I don’t know about you, but I’ve spent my whole life believing that if I eat Kimchee or munch on pickles or any fermented food, I’m getting probiotics in my system. Little did I know this is not necessarily true.
Fermented foods have been eaten by humans around the globe for thousands of years. People in the Middle East started fermenting milk in 8000 B.C. and by 4,000 B.C. Egyptians were fermenting grapes into wine and making leavened bread with yeast. In around 7,000 B.C., Swedes prepared the earliest-known fermented fish.
Modern humans enjoy fermented foods such as raw cheese, blue cheese, traditional kimchi, sauerkraut, yogourt, raw apple cider vinegar, kombucha and others.
All these foods contain live bacteria that help break down the chemical structure of the food. This creates complex flavours and healthy food products that can often be safely stored for months, even without refrigeration.
Fermentation also makes it easier for some nutrients to be absorbed by the body more easily and provides an environment for probiotics to grow and reproduce.
Health Benefits of Fermented Food
Many fermented foods contribute beneficial bacteria that have a potential probiotic effect, which is one of their biggest health benefits.
Due to wide scale societal changes in diet along with vastly improved hygiene, our gut microbiome has changed drastically over the past decades. One of the results of this change can be an imbalance of the gut microbiome whereby the bad bacteria can overwhelm the good, which in turn can wreak all sorts of havoc on human health.
Regular consumption of fermented foods is one way to continuously introduce good bacteria in your gut, support digestive health and help alleviate digestive issues.
Not all Fermented Foods are Created Equal
However, to be considered truly probiotic, fermented food must contain a large enough number of specific strains that have a direct and healthy effect.
Some fermented foods such as kimchee, sauerkraut and kombucha contain live microbes, however their strains have not been defined, and their health effect is uncertain. Therefore, they cannot be labelled as probiotic.
Additionally, according to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, “not all fermented foods use strains of microbes that have proven benefits for our health, or that can survive the trip through the gut.”
Another class of fermented foods contains no live bacteria at all. This is due to the fact that they have been removed through the process of pasteurization, smoking, baking, or filtering.
I’m sure you’re asking…so what fermented foods contain probiotics, live microbes or no live microbes at all? Review the handy infographic from The Canadian Digestive Foundation below for answers.
Risks of Fermented foods
If food is not pasteurized and it contains bacteria, there is a chance for bad bacteria to grow. The production process of fermented food is important as it needs to reach a pH level of 4.6 or lower, indicating it is acidic enough to be safe.
If done properly, fermentation will bring food to the “safe” acid level, enabling the product to be stored for up to three months. Refrigerating fermented food will keep it fresh even longer.
Fermented foods that are pasteurized for safety do not contain live microbes. Keep your eyes open when you peruse the shelves at the grocery store and read the label to see if the product is pasteurized as you make your choices.
If purchasing from an artisanal producer don’t hesitate to ask them about their food-safety precautions, sanitation and temperature controls.
Making Fermented Foods at Home
Many foodies are turning to home fermentation. Fermented vegetables are generally quite safe and have been made by humans in their homes for thousands of years.
As our ancient ancestors figured out, not only do you reap the health benefits, but you can also try out new taste combos and have fun with family and friends.
If you’re making fermented foods at home, take some simple measures to ensure everyone’s safety. Follow along with the video below for beginner fermenters and share your recipes with us on social media!