It is an easy and entertaining process that can be done by anyone, anywhere with just the most basic equipment.
The fermentation process is in all things and parts; It happens every day inescapably, and you may have heard about the great benefits of fermented foods.
But what is fermentation and why is it so important?
Fermentation is a process used to produce the best wine; and it is also used in many of the basic foods, such as bread and cheese or palatable foods, which include yogurt, coffee, chocolate and beer, among others.
Fermentation in all cultures is a very ancient process.
Most importantly, fermentation provides several surprising health benefits in the food we eat.
What is fermentation for?
Fermentation helps improve digestion and the bioavailability of nutrients, as well as helps control and prevent diseases that include:
- H. pylori Infection.
- Liver disease.
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Lactose intolerance.
Also, fermented foods have been shown to reduce social anxiety disorder or social phobia.
What is fermentation?
Fermentation is the process of using microorganisms , such as fungi, bacteria, or yeast, to convert carbohydrates into alcohol or organic acids under anaerobic conditions.
There are two types of fermentation:
- The alcoholic.
- Lactic acid.
Alcoholic fermentation: is a process in which some sugars (such as glucose) are converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide by the action of various yeasts, molds or bacteria on carbohydrate materials (such as dough or sugar solutions).
It is the fermentation that is used to ferment bread, cheese and beer.
Lactic acid fermentation : It is caused by some fungi and bacteria. The most important lactic acid producing bacteria is Lactobacillus. Lactic acid fermentation is what transforms lactose into lactic acid.
There are several benefits of fermenting food. First of all, fermentation serves to improve the digestion of food. The human body requires proper digestive enzymes to absorb, digest, and use nutrients in food.
When vegetables like cabbage and cucumbers are allowed to sit and wait until the sugars break down to promote bacterial growth, that is when the vegetables go through the fermentation process.
Fermented foods are also full of beneficial bacteria that work as a booster for the good bacteria in the digestive system. Since between 70 and 80 percent of the immune system is in the gut, it is important to have a proper balance of the intestinal flora.
What else is fermentation good for?
Fermentation is used to preserve food.
How is food preserved from fermentation?
During the fermentation process, organisms produce acetic acid, alcohol, and lactic acid, which are all “biopreservatives” that retain nutrients and prevent spoilage. Lactic acid acts as a preservative by lowering the pH, which inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria.
Fermentation and probiotics
At the end of the 19th century, a microbiologist showed that the microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract of healthy individuals were different from those that were sick.
This beneficial microflora was called probiotics, which literally means “for life.” Probiotics are microorganisms that have been shown to exert influences that promote health in humans and animals.
The reason fermented foods and beverages are beneficial is due to the natural probiotics they contain.
According to a Journal of Microbiology the benefits of consuming probiotics include:
- Improve the health of the intestinal tract.
- Improve the immune system, synthesizing and improving the bioavailability of nutrients.
- Reduce the symptoms of lactose intolerance, reducing the prevalence of allergy in susceptible individuals.
- Reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Probiotic bacteria not only balance the good bacteria in the gut, but also help “tune” the immune system.
As high as 70 percent of the immune system is found in the gut, nurturing gut immunity with probiotic bacteria keeps the intestinal tract healthy.
Foods rich in probiotics include:
- Fermented cheese.
- Soy sauce.
Just as there are fermented foods, you can nourish your intestines with fermented probiotic drinks such as:
- La kombucha.
Health benefits of fermentation
1. Improves digestion
Fermentation breaks down nutrients into forms that are easier to digest. When lactobacilli in fermented foods proliferate, their vitamin levels increase and digestibility is improved.
When it comes to soybeans, this protein-rich bean is indigestible without fermentation. Fermentation breaks down complex soy protein into easily digestible amino acids, giving us traditional Asian ingredients like miso, tamari (soy sauce), and tempeh.
Milk is also difficult for many people to digest. A type of bacteria found in fermented dairy products converts lactose, the sugar in milk that many people cannot tolerate, into digestible lactic acid.
In a study of women who reported minor digestive problems, they reported that gastrointestinal digestive symptoms improved when fermented milk containing Bifidobacterium lactis was consumed.
2. Suprime H. pylori
H. pylori (Helicobacter pylori infection) is a major risk factor for many gastrointestinal diseases. Some fermented foods are used to suppress H. pylori infection.
An observational study involving 464 participants found a lower prevalence of H. pylori seropositivity in those who consumed yogurt more than once a week compared to those who did not.
This confirms other research findings that fermented milk improves gastrointestinal symptoms in patients who tested positive for H. pylori.
3. Has anti-cancer effects
Cancer is caused by the activation or mutation of abnormal genes, which control cell growth and division. Researchers believe that probiotic cultures and fermented foods can decrease exposure to chemical carcinogens by:
- Detoxify from ingesting carcinogens.
