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Are fermented foods good or bad for us? What are they? What is the hype about them?

In days gone by, there were no freezers or canning plants, so people had to find other ways to try to preserve perishable goods past their season. One of the methods used was lacto-fermentation.

Lactic acid is a natural preservative, which inhibits the bacteria which make food go rotten. Starches and sugars in fruits and vegetables are converted into lactic acid by some lactic acid producing bacteria called lactobacilli. There are “good” and “bad” bacteria, and these are some of the good ones.

Lactobacilli are found on the surface of all living things, and are more numerous on leaves and roots of plants growing in or near the ground. If we take the process of fermentation to its most basic level, it is controlled decomposition. Instead of food going straight to the rotten phase, an element such as salt or whey is added to the food, leading the food to ferment, rather than to rot.

This fermentation process has more than just a preserving function, it actually has health benefits. The sugars and starches in the foods are turned into our “good” bacteria, better known as probiotics.

Some of the foods made from this fermentation process include: soy sauce, sake, kimchi, gorgonzola cheese, salami, miso and sauerkraut. Kombucha and kefir are also fermented products. Kombucha is created using a “SCOBY” (which stands for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts”) which converts green or black tea and sugar into a mix of probiotics, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients through a fermentation process. Kefir grains resemble cauliflower florets, and are also made of friendly bacteria and yeasts which convert the sugars in milk or sugar water into more beneficial nutrients too.

These “good” bacteria or probiotics that are made in the different fermentation processes are vital for the functioning of our gut and therefore our immune systems and ultimately our health. Try some!

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