What are Fermented Foods and Beverages?

Probiotic foods are getting more attention, but I’m willing to bet that most people wouldn’t think of grabbing a jar of pickles to boost their health.   They don’t realize that fermented foods and beverages, also called probiotics, have the ability to strengthen the immune system and ease digestion.

Fermented Foods
Photo Credit: Pickled Cucumbers from Canva

There are many different types of fermented foods and drinks from all over the world.

That list only scratches the surface.  Look at Wikipedia to discover even more kinds of fermented foods and beverages.

Before refrigerators were invented, preservation was achieved through fermentation. In this process, good bacteria multiply and overcome bad bacteria. This keeps the food or drink from spoiling, while enhancing its nutritional value.  Some people are leery of leaving food outside of the protection of the refrigerator, but our ancestors safely fermented all sorts of things for many years.  As long as the correct procedure is followed, fermenting is safe.

It is best to consume fermented foods in small portions as condiments or sides to main meals.  Eaten this way, they aid in digestion and add nutrition.

Homemade Fermented Foods
Photos left to right: AKuptsovaPhoto-MixEinladung_zum_Essen

You may have recognized some of the foods listed above as products that can be purchased in stores.  Unfortunately, the store-bought versions are sad replacements for what could be created at home.  This is because they are not prepared using traditional methods.

Fermentation is not predictable, meaning the end product may differ from batch to batch.  Producers learned how to make these foods more uniform, but swerving from the traditions of our ancestors did not do our health any favors.

The vinegar used for store-bought pickles, for instance, doesn’t have the probiotics found in traditional, fermented cucumbers.  Most products have also been subjected to heat and pressure, which pretty much kills the beneficial nutrients.

I have read that many major brands of pickles contain food dye.  I have to wonder why pickles even need food dye.

Acceptable Products

There are some exceptions, of course.  If you want the benefits of fermented foods and beverages but aren’t quite ready to start making them at home, it is possible to find decent products. When searching for what to buy, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure they are in the refrigerator section (Fermented foods and drinks should be stored in the refrigerator after the first stages of fermentation)
  • They should not be pasteurized
  • They should not contain vinegar
  • Ideally, they would be organic and non GMO

I can make a few specific recommendations:

  • Bubbies Sauerkraut-I have gotten this on several occasions when I was unable to make my own sauerkraut. Bubbies also has other fermented products that are worth checking out.
  • GT’s Kombucha-Before making our own, we tried this brand to make sure we would like the taste of kombucha. Turns out we love it!
How it Works

If you have never fermented anything before, you might be hesitant to leave food on the counter.  But that is exactly what the process requires.  So what keeps the food from spoiling?  Though I could get very scientific, I will try to keep it simple:

  • Lactic acid is what preserves the food or drink.
  • Using salt in the process hinders the bad bacteria until a sufficient amount of lactic acid is present to preserve the food.
  • In reality, there is far more than lactobacillus responsible for fermentation. All bacteria in the lactic acid bacteria group work together to produce the end product.

The lactic acid not only preserves the food but also increases nutrients and digestibility.  I haven’t gone into detail about the incredible benefits of probiotic foods, but I will dive into all of that in my next post.

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