Have you been told to increase your intake of ferments but don’t’ know where to start? Likely they are all around you, but you just need to know where to look – and what to look for. To help with a healthy gut, I’m sharing a few of my favourite fermented food recipes.
What Are Fermented Foods?
Ferments and Food Preservation
Fermenting was first used as a means of food preservation, before times of refrigeration and grocery stores. The beneficial bacteria in the fermented food help to crowd out, or inhibit the growth of the types of bacteria that can spoil food. Some types of fermentation also help to lower the pH of foods which prevents harmful microorganisms from living in that acidic environment.
Health Benefits of Fermented Foods
Most of us now associate eating fermented foods with improved gut health, and evidence shows that gut health can play an important role in metabolism, immunity, inflammation, mood, allergies, as well as autoimmune disorders. I’ve written about my Top 5 Tips On How To Improve Gut Health Naturally here.
The Role Of Healthy Bacteria
Our community of beneficial bacteria in our gut offers us so many health benefits. They crack open indigestible food for us, supply our gut with energy, manufacture vitamins, break down toxins and medications, and train our immune system.
A Little On The Global History of Ferments
Indigenous communities across the globe utilized the technology of fermented foods. Right here in modern-day B.C. Coastal First Nations ferment oolichan grease and salmon eggs. Across the ocean, tempeh and miso are made from fermented soybeans and enjoyed throughout Asia. In the Caucasus Mountains, it is kefir from fermented milk, while in Africa, they enjoy fermented porridge and cassava. Korea has Kimchi and in Germany it is Sauerkraut. Unfortunately, fermented foods have almost disappeared in our newly sterile, overly-processed food and our current Western-style diet lacks what traditional diets thrived on.
Fermented Food Recipes For 6 Common Ferments
So how do you increase your fermented food consumption if you’re not so into Kimchi, and the only time you’ll eat Sauerkraut is on a hotdog? It is likely that you have a few fermented foods already taking up space in your fridge or pantry. Here are some of my favourite fermented food recipes:
1. Miso-Fermented Soybean Paste
Miso is made from fermenting soybeans with barley or rice. Soy-free versions of miso are made by fermenting chickpeas. Miso offers that savoury delicious umami flavour (the fifth taste!) that we also get from nutritional yeast, soy sauce or parmesan cheese.
Miso soup is the most common way of enjoying miso (see Japanese Noodle Soup with Miso for a quick easy mid-week meal idea). You can use miso as a broth for any soup recipe – I like to replace vegetable stock for miso in this Easy Vegetarian Bean Soup recipe.
Do not let the miso boil as this will kill the beneficial bacteria. Instead, mix the miso paste into hot, but not boiling, water. I also love using miso paste in salad dressing such as this Japanese Salad Bowls with Miso Tahini Dressing.
2. Yogurt – Fermented dairy and non-dairy milk
The bacteria in yogurt help to break down the lactose in dairy milk, making it more digestible. Ever known someone with a lactose intolerance who could eat yogurt? That’s thanks to that helpful bacteria.
In our conventional store-bought yogurt, the diversity of the strains can be limited, as well as the amount of live-active cultures (what we know as the healthy bacteria). In conventional store-bought yogurt, there are no guarantees on how many bacteria will still be alive by the time you purchase the yogurt. It can sometimes be weeks between the manufacturing of the yogurt and consuming a yogurt, resulting in many of the bacteria dying off.
You can purchase yogurt that specifically indicates it contains live-active cultures, which confirms that at least 100 million cultures per gram of yogurt at the time of manufacture. Note that the closer you consume yogurt to the expiry date, the fewer live-active cultures will be present.
Yogurt can be enjoyed beyond breakfast – try this Healthy Coleslaw Recipe with Toasted Almonds which uses yogurt in place of mayonnaise in the dressing.
3. Kefir – A drinkable yogurt
A fermented yogurt drink that contains over three times the amount of live-active cultures compared to yogurt. Kefir is generally fermented with a combination of ten to twenty different types of beneficial bacteria and yeast, whereas the milk used in yogurt is only fermented with a few. Kefir has a thinner consistency compared to yogurt and can be consumed as a beverage similar to Ayran – a savoury yogurt drink popular across the Middle East.
