Fermentation, take a bow. Your crowning moment in the foodie spotlight has finally arrived! Anyone who regularly reads food mags and recipe blogs would be forgiven for thinking that the recent superfood parade that has been rolled out for fermented foods is yet another culinary trend dreamt up to make the #InstaCooks look clever. Not so! This time round the scientists are backing up the benefits and encouraging us all to go out and grow ourselves some good-gut bacteria.
Although the health buzz surrounding fermentation is fairly recent, it is, in fact, a natural process that has literally been around forever. For the last 9000 years, fermentation has been exploited by mankind to create a whole heap of different foodstuffs and flavours, using perishable items such as milk, vegetables and meats. Along with drying and salting, fermentation was used to extend the life of foods, allowing them to be available and eaten safely in times of scarcity. Let's face it, in 2000 B.C., a midnight trip to the 24-hour supermarket for supplies wasn’t on the cards.
So why the hype now? We do, after all, have fridges and 24-hour supermarkets! Well, what scientists have discovered is that roughly 70%- 80% of your immune system is in your gut. Feed it poorly and your gut will be easily overwhelmed by bad bacteria; not only can this leave you open to inflammation and gastrointestinal ills but what we now know is that you may also be more susceptible to colds and flu.
On the flipside, tip up with good bacteria such as the kind you find in fermented foods and the exact opposite comes into effect; these tasty little probiotics are alive with health and work by realising enzymes to balance your gut bacteria. The overall effect will also improve your immune system meaning a healthy, balanced gut really can make you feel better all over. As well as the positive effects that probiotics and fermented products have on the gut recent psychological studies are now suggesting that fermented foods could help to treat anxiety- do Google it to find out more.
Leaving the potential health benefits to one side, fermented foods are just plain delicious. Products that contain healthy bacteria such as yoghurt drinks and sauerkraut have been on our shelves for decades but as supermarkets push back their culinary borders, we’re beginning to see products such as miso, koji and the king of fermented foods, kimchi join their ranks.
Kefir is a fermented dairy drink which has long been popular in Russia, Turkey and Poland but can now be found in most good delis and supermarkets. Similiar to other live yoghurt drinks but it contains a much broader spectrum of probiotics which actually inhabit the gut rather than passing through like the transitory ones found in regular live yoghurt. There’s also some evidence that kefir is able to be digested better by those with a lactose intolerance than traditional dairy products.Kimchi
A traditional side dish of fermented vegetables (usually cabbage) that’s so popular in Korea – its country of origin – that people throw kimchi parties when a new batch is ready. Kimchi is also a good place to start if you want to get into the fermentation craze as it is pretty easy to make at home.
Thousands of years old, the drink that the Chinese called "The Immortal Health Elixer" is a sweet tea made from fermented yeast. It contains large quantities of antioxidants, B-vitamins and is super easy to make at home. It also tastes completely delicious!
When it comes to fermented foods, sauerkraut is an oldie but a goldie! You may have tried it years ago on a holiday to Deutschland but you can now buy it easily right here in Perth. Not many things that taste better on a hotdog than this finely shredded, salted, fermented delight.
Around one-third of the food we consume is fermented and with world estimates for consumption at about 22 million gallons a year you can see why! Not necessarily a health choice but certainly high on the taste factor. There’s simply no better accompaniment to a meal than a glistening glass of ice cold beer.
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