Are Fermented Foods and Beverages All They’re Cracked Up to Be?
With the fermented foods and drink market expected to balloon to a CAGR of 7.2 percent during the 2018-2023 period, it’s no wonder so many people are taking notice. We used to see fermented beverages only at specialty health stores, but now, they seem to be virtually everywhere. Many restaurants have made fermented foods standard fare. So what’s the big deal? We’ll walk you through some of the most common questions about fermented foods and beverages so you can jump on the bandwagon with confidence.
What Is Fermentation?
Fermenting is a process that dates back to 221 B.C. Introduced in China, fermentation quickly took root in Japan and many parts of Europe as a food preservation method. Louis Pasteur, the French chemist, is credited as being the first person who connected yeast to the fermentation process and penned it as “fermentation.”
Related: Process of Making Brew Dr. Kombucha
While the fermentation process is rather complicated and remarkable, in the most basic terms, it can be explained as “the chemical conversion of carbohydrates into alcohols or acids.” It produces a tangy, acidic and somewhat vinegary flavor with a telltale fizz. Wine, beer, vinegar, kombucha, sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, and sourdough bread are among the most widely recognized fermented beverages and foods.
Are Fermented Foods Healthy?
According to the Fermenters Club, the benefits of eating fermented foods is twofold: nutritional and function. Nutritionally, fermented foods deliver vitamins and enzymes to our cells. Functionally, the beneficial bacteria created in the fermentation process directly impact the microbiome in the digestive tract.
While probiotic supplements may have some benefits, it has been shown that eating fermented foods may be a much more effective option. In one study, nearly 10 trillion colony-forming units of “good” bacteria were found in fermented vegetables, compared with 10 billion commonly found in supplements. Unlike fermented foods, the effectiveness of supplements is also highly dependent on how they were packaged and stored.
While the understanding of fermented foods and how they may support the body is still not fully understood, most agree there are many advantages of eating foods and beverages prepared in this ancient way.
One of the primary reasons people enjoy fermented foods and beverages is because they are known to improve gut health in a relatively short amount of time. Patients who complain of digestive issues, such as poor digestion, frequent diarrhea and bloating, and those who take antibiotics that can disrupt bacteria balances in the gut are often told my medical professionals and nutritionists to consume a variety of fermented foods.
Fermented foods and beverages are often tart, stimulating saliva which acts as a powerful digestive enzyme. Once the food is swallowed, the microorganisms in fermented foods and beverages produce enzymes that help your body digest proteins, fats and carbohydrates easier. This may be one of the reasons fermented foods are used to treat certain digestive issues.
Vitamin, Nutrient & Antioxidant Powerhouse
Fermented foods and beverages are known to “unlock” minerals that can be difficult for our bodies to otherwise absorb. The fermentation process is also known to boost the vitamin levels and antioxidant properties in foods. It appears the bacteria in fermented foods works not only with your body but with the foods where it lives, helping you get the most out of those foods.
What’s The Easiest Way to Get The Good Bacteria?
Kombucha can be found at most grocery stores, convenient stores and even restaurants these days. These mighty bottles of goodness can even be purchased in bulk and stored in your fridge. Many people find drinking kombucha is the simplest way to get their daily probiotics. Because kombucha is relatively low in sugar compared to sodas, juices and many coffee and tea drinks, and has almost no caffeine, it can be enjoyed throughout the day by everyone in the family.
Every brand of kombucha contains different ingredients, so be sure to read labels. In order to ensure you’re getting the naturally-occurring probiotics that are created during the fermentation process, look for “raw” kombucha. Anything other than raw means the kombucha was heated to the extent that the sensitive bacteria were killed off and probiotic supplements were added.
Related: Raw Kombucha vs. Kombucha with Juice
You also want to check the sugar content. Some brands of kombucha add sweeteners after the fermentation process, along with artificial flavorings, juice concentrates and other ingredients not found in traditional kombucha. Organic is always a plus, as are ingredients you can pronounce and find in nature.
No matter which quality fermented foods and beverages you choose, you can feel good about what you’re putting into your body. With every bite and sip, you’re nourishing your body with healthy bacteria that has been enjoyed by millions of people for thousands of years.