Fermenting 101

Are yeasts, moulds, and bacteria as healthy as current nutrition trends say they are?

By Andrea Falcone, RD 

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Until recently, fermented foods have simply been categorized as garnishes or side dishes. But, as of late, studies published on the health benefits of fermented foods, like kefir and sauerkraut, have grasped the attention of the media and health enthusiasts alike, thrusting them into the forefront of our nutritional lexicon. Not only can fermented foods help us keep up with the current high food supply demand, due to their longer shelf life, but they are oftentimes tastier and more nutritional than their fresh counterparts.

Fermented foods have been found in nature for thousands of years. It can happen in food if lactic acid bacteria, yeast, or mould is found in its environment, or if they are purposely added as a starter culture to kick-off the process. Culture starters that are often used in manmade fermentation processes include salt, alcohol, sugar, whey, and brine. These organisms convert carbohydrates, including sugar and starch, into an acid or alcohol.

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So what exactly are the health benefits? Fermenting your food helps to not only preserve it and keep it safe for consumption, but also delivers more nutritional benefits to your body, including your digestive health. The gut contains roughly 1,000 trillium bacteria that protect us from infections, gather and produce energy from our food intake, and provide nutrition to gut cells. By introducing good bacteria to our food, it boosts the growth of healthy bacteria in our intestines, improving digestibility – plus a whole lot more you may have not even thought of.

While gut health has been at the forefront of nutritional research for many years, scientists have not only looked into how probiotics from fermented foods help support the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestines, but how it affects brain health as well.

Altering the gut’s normal bacterial content affects one’s behaviour and brain chemistry. Therefore, by rebalancing your gut’s bacterial content with fermented foods’ probiotics, this helps boost the release of serotonin, ultimately affecting your mood, memory, sleep, appetite, libido, temperature regulation, and learning ability.

Fermentation also helps produce enzymes, and anticarcinogenic and antibiotic substances. Not to mention its practical capability to prolong the food’s shelf life, allowing us to produce in bulk, like jars of pickles compared to fresh cucumber. Imagine your own Costco in your pantry!

If we’ve enticed you to start fermenting, check out Mary Karlin’s easy and amazing Apple-Caraway Sauerkraut recipe from her book Mastering Fermentation: Recipes for Making and Cooking with Fermented Foods. 

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