Fermentation is a simple way to preserve food by allowing bacteria, yeasts and other micro-organisms to partially break down the food, increasing its nutritional quality and digestibility.
Once the food is sufficiently fermented, it will contain a plethora of beneficial bugs – known as probiotics, which bring us countless health benefits. In particular, probiotics are known to play a starring role in the health of our gut. Fermented foods also contain beneficial enzymes and B vitamins which further contribute to our overall health and sense of wellbeing.
Sadly, this ancient technique – used for millennia – has been almost forgotten in today’s society where processed, pre-packaged and pasteurized foods reign supreme. But there are a number of convincing reasons why we need to embrace fermentation once more.
Improve Cognitive Function
Our brain and gastrointestinal system are intimately connected, so good gut health may lead to a healthy brain too. UCLA scientists discovered that healthy women given a probiotic rich yogurt for four weeks displayed improved brain function when compared to either the placebo or control groups.
Fight Anger and Sadness
Eating cultured (fermented) foods may help fight depression. In a study carried out at the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition in the Netherlands, it was found that participants who took probiotics had a significant reduction in negative and aggressive thoughts.
Lower Blood Pressure
With one in three American adults having high blood pressure, probiotics should feature on everyone’s meal plan. A review of nine studies highlights a link between consuming beneficial bacteria and lower blood pressure levels.
Fight Urinary Tract Infections
Treat Inflammatory Conditions
An Irish study, carried out at University College Cork, discovered that a particular strain of probiotic bacteria may be beneficial in treating patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, psoriasis and ulcerative colitis – all inflammatory conditions.
Ease Bowel Conditions
Certain probiotics can effectively alleviate symptoms associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) according to a review of 19 controlled trials. They may also maintain remission of Crohn’s Disease and avoid the recurrence of pouchitis – a complication of the surgery used to treat ulcerative colitis.
Prevent or Treat Diarrhea
Several studies maintain that probiotics shorten the course of diarrhea in sufferers, particularly those with antibiotic-associated diarrhea. These helpful little bugs are also a safe and effective way to prevent infectious diarrhea, says an analysis of 23 trials.
Prevent Eczema and Allergies in Babies
One study of 241 women found that those who took probiotics while pregnant experienced a decrease in occurrence of childhood eczema (an early sign of allergies) in their babies. 71% of infants in the placebo group suffered eczema at least once, while just 29% of infants in the probiotic group did.
Lower High Cholesterol
A 6-week study of middle-aged men found that a fermented milk drink daily reduced total cholesterol and LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels by 6% and 10% respectively. Because not all studies back this finding up, it is believed that only certain strains of probiotics have cholesterol-lowering properties while others do not.
An Immune Booster
As approximately 80% of our immune system is located in our digestive system, it’s not surprising to learn that, by boosting gut health, we can boost immunity too.
Studies have shown that regular intake of probiotics has a positive effect on our immune health – even when our bodies are under extreme pressure, as demonstrated by research on long-distance runners who enjoyed greater immune function when supplementing with good bacteria.
A Possible Weight Loss Aid
At least one piece of research suggests it may be possible to use probiotics to treat obesity – although more studies are needed in this area.
Improve Oral Hygiene
A Beginner’s Guide to Fermenting
Now that you know what cultured foods can do for your gut health – and overall sense of wellbeing – it’s time to get fermenting!
If you’re new to the whole world of fermenting, why not first check out this article featuring step-by-step advice on creating five classic cultures, which you can then use in many of the below recipes?
25 of the Best Fermented Food Recipes
Get on the road to better gut health in no time with these 25 tasty and tangy recipes, most of which are gluten-free and plant-based.
Fermented Salsa – this tangy lacto-fermented salsa is a delicious combination of fresh tomatoes, onion, garlic, spicy jalapeños, cilantro, apple cider vinegar and, of course, healthy bugs! It’s perfect on top of salads, baked potatoes, as a dip, or when used in any dishes that traditionally call for salsa, such as tacos!
Apple Pie Apple Cider Vinegar Drink – raw and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, boasting a ton of health benefits, is a naturally fermented food. Get your daily dose with this seriously tasty apple-pie-like drink made with organic apple juice, liquid vanilla stevia and cinnamon.
Fermented Black Bean Dip – some people have a little trouble eating beans. If pre-soaking them still causes you upset, why not try fermenting (which also helps remove anti-nutrients)? Ferment the beans with sea salt, whey and your favorite healing spices like cayenne, cumin or cilantro.
Moroccan Preserved Lemons – this North African staple mellows the sourness and acidity of the lemons. It also cuts down on kitchen waste as you’re using the peel as well (for this reason make sure to use only organic lemons here). Use them in salads, finely chopped in guacamole or salsa, and with tagines and traditional Moroccan stews.
Coconut Water Kefir – this refreshing drink, which is said to have fantastic skin benefits, combines the power of both culturing and coconut water. You’ll need to invest in some water kefir grains (which can last you a lifetime – try Craigslist to score some freebies) and allow them to ferment with the coconut water for a few days. Simple!
