Fermented Foods for Health
The word “fermentation” is likely to wrinkle the nose of most who hear it. It brings to mind memories of that leftover casserole you forgot about in the back of the fridge for a month and had to don your best homemade on-the-fly HAZZMAT suit equivalent to dispose of.
And while fermentation in terms of booze usually gets a pass, the term “fermented food” is often a tough sell.
But fermented foods have actually been part of the human diet for thousands of years. It’s one of the ways people were able to preserve foods before they had canners, dehydrators or refrigeration. And once you get a taste for them, fermented foods are actually quite delicious as a condiment and can be paired with almost any meal.
Intriguing. So what is fermentation exactly?
You know how there’s a layer of bacteria covering almost every surface you ever come into contact with (just accept it)? Well some of these bacteria, particularly the ones found on plants close to the ground, are lactic acid-producing bacteria. They eat sugar and other carbohydrates and convert them into lactic acid (hence the name), and are vital for the process of lactofermentation. These little guys are some of the same ones that colonize our digestive tracts, playing an integral role in the immune system, digestion, produce many nutrients for us (including vitamin K, butyric acid and even vitamin C) and help us to poop.
Lactofermentation is the process where these lactic acid-producing bacteria eat the starches and sugars in fruits and veggies and excrete – you guessed it – lactic acid. And while lactic acid gets a bad wrap for causing “the burn” in the muscles associated with hard workouts, it’s actually a natural preservative that inhibits the growth of putrefying bacteria, converting lowly vegetables into delicious and nutritious treats. And no, eating it will not cause your muscles to ache; it’s actually considered a nutrient.
By creating an acidic environment, the lactic acid-producing bacteria are allowed to work in peace, not bothered by other critters, and slowly convert the starches and sugars. What you’re left with is a delicious, sour condiment that much more easily digested than the straight veggie and is super-loaded with nutritional goodness. Aside from the probiotic bacteria themselves, these little helper produce vitamins, make minerals more bioavailable, produce enzymes and antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. They even produce a little hydrogen peroxide and benzoic acid.
All these veggies can be turned into Captain America-style super vegetables
The veggies you can use for fermentation are almost limitless. Cucumbers (pickles), cabbages, carrots, beets, turnips, tomatoes, peppers, grape leaves, radish – all of these and more can be turned, Captain America-style, into super-veggies, (although, only ones who had heart in the first place).
I dunno Doug. I’m pretty sure bacteria are gross. I think fermented foods aren’t for me.
Well, then you’re missing out. Not only on good taste, but lots of beneficial bacterial cultures and the amazing nutrition they produce.
But aside from this, you’ve probably been eating the bastardized versions of fermented foods since you were born. You see, processed food producers are great at taking traditional foods and removing all the nutritional benefits from them in the name of convenience and profit. Foods like pickles, relishes, chutneys, pickled ginger, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, even root beer and other fizzy drinks were once traditional foods preserved through fermentation by our ancestors. But by pasteurizing them, or forgoing the traditional fermentation process in favour of soaking them in vinegar, or even reconstituting the flavours and textures of a fermented food with chemicals and other science, none of those friendly little bacteria are there to confer their health-giving benefits upon you.
You must look for traditionally fermented foods or make ‘em yourself. Here’s a simple recipe to get you started – Fermented Carrots!
Doug DiPasquale is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist
Join us for our Ferment Event Under The Tent on Oct 8, 2015