Fermented Food: What You Need to Know

Fermented foods add flavor to everyday food

Without a doubt, fermented food is becoming more popular. Supermarkets are stocking healthful varieties of live culture yogurts, vegetables and grains, while farmers market vendors are selling small-batch, locally-sourced fermented products.

Food fermentation has been around for a long time. It’s also an integral part of many cultures, providing a way to preserve food, enjoy health benefits and add flavor to a meal.

What is fermented food?

Food fermentation is the ancient practice of preserving perishable food. It’s thought that this form of food preservation probably happened by accident. 

For example, prior to refrigeration, preserving dairy was difficult. Around 10,000 BCE, milk stored in natural bags and hung over the backs of camels would have fermented in warm, sub-tropical climates. Foods like this were possibly the first processed food humans ate!

By the modern era, refrigeration replaced the need for preserving produce and dairy. However, fermented food has become popular in the U.S., in the form of international dishes such as: 

Kimchi: An often-spicy vegetable side dish in Korean cuisine.

Sauerkraut: German for sour cabbage. Though a staple German dish, sauerkraut may have originated from China.

Miso: A fermented soybean paste used in Japanese dishes.

What are the benefits of eating fermented foods?

Fermented food is popular due to its health benefits. It can be more nutritious than the fresh, unfermented version!

Eating fermented food may improve your health by:

Boosting digestion

The good bacteria in fermented foods may alleviate the symptoms of digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), as well as gas, diarrhea and constipation.

Additionally, fermented food makes digestion easier, as friendly bacteria break down the food’s nutrients for you. For example, the form of pre-digestion allows people who are lactose intolerant to eat fermented dairy products such as yogurt and kefir.

Strengthening the immune system

Your immune system protects you from illness. Certain illnesses and medications can weaken your immune system, leaving you vulnerable to harmful infections.

The probiotic bacteria and yeasts in fermented foods can help your body fight off colds and may increase your recovery time from sicknesses.

Is fermented food safe?

Buying store-bought kimchi and other fermented food products can be considered safe (like any food you buy in the supermarket). 

However, during processing, the healthful fermentation bacteria may not survive, making it less beneficial. Additionally, some foods that claim to be fermented are not fermented but pickled in vinegar.

Know what to look for on the label

There are a few key ingredients in fermented food products that will guarantee you’re getting the real thing.

For instance, fermented sauerkraut is stored in the supermarket refrigerator section and is perishable. The ingredients include cabbage, sea salt, dill and garlic (no vinegar).

If you’re buying yogurt for its probiotic benefits, check the label. It should include whole milk and live yogurt cultures.

Interested in making fermented foods? 

To ensure that the end product is safe, you will need to follow some basic food safety rules:

  • Use fresh vegetables from a trusted source.
  • Wash all equipment that will come in contact with the fermenting product.
  • Use food-grade, non-metal containers and utensils that are free of cracks and scratches.
  • Follow the recipe exactly, including the type of salt and required quantity.
  • Ferment the vegetables in a sealed container.
  • Monitor the temperature: 70-75°F is the ideal temperature for fermentation.
  • Store the finished product in the refrigerator. 

Enjoy delicious, good-for-you fermented treats

For some people, fermented food may not sound appealing. However, the technique of preserving food through fermentation is a practice that comes with many health benefits. Plus, fermented foods tend to have a flavorful zing that is sure to brighten any meal!