Fermentation is one of the oldest and most successful forms of food preservation. The method relies on harmless microbes that are naturally present on food. By growing and multiplying, they prevent spoilage microbes (and those that can cause illness) from growing. The microbes most often responsible for fermentation are lactic acid bacteria and yeasts. While metabolizing plant material, they often produce other beneficial substances that are either healthy (such as vitamin B), or which contributes to a unique flavor.
Examples of fermented food products are sauerkraut (fermented cabbage), Kimchi (fermented cabbage and radish), Kombucha (fermented tea drink), and tempeh (fermented soybeans).
Sauerkraut and Kimchi
Sauerkraut and kimchi are two different styles of fermented cabbage. Originally created to preserve cabbage, it offers a punch of nutrition. Sauerkraut has been a staple in the Eastern European diet for ages, often served with meats. For kimchi, more salt and seasonings (garlic and fish sauce) are added, so the result is a punchier and spicy dish. In either sauerkraut or kimchi, you can expect a decent amount of vitamin C, vitamin K, and loads of fiber!
Some studies are even suggesting that these fermented cabbage dishes may reduce cancer-activity, but this has not yet been confirmed. Either way, your body will thank you once you start eating sauerkraut or kimchi. If you don’t like the taste on its own, try it on a hot dog or sandwich!
Kombucha is a drink made by fermenting black or green tea, and it’s not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’. Due to the fermentation process, the end product is slightly fizzy and acidic, and the flavor might be a bit unexpected. There are limited studies conducted on kombucha, but scientists suggest that the probiotics (good bacteria) may play a beneficial role in our digestive system. Other laboratory-based studies show that kombucha may prevent the growth of cancerous cells, but the study has not confirmed this activity within the human body. In any case, it could still be a better option than sugary sodas. So next time you are thirsty, why not try one of the many flavored options of kombucha?
Tempeh is made from cooked and fermented soybeans. It’s high in protein and vitamins, but low in carbohydrates. Because of its nutty (or ‘mushroomy’) flavor, high protein content, and chewy texture, it’s often used as a meat substitute. It’s a great product for vegans, as it’s a source of calcium too! Tempeh is said to be healthier than tofu (as it’s less processed) and is also reported to lower cholesterol. If you’d like to try something new, add tempeh to your next stir-fry! It’s great at absorbing other flavors, so it’s a healthy way to bulk up your meals.
Have you tried any new fermented foods lately? Tell us in the comment below!
McGee, H. (2004). On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of The Kitchen. New York: Scribner