Sauerkraut is just one of the more famous fermented foods that we know. You might be surprised to know that you may be consuming a few other fermented foods without even realizing it! Take coffee, for example, did you know that goes through a fermentation process?
Let’s take a look at a few amazing fermented foods you can be adding to your daily diet!
What are fermented products?
Fermented foods or fermented drinks are products that we set aside for a number of days to allow our microscopic friends to do their magic. The microscopic friends are bacteria and yeasts and they’re all around and inside us! During fermentation, these little friends feed on sugars in the food and convert them into acids, or alcohol, giving the foods an intense, often sour taste.
There is a wide range of benefits of fermented food . We know that consuming bacteria and yeast has the potential to have a positive impact on our digestive system. It can also help break down the indigestible components of the food or even remove harmful toxins.
Now, if you are struggling with or have compromised health, I wouldn’t suggest eating tons of (or any) fermented foods. The ‘good’ bacteria produced in the fermentation process can actually throw your gut off balance and cause unwanted side effects. I talk more about maintaining proper gut health over in my free guide.
I want to start with sauerkraut because it’s a food that many of us are familiar with and have probably eaten before. This sour-tasting cabbage is one of the simplest ferments out there. Throw it with salads, as a side to your main dish, or directly into your stir fry.
This fermented cabbage is both a prebiotic (aiding in the growth of good bacteria in the gut) with the probiotic effects of the fermentation process. This makes it the perfect gut health food for everyone.
There’s no need to go down to the health food shop for sauerkraut. It’s amazingly easy and (much) cheaper to make at home. It just takes a cabbage, some salt, hand strength, and a little bit of time. Throw your prepared cabbage in a jar and make sure it’s fully covered with the juice secreted from massaging the cabbage. You can now sit back, relax, and let the bacteria do its magic.
If you’d like to find out more about how to make sauerkraut, jump over to The Kitchn to find out more.
Another product that goes through a somewhat similar fermentation process is Kimchi, a food from Korean cuisine which has many more ingredients and explodes with flavor. If you like spicy food, you’ll likely want to try Kimchi.
Can you believe it? Chocolate is a fermented food. It’s all to do with the process of preparing the cacao beans for use in chocolate or other cocoa products.
The first step consists of letting the beans sit with a white sugary pulp extracted from the inside of a cacao pod. This is when the yeast and bacteria get to work and contribute to the strong bitter taste of the cocoa that we know.
I can’t say that the health benefits of chocolate come directly from the fermentation process. Still, a small piece of dark (70%+) chocolate a day has known positive effects. It’s even better if you find “raw” chocolate. Raw chocolate contains unprocessed cacao beans allowing you to benefit from the rich antioxidants found in the bean. [1 ]
Remember, everything in moderation. Also, DARK (70%+) Chocolate. Not Milk Chocolate.
I find talking about this fermented food difficult. Mainly because what is considered ‘cheese’ today, is just substandard. Historically, cheese has been considered a beneficial food. However, the ‘cheese’ of our modern era is just a health nightmare. Especially American cheese.
The US dairy industry accounts for 1 percent of the national GDP. With that kind of money coming in you’d expect cheese quality to improve. Sadly that’s not true.
With a price race to the bottom, farmers are pressured into ramping up their industrial-style operations, pumping cows full of antibiotics, hormones, and vitamins, and feeding them harmful grains cows have never naturally adapted to eat. And then they use this same cow’s milk to produce the cheese you find on our grocery shelves. As you can imagine, this all creates a recipe for an unhealthy product. [2 ]
With that being said, there is still some hope out there. We just need to look back to Europe, where rich, mature cheeses are still common, In this capacity, cheese has health benefits. As long as you’re buying grass-fed, grass-finished raw cheese, then you’ll be gaining the most nutritional benefits you can get out of cheese.
Whether you go for some mature Cheddar or some really stinky blue cheeses, there are benefits to be had. Just stay away from highly processed, “young” cheese. This is mainly what you’ll find in mainstream grocery stores (think shredded cheese packets and such).
Another strange ferment to add to the list! All coffee is fermented at some point. The process is performed mainly to rid the coffee bean of the fruit.
The coffee fruit is set out in a dry, hot climate to allow the coffee cherry to ferment. Often this produces some mild acidic tastes in the final coffee flavor. The more common practice of washing the fruit away from the bean still goes through a short fermentation process to fully remove any residual coffee fruit from the bean. So no matter which way it’s prepared, coffee goes through a fermentation process.
Coffee is another product where I’m not claiming that the fermentation is a major health producing factor. Similar to cacao, I wouldn’t recommend going overboard with coffee.
What I do recommend is heading down to your local coffee roaster and ask if you can try a naturally processed coffee from Africa; you’ll be in for a surprise if you’ve never tasted one before.
Tempeh is a staple in our household. It’s great for throwing in stir-fries or for adding in a colorful buddha bowl.
Tempeh is a soybean product which has been slightly fermented to help break down starches and phytic acid (which is important to get rid of if you have mineral deficiencies). It’s then packed together to create a solid patty, making it a great meat replacement in meals.
The taste is either a “love it or hate it” kind of thing due to it’s not too subtle, mature taste. Be assured it’s much more flavorful than it’s little brother Tofu.
You’ve probably heard of the benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar. Whether it’s for your hair health, your digestion, or lowering your blood sugar levels, ACV is a great product to have handy.
In a nutshell, apple cider vinegar is like a hard cider experiment gone wrong. But that outcome tastes delicious on salads and is a great ingredient in other dressing or sauce recipes adding that extra zing.
The fermentation of ACV process feeds off the sugars from the apples, which maintains a healthy handful of yeasts and bacteria. This yeast and bacteria is called the mother and floats around in the end product. If you don’t believe me, pick up a bottle at the local store and you can see it sitting at the bottom.
ACD ends up very acidic, as the name vinegar suggests. This acidity is thought to aid digestion by increasing the acidity in the stomach, producing more pepsin, an enzyme that helps break down proteins.
Next time you scramble for a salad dressing or go to pick up one of those store-bought salad dressings, just STOP. Drop and roll.
But seriously, don’t put that sugar-laden garbage on your beautiful salad. Just try a little apple cider vinegar and olive oil. Your body will thank you, and it tastes great too. Bonus ingredient – a drizzle of tahini is fantastic on salads.
This is the last fermented product, and, honestly, a newly discovered one even for me. I love olives but never know they were fermented.
When the olives come from the tree, they are hard and very bitter, and really don’t taste great. The fermentation process helps break down some of these aspects to create the delicious olives we enjoy today.
Due to the fermentation process, they have a high Lactobacillus count, a bacteria found in most fermentation, and is believed to help maintain a healthy gut. And it doesn’t stop there; olives are known for their anti-inflammatory properties and richness in antioxidants.
It’s you’re not eating olives already, maybe it’s time to start. There are olives out there for everyone, I promise they don’t all the taste the same, and if you don’t like them, you’ve probably just had cheap pizza olives.
Eat and Drink More Fermented Products!
I hope I’ve managed to convince you that fermented foods and products aren’t all that bad. In fact, they’re pretty awesome. Many of the products we eat and drink daily are fermented anyway. And now you know those fermented foods are great for gut health!
The vital point to take away here is variety. If you’ve not tried all the items in this post, go out and do it! Consuming a wide variety of good food sources is key to gut health. Adding a few good bacteria along the way is a great way to have a huge impact on y our gut health.