Humans have been fermenting foods for thousands of years.
Food fermentation is defined as taking a raw material and converting that raw material to a desirable product in which flavor, aroma, texture, and appearance of that raw material is drastically changed.
Fermentation is a natural metabolic process in which microorganisms convert carbohydrates into either alcohol or acid. Through these conversions, certain microorganisms play a role in two of the most important functions of food processing: food preservation and food safety. Fermentative bacteria, yeasts, and molds (the Good) preserve foods by producing metabolites such as lactic acid, acetic acid, propionic acid, ethanol, and bacteriocins that suppress the growth of spoilage microorganisms (the Ugly) and pathogenic microorganisms (the Bad) that are naturally present in foods.
Fermentative microorganisms also enhance the organoleptic properties of foods.
It is especially important to ferment or cook the cruciferous vegetables; these vegetables have important anti-cancer properties. But if they’re not cooked or fermented first, they tend to depress the thyroid, which lowers your energy and gives you a tendency to gain weight.
Fermentation makes the foods easier to digest and the nutrients easier to assimilate, since much of the work of digestion is already done and it doesn’t use heat, fermentation also retains enzymes, vitamins, and other nutrients that are usually destroyed by food processing.
- Sauerkraut: Made from shredded or chopped cabbage, salted and jarred in its own liquid, then left to ferment for a few weeks before going into the refrigerator.
- Kimchi: A traditional Korean side dish that often starts with cabbage and can include other vegetables and seasonings such as chili peppers.
- Kombucha: A drink made by adding a starter culture of bacteria and yeast to tea, sugar and other flavorings. It can contain varying amounts of alcohol.
- Natto: Fermented soybeans.
- Miso: A Japanese seasoning, made from soybeans.
- Kefir: It is a fermented milk-based drink made by the actions of a legion of symbiotic microorganisms. Kefir is a very complex probiotic. There are over 30 different species of organisms in kefir, including lactic acid bacteria and yeast. These microorganisms are encased in a matrix of milk proteins and polysaccharides called kefir grains, which resemble small clumps of cauliflower or popcorn. Cow’s milk is most commonly used to make kefir, but the beverage can be made by inoculating any type of milk with kefir grains. This can be done simply enough in home kitchens but is impractical for commercial kefir products. Commercial kefir products are thus made with a starter culture instead of actual kefir grains, which means commercial kefir products tend not to have the same properties (fewer probiotics, diminished health benefits, etc.) as traditional kefir.