People are going crazy for gut-friendly Kombucha! Forbes estimates that $1.8 billion will be spent on the fizzy, fermented tea drink in 2020. While Kombucha may appear to be a new phenomenon, fermented foods and beverages have been consumed and enjoyed for over 2,000 years!
Prior to modern refrigeration, fermentation prevented spoilage and extended food’s shelf-life. By placing food in salted water in the absence of oxygen, bacteria naturally present in the food, enzymatically change some of the food’s sugar molecules into acid. Over time, we’ve come to learn that fermented foods are very healthy for us, thanks to beneﬁcial microorganisms known as probiotics (friendly bacteria.)
Normally, we think of bacteria as a “bad” thing, right? Indeed, many bacteria are sources of illness like food poisoning or strep throat. But most of the 100 trillion bacteria that live within our bodies are actually beneficial to our health! They help to digest our foods, extracting and even producing vitamins and nutrients needed by our bodies to survive. These beneficial bacteria, known as probiotics, also play an important role in “crowding out” and fighting off harmful bacteria.
We consume probiotics in many forms: yogurt, apple cider vinegar, and a wide variety of fermented foods, such as kombucha, kimchi, kefir, miso, tempeh, and sauerkraut. Carbohydrates (usually fiber that humans can’t digest) in other foods, known as prebiotics, help the probiotic bacteria flourish in our digestive tract. The fiber in prebiotic foods such as onions, apples, oats, and asparagus feed the probiotic bacteria in the intestines. Having more well-fed good bacteria leads to better health and less disease.
On the other hand, refined sugar and highly processed foods allow harmful bacteria to thrive inside the gut, making it more difficult to maintain a healthy bacteria balance, affecting both physical and behavioral health.
In addition to one’s diet, stress, insufficient sleep, and antibiotics can also contribute to an imbalance in gut bacteria (dysbiosis). Dysbiosis allows the harmful bacteria to thrive, causing bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Eliminating high sugar foods and including probiotic-packed fermented foods in your diet can bring your gut back into balance and help support your immune system.
Yes! In a study of type-2 diabetes patients, probiotic yogurt decreased fasting blood glucose significantly when compared to subjects eating conventional yogurt. Similar studies showed that eating probiotic yogurt every day reduced insulin resistance in pregnant women, obese women, and patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Search for recipes that use yogurt in your DinnerTime Recipe Box.
Both fermenting and pickling are ancient food preservation techniques. The confusion arises because the categories actually overlap with each other. Some fermented foods are pickled, and some pickles are fermented. Many chefs consider pickling to occur when you submerge food in an acidic solution, like vinegar. However, the dictionary definition of pickling states that “a liquid usually prepared with salt or vinegar for preserving or flavoring fish, meat, vegetables, etc.; brine or marinade.”
Almost every culture has created and consumed at least one fermented food. Beans, grains, vegetables, fruit, honey, dairy, fish, meat and tea are all fermented. There are hundreds of examples!
You can find sauerkraut, kimchee, vegetable relishes and other healthy probiotic-rich foods at your local grocer, big box store, and online. You can also easily ferment your own vegetables at home. Check out the easy fermenting and pickling recipes we added to DinnerTime’s recipe database.