Have you eaten fermented foods before?
It’s a trick question because it’s likely you have, even if you didn’t know it!
Yogurt, pickles, kimchi, wine, beer, and sourdough bread are all examples of fermented foods.
These foods have been around for thousands of years, likely beginning with things like bread, wine, and beer. So, the fermentation of food is nothing new. But what is new is the amount of research showing the positive effect that they have on our health.
Food that tastes good and improves your health? Sign us up, right? But before I break down how you can add more fermented foods into your diet, let’s define what that term means and why they may be beneficial to your health.
What is Fermentation?
Fermentation is the chemical breakdown of a substance by a bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms. Put simply, bacteria eats the sugar in the food and produces carbon dioxide (CO2), breaking down the food’s proteins and therefore making them more digestible for us.
Recent evidence suggests that fermented foods can balance the permeability of our intestines and enhance the immune system by adding beneficial bacteria to our gut flora.
Our gut is incredibly important for our overall health, as it plays an important role in several critical functions, such as:
- The way we digest our food
- Dictating any food sensitivities we may have
- Our mood, energy, and weight
- Our hormone balance
It’s, therefore, incredibly beneficial for us to eat food that contains gut-friendly bacteria so that our gut — and our whole body — stays healthy.
Incorporating Fermented Foods Into Your Diet
Ok, fermented foods are good for us. Check. But how can you go about incorporating more of them into your diet?
Let’s start with my favorite plant-based fermented foods:
- Kimchi (Japanese fermented cabbage with chili)
- Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage traditionally made with juniper berries)
- Fermented chilis (my personal favorite). I make my own mix of different varieties of chilies including habanero, serrano, Fresno and jalapeño. I also add cauliflower and radishes into the mix
- Fermented vegetables like shredded beets or shredded carrots. You can find some variety at the supermarket, but making your own is super easy and can be much more flavorful
- Miso (fermented soy beans). You can also find gluten-free versions such as chickpea miso
Many of these fermented staples are readily available at your local market. But once you get them home, you may be wondering what to do with them! I’ve got you covered.
Here are five easy ways to eat fermented foods:
- Include them in your Buddha bowls. These are usually bowls consisting of a grain, some vegetables, some greens, and some fermented foods for a balanced, healthy meal.
- For fermented vegetables, chop them finely and drizzle with olive oil. Serve them on top of a toast with seed butter like tahini, homemade pumpkin butter, or sunflower butter for a delicious snack.
- Mix your fermented foods into your vinaigrettes and use the fermented liquid to add that sharp, acidic flavor. When I do this, I normally don’t even add any other acidity to my salads, just some citrus zest. The vinaigrette formula goes something like this: 1 part fermented liquid + 1 part extra-virgin olive oil + finely chopped fermented vegetables + lemon zest = one delicious vinaigrette.
- Use miso as a base for your soups. It’s important to note that you shouldn’t boil the miso, as this will destroy its health benefits. Simply bring water to a simmer on low flame, dissolve the miso paste in 1/2 cup of water then add it to the water. Season with tamari or sea salt if desired.
- Use your fermented vegetables as toppings on your quesadillas, tacos, in your burgers, on top of stews, and in salads.
Fermented Food Q&A
Despite the fact that, as I covered earlier, fermented foods are fairly common and even well-known, you may not feel that you’re up-to-speed on all of their details. Here I address some of the more common questions I get from my students about this special food category.
What do Fermented Foods Taste Like?
Fermented foods tend to have acidic, bitter notes. Fermented vegetables in particular have that characteristic fermented smell (some more than others). If you’re not used to it, it’s easy to mistake the smell of fermented vegetables for the smell of rotten vegetables, but as you eat and use fermented foods more you’ll learn to distinguish it and know the smell of hard-working good bacteria.
How to Store Fermented Foods
Even if stored in a closed container, fermented foods should be kept in a cold environment, such as your refrigerator.
Are Fermented Foods Expensive?
Store-bought fermented foods can be a little pricy. For less than a pound of fermented vegetables, you can end up paying about $8. So if you’re someone who enjoys fermented foods and wants to eat them regularly, you can expect to pay that much on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
However, it doesn’t have to cost you nearly as much if you make your own. Not only do you save money when you ferment your own food, but you get to add the flavors that you like to them and also have the satisfaction of having made them yourself.
And before you think you don’t have time to do so, let me tell you that it’s a whole lot easier than you think. I have taught some of my clients how to ferment and they are fascinated by the simplicity and results.
The Wonder of Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are incredible. And let’s face it, we can all benefit from more good bacteria in our guts! Even a little bit of something fermented at each meal can make a huge difference over time.
Find something you like, enjoy eating it, and maybe even enjoy making it. Your body will thank you!