Fermentation is one of the oldest methods of preserving food and has been around for a long long time. It comes from the Latin word “fervere”, which means “to boil”. The earliest evidence of fermentation dates back to 13,000-year-old residues of beer, found in a cave near Haifa in Israel. People back then really knew how to have a good time! With the consistency of gruel, it’s not like any beer you might have encountered, however, it shows the beginnings of humans trying to make their food last longer to survive times of scarcity.
There is evidence of fermentation being used in another early alcoholic drink, made from fruit, rice and honey, dating back to 7000-6600 BC in China. Sounds delicious! In fact, ancient humans were using fermentation all over the world around that time, with evidence of fermentation being found in Babylon in 3000 BC, Mexico in 2000 BC, and Sudan in 1500 BC. How did this early way of preserving food become today's health trend everyone talks about? Keep reading to find out how.
What is food fermentation?
It might seem complicated but it’s really not. Quite simply, when food ferments it changes carbohydrates, like sugar or starch, into one of three things: either alcohol or preservative organic acids or carbon dioxide. Each of these has an important effect on food that humans have benefitted from. They are:
- Fruits are fermented to convert fruit juices into wine, grain into beer, and foods rich in starch such as potatoes are fermented and distilled to convert into gin and vodka
- Preservative organic acids are used to preserve and add additional taste to veggies and dairy products
- Carbon dioxide is released in the fermentation process and is used to make bread rise.
There are lots of things in our kitchen that you might not even know are fermented. Some of them are vinegar, Soy Sauce, sourdough bread, fish sauce, pickles, sauerkraut, sour cream and Worcestershire sauce, just to name a few. Did you know fermentation also occurs in our own digestive system whenever we eat? It’s how we get the energy to keep our body in tip-top working order.
The process of fermentation alters the flavour profile, aroma and texture of food. Take raw milk cheese, for example. It starts as a liquid but through the stages of fermentation changes into a piece of solid yummy cheese. Another example is Apple Cider Vinegar. It starts as an apple, and through fermentation changes into a liquid, and gets an aromatic flavour profile.
The benefits of fermented foods
Now that you know everything about how fermentation works, why is everyone talking about it as a top health trend? Let's go through a couple of reasons, mainly how fermented food could be good for your gut health and immune system.
Do you know there are tiny microorganisms that live in your gut? You have trillions of them and they are called probiotics. Since they are living organisms, probiotics need food, and their food is called prebiotics. Are you with us so far? Probiotics are naturally present in fermented foods and research is suggesting there might be links between probiotics and fighting obesity, as well as protection from certain neurodegenerative diseases.
Studies also show that probiotics can influence positive change in people suffering from diarrhoea, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, high cholesterol, and obesity. So having a healthy amount of probiotics is a good thing.
It is estimated that 70 – 80% of your immune system is in your gut. Your gut bacteria and your immune system work together to recognize and protect your body against foreign invaders.
It’s very difficult to fully understand the role of bacteria in our body because they operate on such a microscopic level, but it is known that your gut bacteria play a crucial role in homeostasis (regulating our internal environment) and growth, nutrient absorption, and immune function, amongst others.
Our favourite fermented foods
Now that we know how important fermented food is to your overall health, which ones are the best? Some of our favourites are:
Apple Cider Vinegar:
Some claim that apple cider vinegar is like fuel for the microbes in your gut since it is considered to be prebiotic.  But because it’s made from apples, there are elements of probiotics in there as well.  We recommend getting your own bottle of our Apple Cider Vinegar or our Blueberry & Pomegranate Apple Cider Vinegar and trying a recipe of ours which is ginger tea with a little bit of OSU for the delicious taste!
Miso is a fermented paste made from barley, rice or soybeans and is rich in probiotics. It’s also 100% vegetarian. We have a delicious sweet and sour miso broth recipe that you should try.
Another food that is loaded with probiotics – and spice! Its origins are from South Korea and it is made from fermented cabbage. All in all, Kimchi has a wonderful flavour on its own or as a topping on a burger for that extra kick.
Kombucha is a fermented drink made from sweetened tea. If you want an alternative to fizzy drinks you should give this drink a try. There is still not enough evidence whether Kombucha has enough probiotics to survive the acidic environment of our stomach, but some anecdotal evidence and animal studies have suggested its benefits. Regardless, Kombucha is also full of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which makes it a much better option when compared with sugary fizzy drinks.
Fermented Foods - A Summary
Humans have been making use of fermented foods since the dawn of time. Whether science can conclusively determine the effects of probiotics remains to be seen, but the information that exists shows many people all over the world have noticed improvements in their overall health when introducing fermented food in their diets.  Check out our wonderful OSU recipes for quick and easy recipes that all incorporate this fermented food in some way and let us know how you made them a part of your lifestyle on our Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.