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Fermentation- A revival is brewing!

Our health, tastebuds, and gut bacteria are all going to benefit!

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by Jody Gowans in Fermentation, Gut Health
June 5, 2017

 

When I tell people my website is about fermentation, most look at me either blankly or are taken aback.  “What?  Isn’t fermented food rotten, festering or gross?”  I find it fascinating how disconnected we have become to this traditional process of preserving food.  These fermentation methods that date back thousands of years, helped our ancestors survive by extending the shelf-life of food and simultaneously enhancing the food’s nutritional value.  While the growth in technology aided in the survival of future generations, it was subsequently the demise of the practice of fermentation.  The unique and interesting flavours, high nutritional value and probiotic sources of naturally preserved fermented food, were replaced by commercially prepared, treated or pasteurized food. 

Fortunately,  the importance of our gut bacteria (the gut microbiome) has influenced modern science to recognize the nutritional and probiotic value of fermented foods for our overall health.  A fermentation revival is brewing, and our tastebuds, bodies and gut bacteria are all going to benefit!

THE ORIGIN OF FERMENTATION

Before the invention of refrigeration, food spoilage was rampant.   Did you know that microbes thrive in warm environments (4 to 60°C)  where they can double in population every 15 minutes?  Our ancestors had to learn how to control spoilage of the food they worked so hard to grow and forage before it became inedible.  Although food preservation was our ancestor’s main concern, they unwittingly discovered a way to increase the food’s nutritional value obtained from the by-product of the beneficial bacteria and yeasts commandeering the fermentation process.   “Fermented foods contain live bacteria that function as natural probiotics- a food-based way to replenish the healthy bacteria in your microbiome.  Significantly, every culture in the world seems to have its own fermented foods, suggesting how crucial they are to our health.”  The Microbiome Diet, Dr.Raphael Kellman, MD, (2014)

Korean meju (fermented soybean)

Korean meju (fermented soybean)

 FERMENTATION=CONTROLLED ROT

Fermentation is essentially the controlled rot of food.  If you think this sounds disgusting, then you might have to reconsider your next chocolate bar, yogurt, slice of cheese or sausage, and shot of Tabasco sauce, to name a few!  

 Beneficial bacteria and yeasts are the powerhouses in the fermentation process.  Basically, they eat the sugar in food and produce useful alcohol, acids and gases (eg carbon dioxide).   You can see evidence of this CO2 in the bubbles produced during fermentation.   The word ferment actually means “to boil”.

sauerkraut

bubbling sauerkraut!

 Add the variables of time, salt and liquid and we have an amazing process to “cook” food, “a cold fire that can transform things from one state into a very different other” (Michael Pollan, “Cooked”).  

FERMENTED FOOD: ENHANCED NUTRITIONAL VALUE

 By eating the sugars, the bacteria are also pre-digesting the food for us.  Take cabbage, for example.  If you ate a few leaves of raw cabbage, you would most probably feel a little “gassy”, due to the polysaccharides our bodies have issues digesting.  In contrast, if you ate fermented cabbage (sauerkraut, kimchi), the bacteria has already consumed this dietary fiber.  The food source now becomes more bioavailable to us; we can eat larger amounts and experience the full nutritional benefits of the food without gastro-intestinal issues!  Fermentation also increases the food’s nutritional value. Fermented vegetables have higher levels of vitamin C and B12 and enzymes, than in their raw state.

kimchi, broccoli, tamari and soba noodles

kimchi, broccoli, tamari and soba noodles

PRESERVATION= SUPER TASTY and PROBIOTIC

Back to the origin of fermentation- a method of food preservation.   The good bacteria and yeasts thrive in an acidic and anaerobic (no oxygen) environment and produce acetic acid.  This setup is inhospitable to pathogens that could cause the food to spoil or poison us.  The bacteria are protecting and preserving the food for us.  When we eat fermented food, we are also ingesting these beneficial bacteria, also known as probiotics.

  Probiotics were defined by the World Health Organization in 2001 as “live micro-organisms, which when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host”.  You’ve probably seen these probiotic pills in stores or in some brands of yogurt.  Lacto-fermented food naturally contains these probiotic sources.  The bacteria (lactobacillus) that turns cabbage into sauerkraut is also put in probiotic pills. 

Lactobacillus bacteria

Lactobacillus bacteria

 The medical community has been promoting the consumption of probiotics to help out our resident gut bacteria and immune system.   In  Dr. David Perlmutter’s book, “Brain Maker“, (2015), the first key listed to improve gut health is “To choose foods rich in probiotics.”, specifically lacto-fermented food.  “There is no better way to consume a bevy of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli than to get them from wholly natural sources, which make them exceptionally bioavailble.” (Brain Maker, 2015).  

In Dr.Marc Bubb’s ND, CSCS book, “The Paleo Project” (2015), there is an entire chapter committed to gut health and lists adding fermented food to the diet to maintain healthy levels of good gut bacteria. Dr Bubbs advises that “adding in naturally occurring probiotics from fermented foods such as plain yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tamari sauce, natto, miso and kombucha tea is a great way to support optimal gut microflora in the long term” (The Paleo Project, 2015)

probiotic fermented food

 fermented food-naturally probiotic

 Naturopathic doctor, Stephanie Harvey ND.A, recommends  “incorporating fermented foods like Miso, Tempeh, Kimchi, Sauerkraut and Kefir on a regular basis. Fermentation encourages good bacteria to flourish and colonize in your gut. Gut bacteria helps digestion, strengthens the Immune System, reduces allergies and inflammation, supports brain function and cognitive health.  Probiotic foods lower the risk of just about any acute or chronic disease.  These delicious, healing foods are easy to make and will transform your health.”

When you consume uncooked, fermented food, you are consuming probiotic bacteria and yeast.  Even after refrigeration, these yeast and bacteria continue to subsist within the fermented food.

 In addition to preservation and elevated nutritional value, the fermentation process deliciously transforms the flavour of the food. One of our favourite addictions, chocolate, would not taste anything like we are accustomed to if the cacao beans had not been fermented. That tasty tang found in fermented vegetables would be nonexistent without the process of lacto-fermentation.

Lacto-fermented dill- garlic pickles

delicious lacto-fermented dill- garlic pickles

MODERN FERMENTATION: FOR HEALTH AND FLAVOUR

Since modern technology has provided us with sophisticated methods of food preservation, we technically don’t need to use fermentation to extend the life our food.  However, this low-cost method of enhancing the food’s nutrition and using it as probiotic source is hard to ignore. Our bodies have evolved to tolerate and benefit from the bacteria involved in fermentation, giving us the bonus of a preserved, elevated nutritional food source.  And the biggest bonus- it’s delicious!

Avocado toast with curry sauerkraut, sprouts and gomasio

Avocado toast with curry sauerkraut, sprouts and gomasio

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