What’s all the fuss about fermentation?

Our search for ways to store and keep foods fresh has been a quest throughout the ages. Whilst the invention of the refrigerator represented a leap forward in the development of food storage technology, one of the oldest and most nutritionally beneficial ways of stabilising foods for storage is fermentation. In fact, the presence of fermented foods is common to various ancient diets. In recent times, fermentation has experienced a renaissance and its benefits have become more widely recognised.

What is fermentation?

Fermentation is a natural process whereby foods are combined with probiotics, or enzymes derived from probiotics. These organisms feed on the natural sugars and compounds from the food, producing new compounds. Fermentation “predigests” the foods components making it easier for your gut to breakdown and absorb the nutrients. Fermentation also renders toxins harmless, making food safe for us to consume. So critical were fermented foods to our evolution as a species that, according to some, their demise from our modern diet is a driving force behind our burden of chronic disease.

Ancient cultures used fermentation methods to store fresh milk for days in ceramic jars. The resulting yoghurt was then consumed within days without the need for daily milking. Other ancient methods lead to the development of alcoholic beverages, as the fermentation of grapes in bacteria and yeast rich cellars lead to the development of wine, whereas other fermentation processes such as the addition of yeast to grains, lead to the development of modern foods such as bread.

The difference between good health and great health lies in the amplifying power of fermentation

Incorporating Fermented Foods into the Diet is Critical for Good Health

Many foods such as beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, contain a protective “mesh” (sometimes referred to as anti-nutrients) which can prevent the proper breakdown of these foods in our digestive system. This means that many of the nutrients (amino acids, protein, vitamins and minerals) we seek to gain from these foods are useless or unavailable to us. This indigestible mesh may also cause havoc on our digestive systems, creating intestinal discomfort such as gas and bloating.

The great benefit of the fermentation process is that it literally pre-digests our food for us, breaking down the “mesh” and liberating the proteins and nutrients so they are in a ready-form for our bodies to absorb and use

Our modern world is not very kind to our digestive systems. The daily assaults from processed foods, caffeine, sugar, chlorinated water, and harsh chemical cleaners can inflict damage on our digestive system, impairing it functioning at its optimum and increasing the risk for ill health. Including fermented foods in our diets can help combat this.

Incorporating fermented foods into your diet:

  • Sauerkraut, or fermented cabbage is an easy one you can make at home. It can be eaten by itself with a big wedge of rye bread, as an alternative to coleslaw, or together with grilled pork chops, or even bacon for a different breakfast. Here is a simple recipe I found.
  • Kimchi is a spicy traditional Korean dish made from fermented cabbage. Check out this quick kimchi
  • Tempeh is simply fermented soybeans and provides a complete protein with all the essential amino acids. You can substitute it for bacon in to make a yummy BLAT. Simply flavour some organic tempeh with tamari (also fermented) and add it to a sandwich with tomato, lettuce, avocado and toast. Or simply eat tempeh tossed in a bowl of steamed or stir fried veggies.
  • Miso paste is made from fermented soybeans and grains and is full of essential minerals – plus lots of microorganisms. To make miso soup, just add a dollop to boiling water, along with some of your favourite vegetables, like onions, bok choy, or mushrooms. I also love miso paste smeared on a piece of salmon with some sesame seeds, fresh ginger and coriander. Simply cook in the oven for 10 minutes and serve with some stir fried veggies.
  • Cultured dairy (yoghurt, kefir, buttermilk) are naturals for breakfast. Add yoghurt, kefir or buttermilk to your morning smoothie or top granola or oatmeal with fruit and homemade yoghurt. If you don’t eat dairy, try coconut yoghurt instead. Here is a link to a coconut yoghurt recipe by Alexx Stuart who is one of my wholefood cooking heroes.
  • Kombucha – is a fizzy, fermented black tea. You can find it pretty easily in health food stores and some wholefood cafes. If you are game you can also make it yourself. Check out this recipe.
  • Pickles – super easy; add to salads and even bolognaise sauce for a bit of a pep up.