- Altering the environment of the intestine and decreasing metabolic activities or populations of bacteria that can generate carcinogenic compounds.
- Produce metabolic products that cause programmed cell death or apoptosis.
- Produce compounds that inhibit the growth of tumor cells.
- Stimulate the immune system to defend itself against the proliferation of cancer cells.
There are several reports on how fermented foods can help treat cancer.
Large studies have looked at the effects of regular consumption of fermented dairy products in reducing the risk of bladder cancer.
Strains of bacteria called lactobacilli prevent heavy metal toxicity by excreting harmful heavy metals and aromatic heterocyclic amines, carcinogens found in overcooking meat.
Kimchi, a fermented cabbage-based food, contains strains that promote the breakdown of organophosphate pesticides by breaking down a cancer-causing food preservative called sodium nitrate.
4. Improves the bioavailability of nutrients
Fermentation helps create new nutrients, such as the B vitamins, folate, riboflavin, niacin, thiamine, and biotin, and has been shown to improve the availability, digestibility, and quantity of some nutrients in the diet.
The bioavailability of fat and protein are enhanced by bacterial enzymatic hydrolysis, and the production of lactic acid, butyric acid, free amino acids, and short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) are increased by lactic acid bacteria.
When SCFAs are absorbed, they can help protect against pathological changes in the colonic mucosa.
They also play an important role in maintaining an appropriate pH in the colon, which is important in the expression of various bacterial and carcinogen enzymes and in the metabolism of foreign compounds in the intestine.
5. Reduces the symptoms of lactose intolerance
Lactobacillus consumes the lactose in milk and transforms it into lactic acid that can be easier for people to digest. The lactic acid in yogurt reduces the symptoms of lactose intolerance in people with lactase deficiency.
This may be because lactic acid bacteria in milk cause an increase in lactase in the small intestine.
A review of the topic says:
In clinical practice, replacing milk with fermented dairy products allows a decrease in diarrhea, better digestion, and improvements in other symptoms of intolerance in participants with lactose intolerance in subjects with short bowel syndrome and children with diarrhea.
Improved sucrose digestion was also demonstrated in children with sucrase deficiency.
6. Helps treat liver disease
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is the accumulation of extra fat in liver cells not caused by alcohol. Liver disease can cause liver inflammation, scarring, and even lead to cancer or liver failure.
In a randomized, controlled, correlational clinical trial, some participants consumed 300 grams per day of fermented probiotic yogurt containing lactobacilli acidophilus and bifidobacterium lactis, while those in the control group consumed 300 grams per day of conventional yogurt for eight weeks.
The group that consumed the probiotic yogurt had reductions in alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol compared to the control group.
Lowering these parameters may be helpful in treating risk factors for liver disease.
7. Improves arthritis symptoms
Most people know someone with arthritis. It is the leading cause of disability, with symptoms including joint pain, pain, stiffness, and swelling.
It is believed that the inflammation associated with the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can be modulated by the consumption of fermented foods.
A randomized, correlational, placebo-controlled pilot study of probiotics in active rheumatoid arthritis found that “patients with at least four swollen and four tender joints and stable medications without steroids for at least one month before and during the study, showed a significant improvement ”.
“This improvement was verified in the score of the health evaluation questionnaire after three months of probiotic treatment.”
8. Treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Fermented milk supplemented with probiotics may exhibit a direct effect on the gut in the management of inflammatory and functional bowel disorders.
Clinical trials show that probiotics help reduce abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and flatulence in patients with inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn’s disease.
The best fermented foods
1. El Kefir
Kefir is a unique cultured dairy product due to the combined lactic acid and alcoholic fermentation of lactose in milk. Kefir is produced by the microbial activity of kefir grains, which have a relatively stable and specific balance of lactic acid bacteria and yeast.
The benefits of kefir make it a “functional food”, which means that it can help treat or prevent disease.
It has been associated with a reduction in lactose intolerance, improved immune system activity, decreased cholesterol, and anticancer action. Consequently, research on kefir has increased in recent years.
2. El Kimchi
Kimchi is a popular spicy fermented food enjoyed in Korea. Since it is low in carbohydrates, fat, and high in vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and phytochemicals, it is a perfect fermented food for weight management.
3. La Kombucha
Kombucha is a fermented tea that can be made from home or purchased commercially. Kombucha benefits include lowering blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels, increasing the body’s resistance to cancer, and detoxifying the body.
4. The Miso
Miso is a pasty, medium-solid food with a sweet and salty taste, which has gained popularity all over the world. It has been a staple in Japan and is used to cook miso soup and garnishes as a condiment.
