When you hear the word fermented, what pops into your head? Jars of shredded cabbage? Sourdough bread? Beer?
It's not a word we hear every day, but it's already a more significant part of your life than you may think. Perhaps the most well-known fermented food in America, yogurt, has been in US grocery stores since the early twentieth century. More recently, the wildly popular Kombucha has become a staple nearly everywhere you go.
In reality, fermented foods can be found worldwide and can date back as far as 10,000 years ago. More and more people are trying it, while others are still hesitant, which raises the question: what makes fermented food so good?
Fermented Foods Around the World
Even though they might not be as well known in the US, fermented foods have been popular all around the world for generations. However, when you consider that alcohol, bread, cheese, and pickles can all be considered fermented foods, they're probably more familiar than you know!
Following Kombucha (Originally from Manchuria), more fermented foods have slowly made their way into the U.S. mainstream.
Kimchi, a fermented vegetable side dish that has been a staple of Korean food for years, has become standard on grocery shelves around the country and has even been featured on the menus of restaurants like TGIF and California Pizza Kitchen.
Sauerkraut, made of fermented cabbage leaves, is famous in many European cultures and is starting to gain traction in the U.S. thanks to companies like Cleveland Kitchen, who have their own line of fresh, crunchy sauerkrauts and fermented vegetable dressings.
Even Sourdough Bread got its start in Ancient Egypt before it became the darling of bakers everywhere today.
So, what is it about fermentation that makes these foods so popular?
What is Fermentation?
Fermentation is a natural process that occurs at the cellular level of food, as things like yeast and bacteria break down chemicals already found in food. Before refrigerators and iceboxes were invented, this was the easiest way to preserve food, allowing for vegetables and dairy products to be enjoyed for much longer.
This process also creates some of our favorite flavors and dishes, like the tanginess of sauerkraut and alcohol or the distinct flavors of sourdough bread and yogurt.
Even though it began as a simple way to make food last, fermentation has become much more throughout the years. Beyond the taste and shelf life, many of these foods are rumored to have remarkable health properties, which vary from culture to culture.
While some of these claims are simply stories passed down from history, recent studies have shown many fermented foods to be healthier and more nutritious than their non-fermented counterparts. This is a result of the fermenting process and something called probiotics.
Fermented Foods Health Benefits
The human gut contains trillions of bacteria that interact with all of the food you consume. This bacteria system vastly impacts our gut health, carrying over to our overall health and wellbeing!
So, what does this have to do with yogurt and fermented veggies?
When foods go through the fermentation process, they start to produce healthy, helpful forms of bacteria, called probiotics. When added to the bacteria already in your gut, these probiotics help to improve and regulate our "gut health."
A study published in the National Library of Medicine has shown that certain bacteria found in probiotics can actually help prevent digestive disease and improve overall digestion.
The health benefits of probiotics are still being discovered, and there are some fermented foods that aren't that healthy. However, if you're looking for something new to spice up your food and add a little boost to your gut, you may just want to consider adding some into your day to day diet!
Adding Fermented Food to Your Diet
At first, it can feel intimidating to add fermented food to your life, especially if you are unfamiliar with their tastes and textures. Thankfully, many fermented foods can be made at home or else found relatively cheap at your local grocery store.
It's easiest to start simple, so you might want to try adding yogurt to your breakfasts. Maybe you get miso soup (add miso to your list of fermented foods) the next time you go and get sushi.
Before you start buying mountains of probiotic yogurt or stockpiling bottles of kefir, take some time to figure out what is tastiest to you. You have tons of options, and as the US catches up to the popularity of fermented foods worldwide, your list will only grow.
Fermented Food Recipes
If you're looking for a place to start, you might want to try a couple of these easy recipes from Cleveland Kitchen:
This is a classic European dish that pairs hearty sausage with tangy sauerkraut, for a delicious meal that's great for the family.
If you're looking for an option that is more on the veggie side, try this Summer Salad, with kraut sprinkled over the top. It'll pack a zesty punch in your next lunch!
Try switching out your old eggs and toast breakfast for this delicious pastry, filled with bacon and sauerkraut; it might just become a Sunday morning regular.
And that's just with sauerkraut! You can expand the possibilities by adding a drizzle of Cleveland Kitchen dressings to your salad or veggies.
Fermented food can be a great way to improve your diet's health, and you might just find some new, exciting tastes along the way! Before you start brewing up your own batch of homemade sauerkraut, however, remember to not go overboard right away.
Eating nothing but sourdough and kimchi won't turn you into a superhuman, and no number of good bacteria can make up for an unbalanced diet. It might take a little while, and maybe not every taste is going to be your new favorite, but given time you may just carve out a permanent spot in your diet for fermented foods!