Fermented Foods – What are they and how to use them!
It may not sound great, but fermented foods are so good for you and can even be tasty.
I spent a year teaching English in South Korea (as many otherwise unemployable English Honours graduates do!), and it was there that I first learnt of how tasty and beneficial fermented foods can be. In Korea, kimchi is the answer to just about every culinary question. What should I have in my omelette? Kimchi. What goes nicely with a braai? Kimchi. What kind of soup should we make? Kimchi. But it’s also the answer to some health questions too: I’m low on energy. Have some kimchi. My stomach doesn’t feel too good. Have some kimchi. I keep getting sick. Eat more kimchi. You get the idea.
Don’t tell the Koreans, but kimchi’s secret health powers are common to many fermented foods, of which yoghurt is the one most of us are most familiar with. Here are some of our favourite fermented foods and how they can help you.
A healthy gut is a healthy person
There are something like 100 trillion microbes in your stomach, doing things like helping to digest food, regulate your mood by producing good neurotransmitters and boosting your immune system. All of these fermented foods have similar benefits in that they all contain beneficial probiotics and antioxidants, and most of them are high in various nutrients. As such, they are good for stomach-related health problems such as diarrhoea or the opposite, bloating and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). There is also evidence that a healthy digestive system leads to a healthy immune system and overall good health. Generally, these fermented foods will be have probiotic, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory functions and contain antioxidants, and can help you to lose weight and even create stronger bones.
Originating in Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia, kefir gets its name from the Turkish word ‘keyif’, which means ‘feeling good’, meaning that you feel good after eating it. Not unlike drinking yoghurt, kefir is a fermented drink usually made from cow’s milk, although it can also be made from goat’s milk, coconut milk or coconut water, amongst others. Just like sourdough bread, it is made using a starter or kefir ‘grains’, which are grain-like colonies of yeast, lactic acid and bacteria. These colonies work fast, turning milk into kefir in a day or so. The grains are then removed from the kefir and can be used again and again, indefinitely.
The kefir 'grains' are removed from the kefir and used again and again to create more of the fermented drink.
A fermented black or green tea drink, kombucha is created by a colony of bacteria and yeast and is especially popular in Asia, although these days it is a global trend. You can find kombucha in various flavours in health shops and chemists, and even in some supermarkets. When shopping for it, read the ingredients carefully and opt for one that isn’t too loaded with sugar or you’ll be fooling yourself if you think you’re doing something healthy.
You all know this one – sauerkraut is the archetypal German food (with sausages, I suppose), but you might not realise that it is fermented and a powerful probiotic. It is made from finely cut cabbage that is anaerobically fermented in a brine solution, sometimes flavoured with pepper and/or carraway seeds.
If you’ve watched even a few episodes of MasterChef Australia, miso will be on your radar (even if you don’t know exactly what it is!). It is a Japanese seasoning made by fermenting soya beans with salt and a fungus called ‘koji’. The resulting paste is used in soups or to flavour any number of savoury dishes, imparting them with a characteristic ‘umami’ flavour.
Other fermented foods include yoghurt, maas (amasi), tempeh, pickles like gherkins, vinegar, some cheeses, natto and fish sauce.