Fermented foods have been used for centuries by mankind as a source of wellbeing, and continue to be a staple in many diets across the globe.
I spoke to Nutritionist Cassandra Barns, who explains the benefits of fermented foods and why we should be including them in our diet.
Sauerkraut – Make Cabbage your friend
A staple dish in Eastern Europe, Sauerkraut is finely cut cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a distinctive sour flavor, very unlike the raw cruciferous vegetable itself, and can be used as an accompaniment to your lunch or dinner. Thanks to its fermentation process, sauerkraut feeds the good bacteria in your gut and can help to combat inflammation.
The same concept as sauerkraut, kimchi uses pickled cabbage with a combination of vegetables and the addition of spices such as ginger and red chilli flakes. Known as the ‘Korean Suerfood’ kimchi is a nutrient-packed side dish that can spice up your meals and aid digestion.
Cassandra advises: ‘Make sure you get raw sauerkraut or kimchi; if it doesn’t say raw on the label, it’s probably been pasteurised, which kills all the beneficial bacteria.’
Miso – Eat like the Japanese
Miso is a fermented Japanese soya food made using the special koji fermentation culture. Cassandra says: ‘Like sauerkraut and kimchi, traditionally prepared miso contains natural ‘friendly’ bacteria as well as live enzymes, which play many roles in gut health, including breaking down and absorbing nutrients, and helping to keep the ‘bad’ bugs at bay. Miso is also rich in essential minerals and a good source of B vitamins, vitamins E, K and folic acid.
For the greatest benefits, make sure you go for unpasteurised miso, as the pasteurised versions are heat-treated and will only contain minimal – if any- beneficial bacteria. And if you’re using unpasteurised, don’t heat your miso to too high a temperature, for the same reason; add it to sauces or cooked foods at the end of cooking, or use it in dressings, dips or spreads.’
You can find out about even more on the health benefits of miso soup here.
Get fizzy with it – Kombucha
Kombucha is a fermented drink made from green tea, cane sugar and a live culture called a ‘SCOBY’ (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast).
Cassandra comments: ‘Kombucha, such as Equinox Kombucha is good for our gut because it contains natural friendly bacteria. It’s like a natural probiotic in drink form – but better, because it can provide a much wider range of bacteria than a typical probiotic supplement or yoghurt drink, and also contains vitamins and enzymes that are produced by the bacteria during fermentation.’
Kefir – Milk with benefits
Originally from the mountainous region that divides Asian and Europe, kefir is a cultured, fermented milk drink that is similar to yoghurt, but with a slight fizz and sour taste. Rich in probiotic bacteria and a good source of calcium, kefir has impressive health benefits. What’s more, studies suggest those with lactose intolerance can tolerate kefir.
CICIONI – Modern innovations
A first of its kind in the UK, CICIONI is a new one to the fermented food world, and uses nuts to create a plant-based delicacy. According to Cassandra: ‘Nuts are one of the most nutrient-dense foods we can eat – full of minerals such as magnesium and potassium, as well as healthy fats and protein. But raw whole nuts can actually be quite difficult to digest.
The fermentation process that CICIONI undergoes greatly increases their digestibility, allowing us to properly absorb all those amazing nutrients! In addition, you’re getting all the benefits of a plant-based food, such as lots of fibre for better digestion and minimal saturated fat.’
See more health features here.