Fermented Food Basics
I’m a nerd; a self-proclaimed nerd. Anything space and the cosmos blows my mind. World history is my favorite topic and historical fiction books are my weakness. I read science and educational articles daily. I’m constantly thinking about how the world around me works.
Over the past two years or so I have become extremely interested in a more holistic lifestyle, putting more thought and emphasis on what I’m eating and putting in my body, what I’m putting ON my body, as well as being selective and critical of ingredients in day to day household and lifestyle products.
One of the things that I’ve come to know more about and love that plays a really important role in my overall heath (and happiness!) is fermented foods. Fermentation and fermented foods is not a difficult concept but it tends to freak people out a bit and confuse them. So fasten your seat belts because I’m about to nerd out on you and give you the 411 on just what the heck fermented foods really are.
Keep in mind, I am not an expert, some of this stuff I didn’t know until I put this post together. My intention is to simply share more about the topic, make you more comfortable with the concept and maybe have you learn a thing or two!
What Is Fermentation?
On a very basic level, fermentation is the process of the chemical breakdown of food that inhibits bad bacteria growth and supports and promotes good bacteria growth!
Bacteria?!? ewww gross.
Nope. Actually bacteria is amazing and without it, none of us would be alive!
Fermenting food introduces healthy microbes (a bunch of bacteria & yeast) into food. Without making you all run for the hills ->come back I promise this will be fun!<- Fermentation creates an anaerobic environment (no oxygen) in which bad bacteria cannot survive and good bacteria can. The good microbes feed on sugars and starches in the foods which essentially remove them from said foods, leaving you with a more nutritious version of the food with a longer shelf life! This is why before people had refrigeration, fermentation was the method everyone used to keep and store food all year round.
Some other terms commonly used for fermented foods include:
People usually think of sauerkraut when they hear “fermented foods”, but virtually every single food group can be fermented. If you love beer and sourdough bread, that’s fermented grains. If you love cheese and yogurt, that’s fermented dairy. Love pickles? Fermented veggies. And can’t live with out jam on your toast? That would be fermented fruit 🙂 You get the idea.
Types of Fermentation
Here is something I didn’t realize until I began researching this topic, there are actually three different types of fermentation!
- Lactic acid fermentation also known as lacto-fermentation, happens when the natural starches and sugars in foods are converted to lactic acid by good bacteria. The term “lacto” in lacto-fermentation, refers to the production of lactic acid, lactase and not lactose which causes problems for many peoples digestive tracts (um HI, hello, me). The acid acts as a natural preservative, inhibiting the growth of bad bacteria. Lacto-fermentation products have been proven to helps with blood circulation, prevent and ease constipation, balances digestive acids and aids in pre-digestion.
- Ethyl alcohol fermentation occurs when the good microorganisms convert the carbohydrates in foods into alcohol. They say (idk who they is) that alcohol used to be more nutritious and contained lots of beneficial organisms. Today I’m not so sure. They speed the process up, use high heat which destroys all microorganisms, and usually add a lot of sugar. 😦
- Acetic fermentation takes place when alcohol is oxidized (exposed to air) and is magically converted to acetic acid which is commonly known as vinegar. Yep, your vinegar was likely once a cider or wine 🙂
All of that is interesting right?! But why do you/should you care? Well because it’s AWESOME for your body!
The Health Benefits of Fermented Food
The health benefits of fermented foods are almost too many to name. But I’ll name some of the coolest.
- Fermentation increases vitamins and minerals in food. Fermentation increases B and C vitamins as well as folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and biotin. The best part is the probiotics, enzymes and lactic acid in fermented foods allow these abundant vitamins and minerals to be more easily absorbed into the body.
- Fermented foods provide digestive enzymes. Fermented foods contain the enzymes that are required to break down food best. Our enzyme stores deplete as we age. The best thing we can do to slow down the depletion is to eat foods high in enzymes. Cooked food has no enzymes, raw food has a few, and fermented food has a TON.
- Fermentation aids in pre-digestion during the fermentation process, the microorganisms feed on sugars and starches, essentially beginning to digest and break down the food before you even eat it, which makes the actual digesting your body will do, that much easier on your system!
- Fermented foods are rich in probiotics which are microorganisms consumed by the body that are responsible for maintaining a healthy gut flora (your gut bacteria). A healthy gut is capable of better pulling nutrients from the food you eat, whether it’s fermented food or not.
- Eating fermented food helps maintain a healthy immune system because a healthy gut produces anti-biotic, anti-tumor, anti-viral, and anti-fungal substances. Also, the acids in fermented food make the gut an acidic place for pathogens so they have a harder chance of thriving there and improve your bodies ability to fight off germs and heal faster.
There’s also this awesome infographic (that I did not make) that lists some of the major benefits:
WHEW! Are you guys still awake? Hopefully you didn’t all bolt on me. I’m wrapping up. Promise.
So I mean fermenting sounds pretty awesome right? Easy to do, healthy, nutritious…so why isn’t it more common place?
People have been fermenting food for thousands of years, all over the world but in the past 100 or so years, it has declined as a common “cooking” technique. An obvious contributor is just the modern world and industrialized food. Pickling and preservatives took the place of fermentation. While I still love me some homemade pickled foods, they are less nutritious (than fermented) and some store bought versions with added preservatives can be plain ole bad for you.
I think there is a more recent swing in several social circles which shed light on the awesomeness that is fermented foods and show that it’s not a scary thing. You can easily make it yourself and even buy it already made!
Kombucha, kefir, fresh sauerkraut, kimchi, these are all things that can probably be found in most grocery stores. You don’t need to eat or drink that much to get the benefits. In fact if you’re just starting to add fermented foods into your diet, you’ll want to take it slow. Trust me.Over the next few weeks I want to share with you some great and easy ways to incorporate fermented foods into you and your families diet. I’ll share some great fermented food brands and products that you can buy at your grocery store or order online, some great tips and techniques for making your own fermented foods and drinks AND some delicious recipes to make! Make sure you check back so you don’t miss anything ❤
Tune in TOMORROW when we share the story of one of our favorite Wisconsin local fermented food brands that we’ve teamed up with and see the amazing and super delicious bibimbap (korean rice bowl) recipe!
*I always feel compelled to say this. I’m not a doctor, this is not medical advice. I’m not a dietitian, this is not diet advice. I’m just a food geek sharing some interesting stuff. If you were out there taking medical advice from a food blog titled Eat Laugh Craft, I’d have to wonder about your sanity. *
References and Readings:
The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes from around the World, by Sandor Ellix Katz