Fermented foods are rapidly gaining popularity! Even major supermarkets contain sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, probiotic yogurt, kombucha and more! So is it important to learn how to make fermented foods, or should you skip the effort required and buy them from the supermarket? I’m going to try and unpack this question for you below!
What are fermented foods?
Fermented foods have been around for hundreds of years. They are a way of storing food for months, without the need for refrigeration. They are food products that are processed by natural, microbial organisms that use their own natural enzymes to preserve the food. (2) Through the fermentation process, amongst other things, the microbial organisms produce lactic acid, which acts as a natural preservative for the food! Fermented foods also contain bioactive molecules, vitamins and other compounds that are easily absorbed due to the process of fermentation (1). Fermentation enhances the bioavailability of many compounds.
For example, Vitamin C is 20 times more bioavailable in Sauerkraut than in fresh cabbage! (10)
Fermented foods also help to regulate our gut microbiome, by providing probiotics, as well as many phytonutrients that can assist with mood, behaviour, energy, weight, food cravings, hormonal imbalances, immunity and overall wellness (2). Eating fermented foods can reduce gastro-intestinal inflammation, as well as reduce the risk for chronic diseases such as type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease (1). To read about the specific health benefits of the fermented tea beverage, kombucha, click here to check out a previous blog post of mine.
Now back to the question I posted earlier: Should you buy store bought fermented foods, or make it yourself? Is there any difference? Well apart from the cost you would be saving by making your own, there are a whole host of other benefits!
You can't be sure about the authenticity of the product
Unfortunately, many store bought fermented foods do not live up to the claims they write on their labels. For example, most store-bought sauerkraut has been pasteurised before it is packaged. Pasteurisation involves heating up the sauerkraut in an attempt to sterilise the product and kill of bacteria and other micro-organisms (5). But what a minute, aren’t the live micro-organisms what makes fermented foods so good for you? Absolutely! Killing off the beneficial bacteria and microorganisms in fermented foods through pasteurisation removes so much of the goodness that fermented foods provide!
Secondly, many store-bought fermented foods add ingredients that may be harmful for our health, or make you doubt the authenticity of the product. For example, some store bought Sauerkraut jars contain added Vinegar. Naturally, the fermentation process should produce lactic acid and other acids that preserve the product!
If the manufacturer has added vinegar, it calls into question whether the initial fermentation was genuine or not…(5)
Additionally, artificial preservatives and sweeteners may be added to the “fermented” product. For example, Kombucha may contain added sugar alcohols such as Xylitol or Erythritol. Erythritol is a processed sweetener that can cause gastrointestinal disturbances in some individuals, as it interacts with the gut microflora (6). This may cause symptoms such as bloating, cramping, diarrhoea and excessive gas (7). The whole purpose of fermented foods is to aid in digestion, not create more problems!
You get to choose your own ingredients
Another benefit of making your own fermented foods, is you get to decide exactly what goes in it. For example, you can choose to include local, in-season ingredients that are far more beneficial for the environment! (3) Additionally, you can choose to include organic ingredients if you’d like to. What does organic actually mean? And is it actually worth spending the extra money on? Check out another one of my blogs answering these vital questions. But in summary, however, going organic ensures that you are not being exposed to as many chemicals and pesticides, reducing toxic build up in your body. Additionally, it supports good animal and welfare practises, promotes environmental sustainability AND there are a greater number of nutrients in Organic Produce! For example, one study showed that there is 70% more iron and 60% more zinc in organic produce (4).
Why not just buy probiotics?
One of the greatest benefits of fermented foods is the beneficial microbial organisms that they contain, so why not just buy some probiotics in capsule form, you may ask? When you eat fermented foods, not only are you getting the live microorganisms, but also the substrate that they grow on (also known as pre-biotics), along with many beneficial nutrients that have superior bioavailability, as well as fantastic organic acids that your gut loves. Furthermore, one serving of sauerkraut can actually contain the same potency as a high-strength probiotic! (1). And last but not least, fermented foods often have a greater variety of micro-organisms, which is more beneficial for your gut than a bucketload of a couple of strains found in a probiotic supplement!
Improves your mental health!
I couldn’t help but put this last point in, because in my own life, cooking and preparing foods plays such a vital role! And why is this? Because it is so good for your mental health! In fact, a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology found that carrying out hobbies like cooking and preparing food improves your mood significantly! (8) Part of the healing that comes from healthy, wholesome foods is the psychological process involved in preparing them. Famous Chef Zipora Einav said, “Cooking without a doubt nourishes your psychological well-being; it soothes the soul and the mind.” (9) Get involved in the reward and creativity that comes from preparing your own fermented foods!
There are plenty of recipes online for all the fermented foods I listed above. Have fun experimenting with them!