12 Oct 2017
With World Food Day coming up on the 16th October, we wanted to feature our favourite fermented foods! Fermented foods have been around for centuries, in fact people began to ferment foods as far back as 2000 years ago as a way of prolonging the life of vegetables. They are particularly popular in countries like Japan, Korea and Germany, where the recipes for these highly nutritious dishes have been passed down from generation to generation. Adding fermented foods to your meal is a great way of providing some extra benefits to the gut, as these foods are rich in good bacteria, a.k.a live cultures.
Probiotics, produced during fermentation, are thought to improve your immune system, and support digestive health for those with issues such as constipation, indigestion and bloating... as well as potentially benefiting other areas such as skin, and even mental health!
So these fantastic foods are not just staple classics for Asia and Europe, but are growing in popularity here in the UK too. Read on to find out our five favourite fermented foods and drinks, which are great starting points to welcome you into the wonderful world of fermentation; we've also included a few tasty recipes to help you along the way. So enjoy this yummy selection - just in time for World Food Day!
We’ve had our own series of taster sessions where the team have tried out these fermented foods! Many people find that fermented dishes can be an acquired taste, which, for some, can be the complete opposite of what they’re used to with their British diet. As some have a strong odour and taste, we found it was often a case of the Marmite effect – you either love it or you hate it! But how often does it happen that we find foods that are not just flavoursome and filling, but healthy for our gut too?
All of the foods listed below contain high levels of live cultures, but not necessarily what we’d describe as probiotics. Not all fermented foods are probiotic, and obviously not all probiotics are a fermented food. Read on below to find out more.
Kimchi is a staple dish in Korea. With an intensely flavoured cabbage as the main ingredient, it also includes a variety of spices such as chili powder as well as scallions, garlic and ginger. This was Sam's favourite as he loves spicy food! This fermented dish is Korea's national favourite; as well as being the main favourite in the OptiBac office! The cabbage is mixed with salt, which is the catalyst for the lacto-fermentation process. Here is a fantastic recipe that Jamie Oliver has created a step-by-step guide on how to make wonderful homemade Kimchi.
Kombucha is a tea thought to contain millions of live cultures per serving. A popular choice at the office, its sweet and tangy taste, combined with fruit, makes this 2000 year old recipe still one of the best. It's made using green or black tea, various sources of cane sugar, fruit or honey, and a Scoby (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria & Yeast). The Scoby is thought to provide a the barrier against unfriendly bacteria and help to create an abundance of good bacteria strains during the fermenting stage. The great thing about Kombucha is the sheer varieTEA (couldn't help the pun!) that you can experiment with to make it your own. With its natural 'fizz' you can make anything from mango kombucha, elderberry or simply anything that you want to make. It can be slightly trickier to acquire all the ingredients, mainly the Scoby, but it's worth trying it out for yourself. Kombucha is my personal favourite as it was sweet and tangy with a lot of different fruit, the raspberry flavoured Kombucha was yummy! Here is a lovely recipe made by Tanya from Better Raw on how to make your own kombucha. Or if you'd rather purchase some, we love Equinox kombucha!
Sauerkraut, in its simplest form, is a combination of cabbage and salt. The bacteria present on the surface of the cabbage (the same on all our fruits and veg) begin to convert the sugars in the cabbage into lactic acid; this is a natural preservative which prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. This dish is popular mainly in Central and Eastern Europe. With its sour flavour coming from the lactic acid that's produced during fermentation, it's commonly known in Germany as 'sour cabbage' or 'sour herb'. To find out more about how this food helps your gut check out this great blog that we found on the Bloating Tips website! This was one of the least controversial tasters for us - a good crowd pleaser which wasn't too divisive, as the taste isn't too spicy or unusual - and it compliments a typical meat & veg dinner!
Tempeh is essentially a soybean cake. It originates from Indonesia and is the only traditional soy food that didn't originate from Japanese cuisine. Admittedly this was not overly loved in the office, however we've deemed it particularly rich in good bacteria, and it's not sugary like some of the others in the list! In cooking, it's used in a similar way to tofu, and they're both made using soybeans, but differ entirely in nutritional characteristics. As Tempeh is fermented soybeans it is thought to play host to a much broader spectrum of good bacteria than your average food containing live cultures. It is commonly used as a meat substitute and its earthy flavour creates a great base for any vegetarian dish.
Kefir is a nutritious, cultured drink made of fermented milk, with a refreshing flavour that's similar to a drinking-style yoghurt. The name Kefir is from the Turkish word 'keif', which means 'good feeling'. Kefir is then name of the grain that works as the product's starter culture, which is where all the yeast and good bacteria come from. The grains will ferment cow, goat and sheep milk as well as milk substitutes such as coconut, rice and soy milk. They form clumps of coral-looking pieces, which after having time fermenting, are then removed before you get stuck in. The end result is a rich creamy yoghurt drink that has a tart, sour taste. As a healthy replacement for 'ordinary' milk, even those who are lactose intolerant can enjoy homemade milk Kefir!
Fermented foods can be a tasty way to get more live cultures into your diet and encourage diversity in your gut bacteria. As I mentioned earlier in the blog, it's not always known which specific strains of bacteria are found in fermented foods; however, we know that there are different broad types of bacteria in each type of fermented food. For example, if you eat yoghurt or fermented milk, you are including a wide variety of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria1.
We wouldn't say that probiotics and fermented foods are the same thing - and we wouldn't be too quick to swap one for the other. If you're interested to learn more take a look at The Food Myth. But having said that, we love any excuse to consume more live cultures, and think the recipes in this blog are a great way to get started. Bon appetit!
1. Lee Y., and Salminen S. (2009). ‘Handbook of Probiotics and Prebiotics’, Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, pp 70-74