I like adding a few tablespoons of kefir to my smoothie for an extra gut-health boost or using it in place of yogurt such as this Blueberry Kefir Post-Workout Snack.
4. Soy Sauce – Fermented soybeans with a grain
The fermentation of soybeans with wheat into soy sauce involves three district groups of organisms including Aspergillus, lactic acid bacteria and yeasts. Tamari is wheat-free and is made solely from soybeans (resulting in a less complex flavour, but a great gluten-free option).
Purchase organic soy sauce to avoid any modified soybeans (why we care? Genetically Modified Foods Pros and Cons). Even better, if you can find a high-quality one made exclusively by the traditional fermentation process, this will ensure the best flavour possible. Choose naturally-brewed soy sauce and avoid chemically produced soy sauce which is made within days (without fermentation) and uses ingredients such as hydrolyzed soy protein and added flavourings. You can also purchase raw-unpasteurized soy sauce which will contain some beneficial bacteria.
Here is my FAVOURITE salad dressing, in this Baked Tofu Kale Quinoa Salad with Glory Bowl Dressing which uses both soy sauce and unpasteurized apple cider vinegar.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar – Fermented Apples with Sugar
That cloudy, stringy culture settled at the bottom of the bottle is the mother culture and is present in all true vinegar. Make sure to purchase apple cider vinegar that is unpasteurized which means that the bacteria haven’t been killed off by heat. Apple cider vinegar is one of the easiest ferments to make at home – you can use your apple scrapes like cores and skins! No peeling or fancy equipment is required.
Here is another favourite salad dressing in this Raw Beetroot Salad with Kale Apple and Dill which is based on apple cider vinegar.
5. Tempeh – Fermented whole soybeans
Tempeh originated in Indonesia and is made by fermenting whole soybeans. Its more popular cousin tofu is not fermented and is made by soaking, blending and coagulating soybeans.
When soybeans are fermented, the pre-digestion of the protein by the bacteria that occurs makes it easier for our digestive systems to access the amino acids (protein building blocks). It also helps to break down the phytic acid, allowing for increased bioavailability, or absorption, of certain minerals including zinc, iron and calcium.
Store-bought tempeh will not contain any live-active cultures, though we are still getting the benefits of the fermentation of the protein and better access to minerals. I love baking my tempeh and adding it to buddha bowls or try it in these Almond and Tempeh Vegan Meatballs.
6. Sourdough – Fermented bread made without yeast
Traditionally fermented sourdough can be easier to digest compared to regular bread. The bacteria involved in the fermentation process help to partially breakdown gluten, making it a good option for those that are gluten-sensitive. (Note: those with Celiac Disease cannot eat any type of gluten including sourdough bread).
Sourdough, just like tempeh, is a good example of how fermentation can help pre-digest food. Though, we won’t get any active benefits of the live cultures once the bread is baked. I love eating my sourdough bread in open-faced sandwiches such as this Mexican Inspired Toasted Sandwich.
Some Other Common Fermented Foods
There are so many ways to get in the friendly bacteria that we need through food:
- Kombucha – Fermenting sweet tea with a SCOBY (or Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria or Yeast) creates this newer ferment. As it is so new, there is not much research yet to back up its popularity.
- Cider – Fermenting seasonal fruit with grains, tubers, sugar or honey into alcohol, offers wild yeast, also known as live-active cultures. Pasteurized versions don’t contain any live-active cultures so if you are purchasing from a store, search out the unpasteurized version.
- Pickles – Fermented pickles are available at some specialty stores and will contain beneficial live-active cultures as long as they are not pasteurized. In the grocery store, most pickles we see are pasteurized. Look for unpasteurized pickles in the refrigeration section of the grocery store, not on the shelves.
- Mustards, Relishes, Kimchi and Sauerkraut – Just like pickles you can find these ferments in the refrigeration section. The pasteurized versions found on the grocery store shelves will not offer any live active cultures.
References for Fermented Foods Recipes and Health Benefits
The Art of Fermentation – Sandor Ellix Katz
Rachel Dickens is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator. She graduated with her Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2010 from Griffith University and is currently a PhD student at UBC. She strives to provide evidence-based nutrition information with a focus on Indigenous Food Sovereignty while sharing diabetes-friendly recipes and tips for diabetes prevention.