Your guide to fermented foods

14th March, 2024
Your guide to fermented foods - welcome to the world of fermented foods

Welcome to the wonderful world of fermented foods.

Uncovering the latest foods helping to improve your gut health. From milk transforming into creamy yoghurt to soybeans providing a protein-packed serving of tempeh, fermented foods are all around us. But it isn’t just the delicious flavours that keep us coming back for more, fermented foods provide a range of health benefits. So, read on to delve deeper into what fermented foods can do for you. 

What are fermented foods, you ask?

Fermented foods are foods that have undergone a process of fermentation, where microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast, or fungi break down carbohydrates (sugars and starches) in the food into acids, gases, or alcohol. This process not only preserves the food but also enhances its flavour, texture, and nutritional profile. 

Our favourite fermented foods: 

  1. Yoghurt and kefir: fermented milk products produced by adding live friendly bacteria (e.g. Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus) or kefir grains (a mixture of live bacteria and yeast) to milk, resulting in a creamy and tangy yoghurt or drink.
  2. Kimchi and sauerkraut: traditional vegetable dishes made from fermented cabbage with other ingredients such as salt for sauerkraut and spring onion, ginger, garlic, chilli and salt for kimchi.
  3. Tempeh and natto: both made from the fermentation of soybeans, tempeh is often used as a meat-substitute and is comparable to tofu, while natto is often a side dish formed of whole soybeans combined with a sticky texture.
  4. Miso and soy sauce: also made from the fermentation of soybeans, both are created by the fermentation of soybeans with fungus to create salty and savoury ingredients used in soups, as marinades or as a condiment.
  5. Kombucha: a tangy, slightly fizzy tea drink made by adding friendly bacteria and yeast (known as a SCOBY) to sweetened tea.
  6. Sourdough bread: created with naturally fermented dough using yeast and bacteria that exist in the air, resulting in a tangy flavoured and airy dough
  7. Pickles: usually cucumbers, that are pickled by fermenting them in water with salt, which encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria.

Top tummy tip: When shopping for pickles, make sure to choose varieties that do not contain vinegar or additives such as sodium benzoate, as this can reduce or remove the live bacteria content.

8. Feta cheese: a crumbly cheese made from goat’s and sheep’s milk containing friendly live bacteria, great for sprinkling over salads and pasta dishes.  

None of these fermented foods are superior to the other though, so choose your favourites. Incorporating a variety of these foods into your diet can help promote a diverse and healthy gut microbiome, which is the key to those health benefits (improved digestion, immune function, and mental well-being). Each type of fermented food offers its own unique source of probiotics, vitamins and minerals. Therefore, always aim to consume a variety of these wonderful foods alongside a well-balanced and varied diet. 

Are fermented foods really that good for us?

Absolutely! Fermented foods offer heaps of health benefits both for your body and your mind.

Here are just a handful of the amazing things these foods can do for you: 

  1. Packed full of mighty microbes: fermented foods contain those friendly bacteria you want to keep your gut microbiome happy, boosting your immune system and helping with digestion.
  2. More nutrient absorption: due to those friendly bacteria breaking down the food, making their nutrients more available for your body to absorb. Some nutrients include calcium, zinc, iron and folate.
  3. More nutrients? It’s true, some fermented foods contain vitamin K2 and more folate than their unfermented friends. For example, the bacteria added to soybeans to create natto can make vitamin K2, which is important for wound healing. This is the same for folate, a B vitamin important for red and white blood cell formation and your metabolism. Bacteria can produce folate during the fermentation process.
  4. Beat the bloat: with fermented foods as the friendly bacteria created during fermentation can help break down those hard to digest foods, helping prevent discomfort, gas and bloating. 
  5. Lactose intolerant? No problem. The bacteria added to the milk during the fermentation process actually breaks down some of the lactose for you, so you can still enjoy them without the worry of what’s going to happen next.
  6. Live happier: with fermented foods as research is showing that a healthy gut microbiome may have an important role in boosting our mood and mental well-being. 

But don’t forget that we are all individuals with different needs and reactions. So, while fermented foods are undoubtedly a great addition to our diets, we won’t all experience the exact same benefits or to the same extent. Also, don’t go overboard, make sure to read the nutritional labels as some fermented foods like soy sauce and pickles can be high in salt. 

Okay, we get it, fermented foods are great but are there any downsides? 

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