Kombucha Mustard-Garlic Salad Dressing – once you’ve brewed or bought some kombucha, a tart and fizzy fermented tea, you can use it in all sorts of delicious recipes. This simple salad dressing pairs the tea with Dijon mustard, minced garlic, salt and olive oil – ideal for livening up green salads or steamed veggies.
Fermented Grape Tomatoes with Basil – in this pretty and probiotic-rich side-dish or salad topper, grape tomatoes are mixed with brine and basil leaves, lending a subtle and aromatic sweetness to the mix.
Orange Glazed Broccoli and Tempeh – tempeh is a fantastic fermented meat alternative (which you can even make at home). Broccoli, ginger and oranges work well together here and perfectly complement the crispy, fried tempeh and toasted cashews.
Ginger Bug Ginger Ale – adults and kids alike will get their dose of beneficial bacteria without even realizing it thanks to this gingery soda. Ginger, known for aiding digestion and alleviating nausea, is blended with lemon juice, salt, sugar and a ‘ginger bug starter’ for a truly healing treat.
Lacto-Fermented Mixed Pickles – these pickles are a cut above store-bought ones (which don’t contain live bacteria). They’re also delicious, simple, and don’t require a lot of special equipment or ingredients! This recipe calls for cauliflower florets, carrot chunks, red bell pepper slices and garlic, flavored with a bay leaf, coriander seeds and peppercorns – but you can use whatever vegetables you like.
Homemade Lavender Kombucha – this home-brewed soda, beautifully bottled and presented with a bow, would make the perfect gift! Infused with lavender buds for a subtle floral hint, it’s also a delicious treat to keep all to yourself.
Fermented Fruit Leathers – made with fermented apple sauce and other fruits of your choice, these healthy snacks, chock-full of fruit and probiotics, are ideal for all the family.
Pina Colada Ice Pops – another kid-friendly culture, these popsicles can be easily whipped up by blending water kefir with coconut milk, pineapple and honey or agave syrup, before freezing for a few hours.
Kombucha Sourdough – kombucha that is too cloudy or acidic to drink shouldn’t go to waste! Use it to make an alternative sourdough starter and bake bread the old fashioned way. Fermented bread has a lower GI than other breads and, what’s more, the lengthy process of fermenting means that gluten is broken down. One study even found that people with Coeliac disease could tolerate sourdough bread made by slow fermentation!
Fermented Garlic – known as the ‘stinking rose’, garlic has been used medicinally for a variety of illnesses since ancient times. Double up its healing properties, while tempering its pungent taste, through fermentation. You’ll need organic garlic heads, dried herbs, peppercorns and sea salt.
Habanero Hot Sauce – not for the faint of heart, this sauce is spicy. Which isn’t surprising, given that it’s made with habaneros, jalapenos and other chili peppers which are left to ferment for five days or so. Enjoy it sparingly anywhere you need a burst of heat!
Fermented Pecan Cranberry Sauce – definitely not your traditional festive side dish, this cranberry sauce is a whole new experience! While it initially looks pink and frothy, after a few days fermenting it takes on a dark red color and is full of sweet, sour and spicy flavors. A must for any health-conscious holiday table.
Orange Apple Cranberry Sauerkraut – liven up this well-known cabbage culture with oranges, apples, ginger and cranberries. After six days it should be bubbly, juicy, sweet, tart and tangy all at once. Serve it with meats, salads, or use it as a dip for chips.
Raw Apple Cider Vinaigrette – with raw honey (or agave), Dijon mustard, fresh garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and seasonings, this dressing is sure to liven up any salad while delivering a healthy dose of good bacteria.
Homemade Sriracha Sauce – store bought sauces can be filled with sugar, not to mention things like potassium sorbate, sodium bisulfite and xanthan gum. With this homemade version, you can swap these processed ingredients for probiotics…along with coconut vinegar, organic peppers, tamari, raw agave syrup and garlic.
Pineapple Turmeric Sauerkraut – another fruity sauerkraut recipe, this one calls for cabbage, pineapple, anti-inflammatory turmeric and fresh ginger. Pineapple is one of the richest sources of the enzyme bromelain which can help aid digestion, prevent allergies and asthma. It has also been shown in studies to reduce pain from mouth surgery better than over the counter pain killers. Bromelain is richest in the core of the pineapple, so make sure to use that part of the fruit in your ferment!
Miso Fermented Red Onions – miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans which gives an incredible umami tang to anything it touches. This twist on pickled onions will take your sandwich or salad to the next level.
Bonfire Cider, The Natural Flu Remedy – a culture to have on hand during the winter months, this brew takes apple cider vinegar, spikes it with immune boosting antimicrobial herbs and spices, and leaves it to ferment for a month. Say goodbye to colds and flu!
Natto Kimchi Pasta – this protein packed meal is made with natto, a fermented soybean that is one of the highest sources of Vitamin K2 you’ll find – a nutrient essential for strong and healthy bones. With the added probiotic power of kimchi, this tangy pasta dish is a fermenting fanatic’s dream dinner. But be warned, it’s not for everyone!