Fermented Foods and a Healthy Microbiome

Fermented foods benefit our health because they provide our gut with a variety of healthy bacteria (probiotics) for our digestive tract. In addition to these naturally occurring beneficial microbes also may build a powerful immune system and also positively impact brain health. They are also being researched in their role with a healthy weight!

In addition, I want to share beneficial bacteria that fermented foods contain, where to get these them, resources on fermented foods and a few of my favorite recipes to add some of them to your daily routine.

First, here is a little bit of information on purchased probiotics.

Health Concerns with Commercially Purchased Probiotics

Are you taking a probiotic? Recent research shows that taking a probiotic may not be all that it is cracked up to be. Check out these two studies on these considerations.

Many probiotic supplements may not have an adequate amount of active ingredients. Processing, Storage and the type can make a difference in their benefit also.

By getting healthy bacteria from fermented food, you get fiber, nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemicals which your body will respond to better than a pill. Another concern with supplements is that they are not well regulated so it is difficult to make sure that they actually have the ingredients that they say and do not include ingredients that you don’t want like lead or mercury.

How Do Fermented Foods Improve Gut Health?

A healthy gut microbiome has over 100 trillion bacteria which includes a wide diversity of types of healthy microbes. The Standard American Diet lacks many of the nutrients needed to maintain gut health which includes fiber referred to as prebiotics which feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. So fermented foods help these back along with other gut-healthy nutrients to help improve the microbiome and help improve gut integrity.

Here are three articles below that help explain this further:

One Health Fermented Foods and Gut Microbiota

Probiotic Bacteria in Fermented Foods

Everything you always wanted to know about fermented foods 

Other Ways Fermented Foods Benefit Health

By helping improve gut health, we can increase the effectiveness of our immune system, reduce inflammation in our body and benefit our brain health.

 Fermented Foods and a Healthy immune system

In addition to keeping our guts healthy which boosts the immune system, there are several strains of healthy bacteria that can really help boost a healthy immune system and a healthy gut reduces inflammation. Here is a research article that explains how the science behind this.

Fermented Foods and It’s Benefit in Brain Health

Over the past several years, there has been research in the area of a healthy gut and prevention of neurogenerative diseases. And science is finding how connected the gut and the brain really are with the gut even being referred to as the “second brain”. Here is a recent article about how beneficial bacteria relate to brain health.

And another article on brain health.

Concerns Over Fermented Foods and Our Health

This article shares benefits eating fermented foods but also shares possible concerns of increased cancer with eating fermented fish paste. More research is needed in this area. Here is another article on the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics in foods.

The Fermentation Process

Fermentation is where carbohydrates either break down into alcohol to make wine/beer or a lactic acid fermentation which is which changes glucose into lactate.

The lacto bacilli bacteria converts sugar/carbohydrate foods into lactic and other acids to make them easier to digest. Lactic acid fermentation can increase the availability of nutrients in food or make them more easily digested. Two examples of this include the improved bioavailability of iron in certain vegetables after they have been fermented.

Another example is when people are lactose intolerant that they may be able to digest yogurt, cultured buttermilk or kefir because after fermentation much of the lactose has been broken down into galactose and glucose.

Two Great Books About Fermentation

Sandor Katz, an expert making and teaching about fermented food suggests almost any food has the ability to be fermented. I encourage you to get a copy one or both of his books  Wild Fermentation or The Art of Fermentation.

To get the benefits of live food cultures, fermented foods may work best when they are unheated.

Which Fermented Foods Contain the Most Probiotics?

I love looking at the food labels of yogurt, kefir and kombucha to see the different strains of beneficial bacteria that they have. The more diverse the product the better and there are unique bacteria strains that provide benefits over others. Here are two great resources on this. The University of Michigan handout is a fantastic resource, download it and use! This article from Eating Well also is a great article to read more on fermented foods and your health.

Let’s talk more about these foods!

yogurt parfait

This yogurt parfait can be breakfast or dessert.

Fermented Dairy Products

Some people do not have enough of the enzyme lactase to break down the sugar in milk easily. When this happens, dairy can ferment in the gut and cause diarrhea.