Bioactive compounds formed or released by enzymes during miso production have been shown to exhibit antioxidant, antidiabetic, anticancer, and antihypertensive properties.
5. El Natto
A traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis is natto. The enzymes during the fermentation process produce mucilage that contains nattokinase. Natto is a natural blood thinner.
Sauerkraut is finely chopped cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid-producing bacteria. By fermenting cabbage, it can become more functional by protecting blood vessels and increasing vitamin C, folate, and manganese.
7. El Tempeh
One of the exceptions to the “soy is bad for you” rule, tempeh is a fermented soybean native to Indonesia.
In a clinical study, daily consumption of boiled tempeh for two months among patients with active pulmonary tuberculosis with standard treatment showed a positive effect on weight gain and change in physical function.
No cultivated food is more known or recognized for its health benefits than yogurt. Probiotic yogurt is extremely rich in calcium, zinc, B vitamins, probiotics, and protein.
How to ferment food?
Fermenting your own food seems like a daunting adventure, but it can be done at home with the help of easy-to-follow instructions.
Fermented foods are made through a process called lacto-fermentation, which is the feeding of starch and sugars to the natural bacteria in the food, creating lactic acid.
This process is used to create beneficial B vitamins, enzymes, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotic strains.
Fermented foods are inexpensive and will help secure food for a longer period of time. Also, fermentation is better than traditional canning methods.
Almost any fruit or vegetable can be fermented, and you can include different herbs and spices to add variety to your ferments.
Here’s a list on how to get started:
The basic equipment needed for most of the fermentation is storage containers. Glass containers are a great option because they don’t contain chemicals like BPA and they don’t scratch easily.
Plastic containers should be avoided for a number of reasons, such as plastic is easy to damage, chemicals that leach out, and foreign bacteria that can affect fermentation.
Ceramic containers are commonly used to secure large batches of vegetables. Food grade porcelain containers can be used for fermenting, but avoid vases and decorative pottery because they are not used for fermenting food.
Paper or coffee filters are used to secure the small jars with a straight rubber band. A butter muslin and a tightly woven towel with a rubber band can also be used to secure fermented food.
Canned lids should have air chambers to reduce the chances of mold and mildew.
2. Prepare the vegetables
Chopping, slicing, grating, or shredding are several ways to prepare vegetables for fermentation. Cutting vegetables into smaller pieces speeds up the fermentation process.
3. Salt, buttermilk or initial culture
Depending on what you want to ferment, the recipe may specifically call for salt, starter culture, sugar, or buttermilk.
It is best to use river rocks to safely hold the vegetables under the brine. Those are available at your local river, or you can boil them for 15-20 minutes after scrubbing them with soap.
You can also use heavy parts of a vegetable to add some weight to the fermented vegetables under the brine. It is important to keep fermented vegetables under the brine to avoid spoilage.
When the vegetables are ready to ferment, move them to a cold environment. You will know when your vegetables are ready to be stored if you notice bubbles, a bitter aroma, and it tastes good.
If you notice a rotten or bad smell, discard it, clean the container thoroughly, and try again later.
History of fermentation
Many people throughout history have recognized that fermentation is a mysterious life force. Louis Pasteur, a French chemist who focused his attention on fermentation processes, worked with industrialist Lillie, a beet alcohol manufacturer whose factory was experiencing inconsistent results.
Pasteur’s methodical study of beet fermentation quickly convinced him that fermentation was a biological process.
A study on fermentation was published in April 1857. Pasteur solved the beet alcohol manufacturer’s problem by heating beet juice to destroy lactic acid-producing bacteria and adding it with alcohol-producing yeast. .
This was the first application of the now proven heating process on every milk carton, pasteurization.
Pasteur’s discoveries gave a great boost to the mass production of fermented foods and beverages. These products have been enjoyed for thousands of years, created through the use of processes learned from nature, often accompanied by prayers, rituals, and offerings.
Fish, fruits, meat, milk and vegetables are highly perishable, and our ancestors used all the techniques to store food for later consumption.
Due to the possibility of contamination from under-fermented foods and raw milk, certain fermented foods should be avoided during pregnancy. Follow recommended temperatures, time, and weight during fermentation to avoid contamination.
Tyramine, a natural substance found in ripe and fermented foods, is a well-accepted migraine activator, so be careful if you suffer from migraines.
Final thoughts on fermentation
Fermentation is everywhere and has been used by humans for thousands of years.
Fermentation has many health benefits, such as improving bioavailability, reducing symptoms of lactose intolerance, and having anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
Fermented foods harbor beneficial bacteria called probiotics that can be found when eating kimchi, kefir, natto, tempeh, kombucha, and yogurt.
Proper preparation of fermented foods can allow you to enjoy and benefit from its tasty fermentation for a long time.