Fermented foods have been around for centuries but only recently has this ancient food preservation method been in the spotlight. Why is that you might wonder? Well, aside from the unique flavours that fermentation offers, fermented foods have been linked to many health benefits due to the probiotics that they provide!
What is Fermentation?
Fermentation is the slow and controlled chemical breakdown of carbohydrates into acid, alcohol, and gasses by bacteria naturally present in food. Factors like the amount of salt, microorganisms, oxygen availability and nutrient availability influence the final fermented product. In a sense, you could say that fermentation is like rot. However, the difference is that fermentation is a controlled process where we provide the right environment for the target bacteria to flourish in order to transform the food into its desired fermented version.
Benefits of Fermented Foods
Fermented foods can provide probiotics (live bacterial cultures), enhance nutrients, and inhibit foodborne pathogens. Do keep in mind that not all fermented foods provide live cultures of bacteria as most of them are destroyed with further processing, therefore limiting the beneficial probiotic effects. For example, sourdough bread initially contains probiotics but they are killed during the baking process. However, even if probiotics are killed, nutrients can still be transformed and enhanced during the fermentation process. Let’s take a look at some of the nutritive benefits of probiotics and fermented foods:
- Fermented foods that contain probiotics help contribute to the diversity of the gut microbiome, making the gut more resilient.
- Probiotics can secrete organic acids that acidify the gut and inhibit bad bacteria from colonizing.
- Probiotics play an important role in immune function. They are capable of producing short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) when dietary fibre is consumed which can help to protect the intestinal lining, produce mucus, and reduce inflammation in the gut.
- Fermented foods can be easier to digest. In sourdough bread, the fermentation process decreases the amount of gluten and increases the bioavailability of minerals. In fermented dairy products, the probiotics help digest lactose into glucose and galactose, allowing those who are lactose-intolerant to better tolerate it.
- The fermentation process can reduce the presence of anti-nutrients such as phytic acid and tannins. The breakdown of phytic acid helps enhance mineral, protein, and free amino acid bioavailability.
- Evidence suggests that probiotics might be beneficial for heart disease prevention due to their cholesterol and high blood pressure lowering activity. However, this is more significant in individuals who already have high blood pressure and cholesterol so further research is still needed.
Last but not least, fermentation creates unique tastes and flavours. We would not be able to enjoy chocolate, wine, soy sauce, kefir, kimchi, and more if it wasn’t for fermentation!
Kechagia, M., Basoulis, D., Konstantopoulou, S., Dimitriadi, D., Gyftopoulou, K., Skarmoutsou, N., & Fakiri, E. M. (2013). Health benefits of probiotics: a review. ISRN nutrition, 2013, 481651. https://doi.org/10.5402/2013/481651
Wang, X., Zhang, P., & Zhang, X. (2021). Probiotics Regulate Gut Microbiota: An Effective Method to Improve Immunity. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 26(19), 6076. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules26196076
Gobbetti, M., De Angelis, M., Di Cagno, R., Calasso, M., Archetti, G., & Rizello, C.G. (2019). Novel insights on the functional.nutritional features of the sourdough fermentation. International Journal of Food Microbiology, 302, 103-113. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2018.05.018