Wondering if a fermented food diet is right for you? Learn what experts have to say about Kombucha and other fermented foods and their potential health benefits.
Humans have used fermentation in culinary arts since prehistoric times. The technique was (and still is) an effective means of preserving food. Almost every culture has a rich history of having fermented foods and beverages in their diets. For instance, sourdough bread has been an Egyptian staple for centuries, while kombucha brewing is believed to have originated in Northeast China in 220 B.C.
Fermented foods have gained renewed popularity in recent years. The Institute of Food and Technology (IFT) reported that fermented food sales spiked in the year ending October 2020, hitting $9.2-billion in US sales. That surge in demand came in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as many consumers discovered the therapeutic properties of fermented foods, especially in maintaining gut health.
As fermented foods and beverages continue to gain ground, there are many misconceptions surrounding this unique group of foods. That's why we've delved deeper into research to find out what experts have to say about fermented foods and how they impact the human diet.
Fermented foods are foods or beverages prepared through the controlled growth of microorganisms to convert carbohydrates into alcohol through enzymatic action. That includes fermented foods that might not contain live microorganisms by the time people consume them.
Not only is fermentation effective in food preservation, but eating fermented foods can significantly increase the number of "good" bacteria (probiotics) in your gut. The International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) defines probiotics as the "preparation of inanimate (not alive) microorganisms and their components to pass health benefits to the host." Some of these health benefits include:
As previously mentioned, fermented foods and drinks are food items that have undergone controlled microbial growth. Fermentation is an aerobic process in which microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and yeast) break down food components through enzyme actions.
During this process, sugars in the food item are converted into various byproducts, e.g., organic acids, gases, and alcohol. After fermentation, food items acquire the unique, desired flavor, texture, aroma, and appearance.
Fermented foods can be classified into two categories:
Most fermented foods are from whole foods like cereals, vegetables, meat, fish, dairy, nuts, and seeds. While these food items are nutritious in their original form, fermentation enhances their nutritional value, especially when they contain probiotics and prebiotics.
Kombucha tea is produced through the traditional aerobic fermentation of black or green tea and white sugar with a combination of yeast and bacteria in a process called the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). The yeast converts the sugar/glucose to ethanol, which is then converted into acetic acid.
The microbial concentration of kombucha varies based on various factors. They include:
Fermented foods contain probiotics and prebiotics. To better appreciate their benefits, it would be best first to understand each of these components.
As mentioned earlier, probiotics refer to the "good" or "friendly" microorganisms that improve gut health. They are live microorganisms that have health benefits to the body. Examples of the most commonly studied probiotics are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Scientists believe most strains from these commonly studied microorganisms help maintain a healthy gut by promoting a favorable gut environment. Probiotics also enhance the immune system, although some are more effective than others.
Other preliminary studies have signaled that probiotics support organ health (skin, lungs, and reproductive) and mood. Still, more in-depth studies are required to conclude that all probiotics have these therapeutic effects.
Prebiotics refer to the food ingredients that probiotics (gut bacteria) depend on for development and growth, thus leading to improved health. Non-digestible oligosaccharides fructans and galactans are the most researched prebiotics with documented human health benefits. Like probiotics, prebiotics also improve the gut environment.
Some familiar sources of prebiotics include:
Humans have seen the value of fermented foods, as they have extended shelf life and offer a wide range of meals with unique tastes, aroma, appearance, and texture. Incorporating them into your regular diet presents many health benefits.
The aerobic fermentation process of kombucha produces a high concentration of acetic acid, which lowers the drink's pH. Studies have shown that the low pH of kombucha alleviates the growth and development of pathogenic bacteria.
A Stanford School of Medicine study determined that diets including fermented foods, such as kombucha tea also enhance the diversity of microbes in the gut, with more potent effects in larger servings. Additionally, they reduce the chances of molecular inflammation.
Furthermore, microbiota-targeted diets (containing fermented foods) also resulted in less activation of four immune cells. The level of 19 inflammatory proteins in the blood also plummets significantly with continuous consumption of fermented foods. Among these inflammatory proteins is interleukin 6 – a protein closely linked to chronic conditions like:
Kombucha is also associated with reducing blood sugar, triglycerides, and LDL (bad) cholesterol. While these discoveries are promising, more research is required to understand and optimize kombucha's health benefits fully.
Many foods we consume (cheese, tea, wine, beer, chocolate, etc.) are fermented foods. However, when we talk of 'fermented foods,' we are talking about the ones that contain beneficial bacteria that contribute to gut health. With so many people realizing the benefits of fermented foods, now seems like the perfect time to join the migration and add more fermented foods to your diet.
The secret is to start small and incorporate more and larger quantities as you become accustomed to your new dietary habits. Below are tips to help you improve your diet with healthy fermented flavors.
Kombucha is a healthy fermented drink prepared from black or green tea with high adherence to traditional fermentation techniques. It's available in wide-ranging flavors that tingle your palate with a sweet, sparkling, and fizzy feeling. The drink is rich in probiotics, enzymes, and vitamins, such as Vitamin C and the B group of vitamins (vitamin B1, B6, and B12).
Adding fermented beverages to your diet is perhaps the easiest part because you only have to pop open the bottle and drink.
Whether you prefer fermented food only once a day or you'd love to incorporate it into every meal of the day, you'll find various options to add fermented fabulousness to your diet.
For breakfast, you can choose to eat kefir or kimchi. The former is a yogurt meal available in various fruity flavors or a hint of honey. It has the same texture and gooiness as a milkshake but with a subtler tangy aftertaste. It's prepared from different bacteria than the average yogurt and supercharged with probiotics, making it a healthy addition to your smoothie or bowl of muesli.
Otherwise, you can choose to eat kimchi, a fermented vegetable dish originally from Korea. It has a crunchy, tangy, and refreshing taste with a spicy character, and you can eat kimchi as a topping to your omelets. It's an excellent substitute for hot sauce and ketchup.
Do you frequently have sandwiches and sushi for lunch? A bowl of miso soup is a perfect accompaniment, especially if you need to warm up on a cold day. Made from fermented and salted soybeans and koji fungus, miso soup is great for balancing minerals and salts in your diet. However, it's worth noting that miso is served hot and may not contain as many lively probiotics as other fermented foods.
Switching your sugary dressing with a healthy garnish of sauerkraut juice would be best when eating your salad. Like kombucha, you can drink this tangy and flavorful drink on its own or as an addition to your lunchtime garden salad.
A fermented vegetable dish would make an excellent dinner, and sauerkraut is a great option. The meal is based on cabbage and sea salt; nothing else. It can be a tasty accompaniment for sausages, a carb-rich dinner, or a takeaway taco. Here's the secret: ensure the sauerkraut is cold to preserve the live bacteria.
Instead of sauerkraut, you can have tempeh - a traditional Indonesian cuisine made from fermented soybeans. It's rich in probiotics and often used as a meat substitute. You can purchase it ready-made in blocks that you can chop to varied sizes based on your preference. Add your chopped tempeh to salads, toasts, rice, and fajitas and enjoy the meal.
At Brew Dr., we are dedicated to sharing the magic of tea with everyone without compromising on quality and authenticity. Our kombucha beverages are prepared following the traditional fermentation process with no artificial or commercially produced probiotics. From Watermelon and Citrus Earl Grey to Happiness and Island Mango, we have all flavors to suit your palate. Visit us online to learn more about our kombucha flavors and where you can buy them.