This is a guest post from, Rachel Dennis, the founder and author of City Homesteads.
The popularity of fermented foods and beverages has grown into the realm of the mainstream. What was once an artisanal or at-home practice can now be found in supermarkets, restaurants, and cookbooks across the world.
Fermented foods are perfect for families looking to strengthen their immune systems, get more vitamins, and add additional flavor to their meals. There are plenty of different kinds to try so you can find the best fit for your children. This article will give you a quick overview of what fermented foods are and give you some steps to integrate them into your family’s diet today.
What Are Fermented Foods?
A fermented drink or food is a fruit, vegetable, or grain that has gone through a process of controlled microbial growth. Beneficial yeasts and bacteria break down the sugars in food, creating a probiotic. This process transforms fresh produce into preserved probiotics.
Probiotics are more commonly called the “good” bacteria in the gut. They support a healthy immune system and digestive system. Lactobacillus is the name of this superpower probiotic that grows during fermentation.
The flavor of fermented food is often sour and salty. This is both a byproduct of the fermentation process, as well as a flavor brought on by a salty brine that controls the process.
What Types Of Fermented Foods Are There?
Many common foods are a result of fermentation such as milk, yogurt, cheese, wine, beer, cider, tofu, miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, and vinegar. Homemade sourdough bread is also baked by using a fermented culture called the “sourdough starter.”
There are several beverages that have strong probiotic benefits and are a great, tasty way to consume them. These include kombucha, kefir, apple cider vinegar, drinkable yogurt, and probiotic sodas.
What Are The Benefits Of Fermented Foods?
When probiotics create “good” bacteria in your gut, this crowds out the possibility of more harmful bacteria from growing in the intestines. This can help promote natural antibodies, lymphocytes, and natural killer cells in the body. These all help the body to defend itself against pathogens.
Fermented foods are well-known for their anti-inflammatory properties, which help to soothe and support the digestive tract. These foods can help provide relief from ulcers, lactose intolerance, gluten sensitivity, Crohn’s disease, constipation, and colic.
Support When On Antibiotics
When you’re taking antibiotics, you are throwing off the natural balance of bacteria in your digestive system. While this is necessary to fend off dangerous pathogens and heal from infections, it also gets rid of that “good” bacteria. Eating or drinking probiotics during and after your antibiotic treatments can make sure that you maintain this healthy balance.
Better Absorption of Macro & Micronutrients
Probiotics break down food into small particles that are highly bioavailable and easily absorbed by the body. This helps you to get a larger amount of calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus, selenium, and protein out of your foods.
One main way that fermented foods can support weight loss is by blocking the absorption of dietary fat in the intestine, causing it to be excreted instead of stored in the body.
Another way is through the production of hormones. Probiotics may increase the hormone GLP-1, which can help you to feel fuller, burn more calories, and store less fat in the body.
Anecdotally, the weight loss experienced by those eating fermented foods may also be related to other factors such as improved digestion, mental health, and immunity. Feeling as good as possible in the body naturally leads to a less stressed environment that encourages weight loss.
How To Get Started With Fermented Foods Today
Many fermented foods and drinks are an acquired taste so make sure to take your time when trying them out. Also, make sure to consume them in small quantities at first so that your body can adjust to them over time.
Try A Variety Of Fermented Foods
Luckily, there are a variety of options for those looking for fermented foods. If you like spicy sharp flavors, kimchi is a perfect addition to most savory dishes.
If you like fresher, saltier flavors, fermented vegetables such as fermented cucumbers and sauerkraut are great additions to a main dish. I love to put these types of ferments on tacos and pizzas to add extra flavors and nutrients to them.
For those who prefer sweet flavors, yogurt is a great way to go. Fermented beverages such as kombucha are also a great choice for those looking for a sweeter form of probiotics. This drink is a great replacement for conventional sodas as well as high-sugar juices.
Add Fermented Foods Into Fresh Goods
There are lots of ways to mix fermented foods into other common foods that you eat. You can add them to soups, stews, stir frys, sandwiches, and much more. Use fermented vegetables in your dishes when you want an additional salty or sour flavor.
As for beverages, you can use flavored vinegar and kombucha in non-alcoholic spritzers as well as alcoholic beverages. Probiotics are said to help minimize hangovers as well.
Make Some Of Your Own
Once you’ve had some time experimenting with fermented foods and find which ones work best for you, it’s time to make some of your own! Making ferments can be surprisingly easy. You usually just need a little salt, water, and time.
The easiest way to get started is by making your own fermented vegetables. This video features Sandor Katz, one of the most popular fermentation educators, demonstrating how you can easily, affordably, and quickly turn any vegetable into a probiotic good.
If you’re looking for a probiotic beverage, kombucha is probably the best beverage to get started with. You can take a look at this guide to making kombucha to learn about how to get started.
Now that you’ve learned about the variety of ferments available, their unique and powerful benefits, as well as how to get started, you’re well on your way to bringing a new healthy adventure into your home. Your family will thank you as they learn to enjoy the richness of flavor that probiotic foods can bring, as well as improved health. Happy fermenting!
About Rachel Dennis
Rachel Dennis is the founder and author of City Homesteads, a blog that explores ideas of homesteading, gardening, and sustainable practices in urban, suburban, and office environments. She received her MFA from The University of Hartford where she studied cultural and ecological sustainability in the arts. She has taught several workshops and courses on fermentation, natural medicine-making, and other self-sufficiency skills in Chicago and Austin. In her free time, Rachel loves making art, being in nature, and experimenting with new cooking and homesteading techniques.