The importance of Fermentation
Fermentation has been used for thousands of years all over the world, from areas like modern day Israel, Iran and Mexico to Sudan, Egypt, Georgia & ancient Babylon. The process was used to produce wine, beer, cultured milk (kefir) and leavened/yeasted bread. It wasn’t discovered until the mid 1800’s that bacteria and fungi were the agents responsible for the process.
There are dangerous bacteria out there, of course, however as the old saying goes, you can’t throw the baby out with the bath water and this is so true here. Our body is actually 90% of bacteria and just 10% human cells. The more we nurture & support the good (commensal) bacteria the healthier and happier we will be. AND the more good bacteria we eat on a regular basis will help combat the negative effect off any bad (pathogenic) bacteria we come in contact with.
Some well known fermented foods and drinks include (when made in the traditional way, most of these now have mass production alternatives which DO NOT confer any health benefits):
Wine and beer
Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage)
In the fermentation process the food is broken down by bacteria and/or yeast into a more digestible by product.
There are several benefits to this:
The “shelf life” of the food will naturally increase without the need for artificial preservatives.
The food in question becomes more nutrient dense, with an increase in the vitamin and/or mineral content.
Fermentation also helps in the breakdown of proteins to amino acids, making foods easier to digest. This is especially beneficial for someone who’s digestion has been compromised due to an illness, poor dietary choices or an over-reliance on medications/antibiotics. For those who are unwell, these pre-digested foods are better than any medicine regardless whether it is cancer or a cold. If you find the protein gluten difficult to digest, the action of yeast or other cultures on wheat will predigest the proteins, reducing the chances of an unpleasant reaction. Similarly with the milk sugar lactose, cultured milk has much of the lactose already broken down.
This process will usually affect the flavour and smell of the food, sometimes even the texture which can take some getting used to but that’s OK. Start incorporating small amounts into your meals and before you know it your taste buds will be wanting more!!
Anti-nutrients in the food like phytates are broken down, this is especially important with grains and pulses which are naturally high in anti-nutrients.
Fermented food does not need to be cooked for the most part, and if it does, cooking time is reduced.
This means that the valuable enzymes and water soluble vitamins are not lost with excess heat.
It is the ideal way to eat many foods!
So how do I start adding these foods to my diet and where can I find them?
It all comes down to location, location, location…believe it or not!! To get really good food we need to avoid big supermarket chains and find local markets where farmers and growers sell direct to the public. Raw/unpasteurised cheese should be relatively easy to find and is a good food to start with.
Bread which has been properly prepared with yeast or a sourdough culture is amazingly easy to digest, highly unlikely to cause unpleasant digestive side effects like flatulence and bloating (even for those with a gluten intolerance) & tastes really good. You won’t find these in the supermarket though. If you like to bake bread, get some good quality fresh yeast (not the quick action one) and incorporate that into your bread making. Get good quality flour too, if you can grind it yourself that is even better! Otherwise ask at local markets, look online or ask your friends, do make sure you ask how long it has been proved for.