Lactose-free dairy products or a lactase enzyme can help with the digestion of milk products. Some people don’t drink milk for dietary reasons and there are other fermented foods that you can have that do not contain dairy and you can work to get the missing nutrients from dairy products like riboflavin and calcium. There are some non-dairy yogurts available also.

Yogurt

The label on yogurt that says Live and Active Cultures on the yogurt container lets us know that it should have 100 million probiotic cultures per gram. There are lots of yogurts that contain this that do not have this seal so it is good to do your homework.

Some of my favorite ways to eat yogurt are to make a fruit parfait with plain yogurt, fruit and granola layered. Smoothies and other yogurt drinks are also easy to make. I also like to make savory dips. Check out my raita recipe at the end of this blog along with a yogurt drink.

Kefir

This drinkable fermented milk tastes a lot like yogurt. The container of kefir tells you that there are almost 20 types of healthy bacteria! Kefir makes a great smoothie or you can use it for a parfait or in other recipes where you would use.

Cultured Buttermilk

My great-grandmother and my father-in-law used to enjoy having a bowl of buttermilk and crumbled cornbread. Although this is not one of my ways to get my probiotics, it is definitely a way to eat them up! You can also add to smoothies and use for salad dressings and dips

Fermented Vegetables and Fruits

I have dabbled making fermenting vegetables like pickles and sauerkraut.

Cabbage

This can be the start of a great beginning for sauerkraut or kimchi!

Sauerkraut

This traditional Eastern European food is so simple to make, just cabbage and salt in a crock. The best sauerkraut that I ever had was made by a friend who added carrots and Brussels sprouts. That was my introduction to learning how to make fermented foods and I am happy to say, I have made one very similar to his and it was very easy! You can add sauerkraut to sandwiches, salads and as a side dish.

Kimchi

Kimchi is very similar to sauerkraut but originated in Korea and is often spicy with garlic. It can be eaten as a side dish and is a great condiment with Korean and other Asian foods.

Cucumbers

Pickles

Cucumbers, carrots and beets are some of the most popular pickles that are made. I have included a picture of some of our pickles at the beginning of this post.

Fermented Protein Foods

Tempeh

Fermented beans make a great source of protein that is easier to digest than unfermented beans

Tempeh

Many of us are familiar with tofu but may not have heard of its fermented cousin from Indonesia, tempeh. Tempeh is most often made with fermented soybeans and has a nutty flavor and contains all the essential amino acids so it is considered a complete protein. My friends at Smiling Hara also make tempeh/hempeh.

Miso

This fermented paste made from either barley, rice or soybeans. It has a savory taste that makes a great way to season food instead of salt. Here is Western North Carolina, we have a local miso company. You can add it to salad dressing, dips and sauces. You can find lots of tasty recipes for sauces and other delicious foods at Great Eastern Sun Miso Maker.

Meat and Fish

Many cultures also ferment fish or meat but this is less common in the United States. This is not an area that I have explored much but slow cured sausages and pickled fish like herring are some examples.

Perfect Sourdough Bread

To get the perfect loaf, you have to do a few things!

Fermented Grains

My husband has kept a sourdough starter for almost 10 years and makes bread almost every weekend. There are several traditional fermented grains around the world that look like they would be tasty things to incorporate. This is definitely an area that will be interesting to explore!

Since the bread is baked, you will not have the live cultures but the sourdough does break down the fructans in the bread, making it easier to digest for people who have IBS.

kombucha

Kochuca, a fermented tea drink.

Fermented Beverages

I remember about 6 years ago, my son introduced me to kobucha. He brought over a big mason jar and wanted me to keep it alive on my counter. I was not successful keeping it going but luckily for me there are several great kobucha makers around like our local Buchi! For people wanting to avoid alcohol, care should be taken with kobucha because it does contain some of it. It is not hard to make if you don’t have a local kobucha-maker.

Here is a recipe for a mocktail. Don’t heat the kombucha if you want the full probiotic effects!

Warm Holiday Mocktails

How to Ferment Foods?

Fermenting Your Own Foods

You can do something healthy for your gut by experimenting with fermenting your own foods. Making your own can save money and you can make it exactly how you like.

