Fermentation of food dates back about 4,000 years.
Scientists and historians say that fermented foods were probably discovered by accident as ancient people sought ways to preserve fresh food for later use.
The procedures were adapted and perfected through generations of traditions and cultures throughout the world.
“Fermenting” and “culturing” mean the same thing: a method of pre-digestion that takes place when there are beneficial bacteria naturally present to break down the starch and sugar in foods.
As these bacteria divide, the process forms lactic acid, described as lacto-fermentation—a process that stops the growth of bad bacteria.
Nearly every civilization down through history has had its own favorite fermented foods in its traditional diet.
Traditional fermented foods from around the world
Examples include Asian countries that utilized the koji making process, a steamed rice that has mould spores cultivated onto it. This starter is then used for preparation of fermented foods such as miso, soy sauce, spirit sake and rice vinegar.
Other well-known traditional foods include:
Natto is a sticky fermented soybean dish enjoyed in Japan. It is high in protein, Vitamin K2 and antioxidants. The Japanese also traditionally fermented different types of vegetables, fish and plums.
Kimchi is a traditional basic of Koreans. The dish includes cabbage, garlic, chilli and other spices—fermented together in a sealed pot.
Kombucha is a sweet, black fermented tea historically made by many cultures throughout the world.
Kefir is a yeast fermented drinkable yogurt. It comes from Russia and Turkey.
Fermented leavened bread was made by the ancient Egyptians, and a basic for Roman soldiers was long fermented sourdough bread.
Europeans have long made sauerkraut and cultured dairy such as sour cream, butter and certain cheeses.
The U.S has lagged behind other cultures in its use of fermented food (other than sauerkraut), but interest is growing among Americans every day, many of whom are now doing their own fermenting.
Use caution buying fermented foods from a grocery store
Doing your own fermenting is a good idea, since store-bought sauerkraut, pickles and yogurt are produced for mass consumption and are not typically fermented. Moreover, they are pasteurized, which robs the food of other beneficial nutrients and minerals.
Some fermented foods are available in supermarkets and health food stores. Check the label carefully. They are usually labeled and promoted as a “probiotic” or “live culture” food.
Fermented foods that include live and active cultures (probiotics) are key to good health. They are rich in Vitamin K2 and B-vitamins.
They boost immunity, increase digestibility of even unhealthy foods, and increase overall vitamin and mineral levels. Ingesting fermented foods also helps fight candida, bad pathogens and harmful bacteria.
In addition, fermented foods are instrumental in removing toxins from the body, improving bowel health and regularity, and curbing carbohydrate and sugar cravings.
Fermented cheese options disappearing
Due to pasteurizing and cheese-making rules in some countries, fermented cheeses today are difficult to find.
Traditionally you could rely on fermented cheeses such as Gouda, Brie and Edam to provide the benefits of live bacteria, but it is no longer “cut and dried.”
You will have to know the manufacturing process and country of origin if you want to rely on cheese as a source of properly-fermented food.
For those who are not lovers of fermented foods, supplements are an option.
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