Intuition tells us that fermented foods are good for our intestines and the body. However, not everyone knows why they have such a positive effect on us and should be an important part of our daily diet. This applies not only to fermented vegetables but also to sourdough bread, fermented legumes, dairy products, and grains.
I can’t even remember how it started, but somehow fermentation became one of my passions. I guess I was experimenting with something. With Mr G. we once tried to make Law Salt Fermented Pickles, but all we managed to produce was a lot of bad air (pun intended). My first fermentation success was at a workshop with Michał Kępiński, who is a master of food fermentation. Since then, it has been a smooth ride. I keep learning and discovering new stuff all the time. My home library is bulging with books on fermentation, which I study and re-study with a child-like enthusiasm. Each fermentation process is like a new adventure – an exciting journey into the new lands of colours and flavours.
While experimenting, I realised that some dishes can never reach their full potential without a little fermented something in them. A veggie burger is NOT a proper burger to me if it doesn’t contain at least a slice of fermented pickle. Fermented red cabbage will nicely spice up your salad, adding the umami flavour. However, my greatest discovery so far are fermented legumes. As a person who generally doesn’t digest them well and suffers from all kinds of problems when eating beans and the like, I can assure you that none of this happens when I eat fermented legumes. They are easy on digestion, look and taste delicious, and can be eaten straight from the jar.
What can be fermented?
What comes to your mind when you think of fermentation? Pickled cucumbers, gherkins, and cornichons? Sauerkraut? Other vegetables in brine? Anything else? Yes! You can ferment and brine almost anything you want. For example:
– Flour, which after a few days of fermenting turns into a sourdough starter that you can use to bake your aromatic and delicious home-made bread;
– Grains to make wraps, waffles, and bread;
– Legumes to make pancakes, idli, dosa, soy sauce, tempeh, etc.
– Cashews for cream, yogurt, cheese, and cottage cheese;
– Vegetables and fruits, and their countless combinations with different spices and herbs.
The sky (jar lid?) is the limit! Once used to preserve food, nowadays fermentation is a perfect step towards a healthy and balanced diet.
Beneficial health effects of fermented foods:
- FIGHTING FREE RADICALS. Some fermented foods contain antioxidants that neutralise free radicals (which can lead to cancer).
- STRONGER IMMUNE SYSTEM. Lactic acid bacteria, present during fermentation, form omega-3 fatty acids necessary for the proper functioning of the immune system. Proper microflora helps prevent diseases. By competing for a place with pathogens, good bacteria are like our personal army against diseases.
- ANTI-CANCER EFFECT. Compounds produced during fermentation (isothiocyanates, indole-3-carbinol) have an anti-cancer effect.
- BODY DETOX. During the fermentation process, compounds are produced that contribute to the detoxification of the body (glutathione, phospholipids, digestive enzymes, and beta 1.3 glucans).
- PROBIOTIC EFFECT. Fermented products contain large numbers of microcultures that support the intestinal microflora.
- POSITIVE IMPACT ON OUR WELL-BEING AND OTHER FOOD CHOICES. Our mood and what we eat when we are hungry largely depends on what bacteria live in our intestines.
- REGULAR BOWEL MOVEMENTS. Live cultures of bacteria help prevent disorders that affect our bowels.
- INCREASED BIOAVAILABILITY. Fermentation microbes enhance the bioavailability of nutrients by breaking them down to more easily absorbable elements. For example, very complex proteins are turned into much more easily digestible amino acids.
- ENHANCED DIGESTION. Fermentation is a form of decomposition or preliminary digestion of food. As a result, legumes are for example much easier to digest and absorb when fermented.
- INCREASED SATIETY. Given the variety and richness of flavours as well as the nutritional value of fermented products, the feeling of satiety comes faster and stays for longer.
Wild fermentation links us more to nature. The bacteria in home-made fermented products largely come from our close environment. For example, the composition of a sourdough starter will change after it has been moved to another location. Whatever you ferment or brine at home, it will be more tailored to your individual needs as occupiers of a particular space.
Source: Sandor Ellix Katz ‘Wild fermentation’, Vivante 2016.