunity, weight loss, and improved heart health, owing to probiotics and bioactive peptides and metabolites.
Although more research is required to form a solid conclusion on the health benefits, the immediate results seem promising.
It is important to read the nutrition label before consuming fermented foods and beverages since some of these products may contain high levels of sugar, salt, and fat, which may be counterproductive to their overall nutritional benefits.
What are some of your favorite fermented foods?