Learning how to ferment your own foods safely requires a little research and safe food handling practices so you have the right bacteria growing in your food. One great resource that I have found in the Asheville area is a company called Fermenti.

They have some great resources on how to make your own things but they also have products that they make to purchase in the Western North Carolina region.

Another great resource that may help you learn more about how to make fermented foods is the company Cultures for Health. They have starters and lots of things to help get you started.

Making Your Own Kombucha

About 10 years ago Scoby Dude placed a huge jar in my tiny kitchen, taking the last of my usable counter space. He thought that I might like to make my own kombucha. I didn’t know what he was talking about at the time. I let the poor live culture wither until there was no life in it.

Check out my interview below to find out more about how to make kombucha!

Guest Contributor for Vine Ripe Nutrition Blog

Meet Scoby Dude

You have likely tasted or at least seen the bubbly, tangy drink called kombucha. Or maybe you’re hooked on the stuff. Kombucha is a fermented beverage made with tea, and its old-world roots have blossomed into a current phenomenon. I talked with my son Noah Barratt, an avid kombucha hobbyist, about his personal experience with the popular beverage which may have some real health benefits!

Q: How long have you been brewing kombucha?

A: I really got interested in making it a year ago when my wife bought a scoby (see definition below) from a lady on Craigslist. I had been around friends for several years who kept jars of kombucha, but I never really checked it out. I may have had a taste, but no active interest. A friend even gifted me a jar with a kombucha culture, and I just let it sit on the counter.

Q: What is a scoby?

Scoby is actually an acronym that stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.”
It’s what transforms your regular tea into kombucha. A scoby is a rubbery disc created
by colonies of microorganisms, the hub of fermentation. It’s a lot like the “mother” in
vinegar. You can see why we just say “scoby.”

Q: How do you ferment tea with a scoby?

A: The scoby goes straight into the tea, real tea primarily, not just herbal stuff. Since the
industrial revolution, we’ve had wide access to black tea, which is itself a fermented
product. The scoby does best in a container of sweetened black tea, just like granny
makes.

Q: Ok, I’ve got my scoby in a jar with some sweet tea. Now what?

A: Well, you’re going to want to let the process breathe. When I brew kombucha I like to
put a coffee filter on top of the jar with a rubber band. That keeps things out but lets air
flow through. Then it needs to go into a dark space with a temperature around 70
degrees. Mine live in the pantry.

Q: What changes do you see as fermentation takes off?

A: The main thing you see is the production of more scobys. They gradually form on the
first one and eventually separate to become brand new scobys. You also see some
cloudy solids form on the bottom of the jar. A kombucha culture can start to look funky,
so new brewers wonder if something is going wrong, but that’s just what kombucha’s

Q: Ok, I’ve got my scoby in a jar with some sweet tea. Now what?

A: Well, you’re going to want to let the process breathe. When I brew kombucha I like to
put a coffee filter on top of the jar with a rubber band. That keeps things out but lets air
flow through. Then it needs to go into a dark space with a temperature around 70
degrees. Mine live in the pantry.

Q: What changes do you see as fermentation takes off?

A: The main thing you see is the production of more scobys. They gradually form on the
first one and eventually separate to become brand new scobys. You also see some
cloudy solids form on the bottom of the jar. A kombucha culture can start to look funky,
so new brewers wonder if something is going wrong, but that’s just what kombucha’skombucha’s life looks like. If something unwanted like mold showed up you would know right away. The other changes you taste rather than see.

Q: In simple terms, what is happening when the tea is being made into kombucha?

A: Basically the microorganisms of the scoby feed on both the sweetener and nutrients in the tea and produce byproducts that give kombucha is characteristic flavor and fizz.

Q: How long does it take a batch of kombucha to finish?

A: It really depends on the batch size and environment. Somewhere in the 2-4 week range. Check-in and taste the kombucha often to see if it’s getting close to how you like it. It’s a matter of personal taste. Some people may like less of the sharper flavor profiles like vinegary tang and instead prefer to keep more of the sweetener present. And some like a strong, medicinal kombucha which they might take in a small dose or mix in a tonic.

