Fermentation is one of the oldest forms of food preservation in the world (5). In recent years, fermented foods have hit the Australian market but in many of the Scandinavian and Asian countries these fermented foods have long been enjoyed on a daily basis as part of tradition and culture. So, what exactly is the fuss with fermented foods? And do they have a health benefit?
What is fermentation?
It involves the breakdown of naturally occurring sugars by bacteria and yeasts in an environment that has no oxygen. As a result, these organisms produce organic acids, gases or alcohol.
There are typically two categories in which we classify fermented foods and they are dairy and non-dairy (5). For example, yoghurt is an everyday dairy fermented food but there are plenty more and might we add some are more trendy than others...kombucha anyone?
Is there any health benefits associated with eating fermented foods?
Fermented foods can have many different health benefits. For example, yoghurt is also a pro-biotic in that it contains beneficial bacteria that support good gut health. Other fermented products including tempeh (fermented soybeans) and Kim Chi (fermented Korean cabbage) can also have a pre-biotic function. That is the fibre from that plant provides a source of food to thegood bacteria found in our gut. Additionally, other fermented foods such as yoghurt and Filmjolk (a Swedish-style pro-biotic milk) are likely to also contain other nutrients such as calcium and B12.
What about the environment? Do fermented foods have a negative or positive effect on the environment?
The answer is a positive one. Making your own or consuming fermented foods can help reduce the amount of food waste (of which we have too much of here in Australia and around the world). The process of fermentation helps to protect the food from a bacterial invasion, preventing spoilage and further contributing to food waste.
Here are two examples of fermented foods hitting the Aussie market.
Sourdough is one of the oldest forms of bread (1). P.s we real the real deal sourdough not the supermarket variety which often cuts corners.
It is produced by a long period of fermentation involving lactic acid bacteria and wild yeasts (naturally found in the wheat flour). They feed off naturally occurring sugars found in the wheat including sucrose and maltose (2). As the grain ferments, gases expand the dough and this gives the dough height.
The interesting thing about the fermentation process with sourdough is that it breaks down some of the protein (gluten) and phytates found in the wheat. Some studies show that this may help with the digestion of gluten and be a suitable choice for those with gluten sensitivity (1). And a breakdown of phytates (of which bind to naturally occurring minerals such as magnesium) may help to make these minerals more available to digestion (1, 3). In comparison to conventional breads, real sourdough may be nutritionally superior.
Kimchi is a traditional Korean fermented vegetable dish that ensures spring and summer vegetables can be preserved right through the winter to the next season (5).
Its make-up is inclusive of a variety of different types of bacteria with lactic acid bacteria becoming the more prominent as it begins to over-ripen (5).
A few studies have shown that the bacteria found in Kimchi can withstand the harsh environments of digestion and probably has pro-biotic functions in the body, however, more research is needed in this area to determine exactly how this works (4, 5).
Kimchi also contains fibre from the cabbage and other vegetable ingredients and thus its pre-biotic characteristics of being able to support good bowel habits and prevent constipation are more well known (5).
From a Be Well Fed perspective it looks as though the fuss about fermented foods is probably a good thing. Enjoying fermented foods as part of a balanced diet may help to get you on your way to BEing Well Fed. Including foods such kimchi as a side dish is a great way to get extra nutrients including fibre into your diet, and opting for sourdough may help to make those extra nutrients in flour more readily available. To learn how to make your own and taste some weird and wonderful fermented products check out Be Well Fed's up and coming workshops.
Want to know more?
We do too! Be Well Fed will be posting more about other fermented foods including Kombucha, Filmjölk, Tempeh and Sauerkaut in the coming weeks, however, all good things take time and research. Stay in touch and we will let you know when it's up and ready for a read. Looking for references? They're here.