Long before our shelves were flooded with probiotic products, humans had been unknowingly enjoying the benefits of microbe-rich fermented foods. Fermentation is one of the oldest forms of food preservation. While early humans didn’t know the reasoning behind it, culture and tradition has held them for their medicinal and nutritive properties.
The fermentation that produced alcohol may have been the driving force behind primitive people settling down to start agriculture. Before that, hunter-gathers would have consumed rotten fruits in times of scarcity. Asia is thought to be the birth-place of fermented vegetables. Foods like this have been consumed for thousands of years and the knowledge of producing them handed down throughout the generations.
Many studies on fermented foods show a reduced risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, diarrhea, thrombosis, and many others. The thought is that fermentation produces many bioactive compounds.
There are vitamins, such as vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B9 (folate), vitamin B12, and vitamin K which are increased in these foods. Melatonin is also synthesized, as well as GABA, which regulates blood pressure and protects against cardiovascular disease and cancer.
There are many other compounds produced. As we learn more about them, it may unlock the numerous ways fermented foods benefit our health. But with what we know, it’s important enough to add to your regular diet.
At home or from the store
There are many options when it comes to fermented foods at the store. Especially drinks. Some are palatable, like water or dairy kefir. Kombucha is a bit more of an acquired taste but still a great option.
Another option is to ferment vegetables at home. It may seem intimidating, but actually a quite simple task. Most of the work is done by the fermentation process, which is leaving the jar alone.
You can ferment almost any vegetable. Make sure you wash them thoroughly first. Chop, grate, or slice them making sure to keep the size consistent in each batch. Place them in a seal-able glass jar. The most work is done preparing the brine. There are many recipes and most contain salt. The most important part is the starter culture, which is healthy bacteria and can be purchased at some health food stores or online.
Once everything is combined, sit back and let them ripen for a few weeks. When they’re ready, you might notice bubbles in the jar and a pleasant sour aroma. When this happens move them into the refrigerator and enjoy! If they have a rotten or spoiled odor, toss them and try again. It may take a few tries to get it right, but the cost is minimal, its fun, and you’ll have a healthy dish to add to your diet.