No doubt you've heard tonnes of people raving about kombucha (or 'booch'), or about how obsessed people are with kimchi.
While many of us have hopped on the fermented food train, others are still very much confused (and, quite frankly, a little grossed out).
What's the deal with fermented foods? And what the f*** is kefir? you may ask.
Well, we have the answers to all your fermentation questions: what fermented foods are, how they're made and what health benefits they have.
"Fermented foods are foods that have been through a natural process where microorganisms (bacteria, yeasts or moulds) break down complex molecules into simpler substances, transforming its chemical composition and enhancing its nutrient value," Matt Ball, co-founder of Wild Kombucha by Ballsy and eye surgeon, told The Huffington Post Australia.
"Preservative acids (either lactic or acetic) and alcohol are always formed. This process not only preserves the food, but can also create enzymes and vitamins as well as being probiotic."
Essentially, fermented foods are foods which have undergone a fermentation process, often using wild yeasts (for example, in sourdough bread) or bacteria (for example, the strain lactobacillus in yoghurt).
"Fermented foods have been around for thousands of years, and back when fridges didn't exist, fermentation was used to help preserve foods for longer," accredited practising dietitian Jemma O'Hanlon told HuffPost Australia.
Although we now have fridges, fermented foods have become more popular than ever, all thanks to its incredible health benefits.
Examples of fermented foods
"The best examples of fermented food include kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, sourdough and kefir, to name a few," Ball said.
- Yoghurt -- cow's milk or plant based milk fermented with live culture
- Kombucha -- fizzy, fermented sweet tea
- Kimchi -- spicy fermented cabbage from Korea
- Sauerkraut -- white cabbage fermented by various lactic acid bacteria
- Sourdough -- a mix of flour and water fermented by 'wild' yeasts and bacteria
- Kefir -- cultured yoghurt-like drink fermented by bacteria
- Natto -- fermented soy beans from Korea
- Tempeh -- fermented soy cake from Indonesia
- Lassi -- cultured yoghurt-like drink from India
- Pickles -- cucumbers fermented with vinegar and spices
- Miso -- fermented soybeans with rice, the fungus koji and rice or barley
The health benefits
Gut health is quickly becoming a main focus in the health world, which can have far-reaching effects on overall health, immunity and digestion. That's where fermented foods come in, which are slowly proving to be powerhouses in aiding gut health.
"The evidence for fermented foods is growing, and so far we're seeing positive benefits in managing conditions such as diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome," O'Hanlon said.
"For starters, they are packed full of probiotics: powerful microorganisms that promote the health of the organism ingesting them," Lara Ball, co-founder of Wild Kombucha by Ballsy, told HuffPost Australia.
"Probiotics have definitely been linked to treating and preventing diseases of the digestive tract including diarrhoea, constipation, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome and colon cancer," Matt Ball added. "There is increasing research looking at the benefits of probiotics on systemic inflammation, the underlying cause of many chronic diseases as well as their potential for optimising mental health."
Before you buy every single fermented product at your local health food store, O'Hanlon and both Matt and Lara Ball said it's important to see a health professional if you are experiencing symptoms of poor gut health such as constant bloating, stomach cramps or diarrhoea.
"If you're concerned with your gut health, or something's just not feeling quite right, it's always best to have a check up with your local GP," O'Hanlon said.
"If you have really poor gut health I would suggest seeking the assistance of a health care professional before self medicating," Matt Ball added. "It is important to look at the conditions that have led to poor gut health in the first place."
How often we should eat them
According to O'Hanlon, we should include fermented foods like sauerkraut, yoghurt, kefir, kimchi and kombucha on a regular basis.
"There's no one set amount of fermented foods that we should be eating each day, but it's helpful to include these foods regularly," O'Hanlon said. "Enjoying these foods as part of a healthy balanced diet is the best approach to take."
If you've never tried fermented foods before, Lara Ball recommends starting with small amounts and eating them often.
"When you first start including fermented foods into your diet, I would start small and eat them frequently, rather than consuming large quantities less often," she said.
"The other important aspect is variety. Once your body is used to it, you can add some more into your diet. The key here is to check in with your body and see how it is reacting.
"While probiotics and fermented foods are great for you, they can be detoxifying so it's possible to get too much of them, especially in the early stages. If you find that you're getting gas or bloating, take a few days off and then slowly introduce them back into your diet."
How to get started
Keen to get some fermented foods in your life? Lara Ball recommends starting with kombucha, the fizzy, delicious fermented tea.
"A traditionally brewed and well-flavoured kombucha is a wonderful place to start," she told HuffPost Australia.
"It's a lightly fizzy drink that is an awesome alternative to soft drink. It's very refreshing as we come into summer and has the benefits of living organisms, organic acids and antioxidants present in the base green and black teas."
If kombucha is too intense for you, try including more natural yoghurt and good quality bread.
"To adjust your taste buds we also suggest plain, natural Greek yogurt, sourdough bread or pickles," Matt Ball said. "Sauerkrauts are also delicious and an easy place to start your own experimentation."
"[Sauerkraut] is a lovely accompaniment to serve up on the dinner table alongside your sauces and mustards," O'Hanlon added.
"Adding a spoonful on top of your veggies at night will not only help you feel fuller for longer but give you an extra dose of dietary fibre. You may find you'll be less likely to need something sweet after dinner, too."
For those people who are super keen to try fermented foods, why not make some yourself? Making your own fermented foods is easy and a great money saver if you're invested in gut health.
"Making your own fermented products and food will help you to reconnect with your food, health and wellbeing," Lara Ball said.
"There are lots of great books to read for inspiration and to help you get started: Mastering Fermentation (Mary Karlin), The Art of Fermentation (Sandor Katz) and DIY Fermentation (Katherine Green), for starters."
Here is Matt and Lara Ball's easy, super delicious kombucha recipe.
"Below is a basic kombucha recipe. However, beware that there is always an alcohol level left after the fermentation process is complete and it can be hard to get that level just right," Lara Ball said.
Basic homebrew kombucha recipe
Makes approximately 3.5 litres.
- 14 cups of filtered water
- 6 standard sized tea bags (preferably organic, and best to start with a black tea)
- 1 cup of cane sugar (preferable organic)
- 1 cup of starter liquid (also know as kombucha. If buying a commercially brewed Kombucha, please be sure to use an unflavoured and definitely an unpasterised one)
- SCOBY (you can buy these, or get a friend or colleague to give you one)
1. Heat four cups of filtered water. The ideal temperature it depends on what tea you are using -- for black tea 90-95ºC is perfect.
2. Once water temperature is correct, steep tea bags for 15 minutes. Remove tea bags.
3. Add one cup of sugar to the hot tea mixture and stir until dissolved.
4. In a new container add the hot tea and sugar liquid with the remaining 10 cups of (cold) water. (This will cool your brew down as you don't want to be adding your starter culture and SCOBY to hot liquid. This will kill your starter and SCOBY.)
5. Transfer all the mixed liquid into your fermentation vessel. Ensure your vessel is clean and sterilised.
6. Add starter to fermentation vessel.
7. Add SCOBY gently to the liquid in your fermentation vessel and place a clean cloth or tea towel over the top of the vessel.
8. Store your fermentation vessel out of direct sunlight, ideally in a warm and familiar location -- don't hide it in the back of the cupboard and forget about it! In 1-2 weeks your brew (or booch) will be ready for tasting. Brew to taste -- for some taste buds this is two weeks and for others four weeks or longer. Remember the longer you ferment for, the more vinegary your brew will become.
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