Q: What are the health benefits of drinking kombucha?

A: It’s an excellent source of pre- and probiotics which we know are critical for gut health. People swear by it as a digestion aid. Others claim it provides an energy boost, which is likely an effect of the small amount of caffeine.

Q: So kombucha is caffeinated?

A: Mildy from the black tea base. It also contains a very small amount of alcohol from the yeast fermentation. These are not really significant elements to the drink, but something to consider if you’re sensitive to caffeine.

Q: How do you make different flavors?

A: Additional flavors are added at the end of fermentation. If you’re bottling your kombucha you can put all sorts of fruit juice or puree, roots and herbs right into the batch shortly before syphoning it into bottles. If you let your brew keep doing its thing in the jar, spruce it up with herbs or fruit when you pour a glass or fill a pitcher. The flavor combinations you can dream up are virtually endless. Our family favorites are strawberry-basil and ginger.

Q: Is Kombucha okay for kids?

A: It is at our house. Our kids love getting involved in the kombucha making process. It’s really not a difficult drink to make and it’s an enriching and useful activity for them to master. I love watching them learn that fermentation is awesome. Their favorite part is getting to drink it.

Q: Kombucha is available virtually everywhere now. Why should people put the time and effort into making their own?

A: A major reason is the cost. Local kombucha companies offer amazing brews that I enjoy when I can, but in reality, I would miss out on a lot of kombucha if I had to pay three dollars each time I wanted a bottle. Also, homebrew is alive in a way that kombucha in the store is not.

Q: It seems like the needed ingredients for kombucha are probably in all our kitchens right now, except the scoby. How does one acquire that first scoby?

A: If you do not have a Scoby to pass on, they may be available locally in stores and online. There is a quiet tradition of friends and family sharing scobys with one another. It’s like the centuries-old sourdough starters passed from baker to baker. I guess that’s the point of any good food or drink, bringing us together.

Thank you! Scoby Dude, I know so much more about it than before!

Where to Buy Fermented Foods?

The availability of fermented foods in the marketplace has soared. You can purchase most of these in many grocery stores and even big box stores. You can also find in natural grocery stores and restaurants.

Fermented Food Recipes

These recipes inspired by my love of Indian food with the following recipes for raita and lassi drink. These two recipes can be made with either plain yogurt or kefir. I hope that you enjoy them! I also am sharing a recipe for an open-faced tempeh Reuben sandwich that has two fermented foods, tempeh of course and sauerkraut!

Raita

This tasty cucumber condiment goes great with Indian food and as a side dish!

Raita

Whether served as a condiment, side dish with a meal or a dip, this raita is refreshing!

Makes 3 cups. 6-8 servings

2 cups yogurt

1 large cucumber, seeded and chopped

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 minced garlic clove

1/4 cup chopped cilantro ( you can also substitute fresh basil)

In a medium-sized bowl, mix yogurt, seeded, chopped cucumbers, cumin, salt, garlic and cilantro. Cover the raita until ready to serve.

Peach Lassi

Peach Lassi

Try locally grown peaches instead of mango for you lassi next time for something very refreshing!

Makes 2 servings.

2 cups fresh peaches, sliced

1 cup yogurt or plain (or even) peach kefir

1 slice crystallized ginger

2 teaspoons local honey

Add peaches, yogurt, ginger and honey in a blender and mix well. Pour into cups. Garnish with a slice of fresh peach, crystallized ginger or fresh mint.

If you are looking for a great way to try some tempeh, try our open-faced tempeh reuben sandwich.

Take Your Lunch to Work Month: 3 Vegetarian Open Faced Sandwiches

I hope you are inspired to add more delicious fermented foods to your diet and how they benefit your health! In addition, you know may know more about what they are and how they are made. As a registered dietitian nutritionist here in Asheville, I love to teach people tasty ways to stay healthy.

I have a three visit package to help you achieve your ultimate digestive wellness. Check it out at A Fresh Approach to Digestive Wellness . I will be also sharing more ideas how to acheive and maintain gut health here on the Vine Ripe Nutrition blog!

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