Fermented food can be a healthy option

By Marilee Griffin • Published: June 16th, 2014
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Shredded cabbage and salt are packed into a glass jar; three days later, out comes sauerkraut. This transformation occurs thanks to a natural process called fermentation.

Fermentation happens when the sugars and carbohydrates in food and liquids break down and convert into something else, transforming tastes and textures with the introduction of bacteria.

If that sounds a little … well, icky, know that some of your favorite foods are probably the result of fermentation. Fruit juice changes into wine, grains transform into beer. In fact, bread, cheese, yogurt, chocolate, coffee, soy sauce and pickles are also products of fermentation.

These culinary delights demonstrate the wide range of flavors that can result from the fermentation process. That’s because the microorganism used determines the outcome. For example, yeastfermentation leavens bread while cheese is a result of bacterialfermentation. Other types of molds and bacteria can ferment into antibiotics, such as penicillin.

Early societies used the fermentation process to make alcohol and bread. Since 1795, people have been taking advantage of the preserving properties of fermentation by canning vegetables, fruits and other edibles.

Fermentation is beneficial to our digestive tract as well. Bacteria in our stomach are crucial to how we digest food and absorb nutrients. Fermented foods help replenish and diversify those bacterial populations. This is especially important in an increasingly sterilized world where gut bacteria are often under attack. Research also suggests that fermented foods may reduce our risk of obesity and chronic stress.

So how does one reap the digestive benefits of fermentation? Order a side of kimchi, top a salad with pickled onions or beets, try a tempeh and Gouda melt on sourdough bread — there are many delicious ways to add fermented foods to your diet.