Is this missing from your diet?

by Dishing Well with Elizabeth Tigani on June 4, 2012


Growing up, most of us at one point or another were told to eat our vegetables or finish our milk at dinner. But how many of us remember being told we couldn’t leave the table until we finished our sauerkraut or kefir? In other words, who even heard about fermented foods let alone that they were actually good for you?  So although fermented foods are typically lacking from most people’s diets -I know they were in mine (unless you count alcohol!) – the good news is that they are now getting a lot of buzz and are easier to find.


So what is fermentation? Most commonly recognized in the process of making beer and wine, beneficial bacteria are introduced to a substance and then feed off its natural sugar. This process turns the sugar into ethanol and releases lactic acid. In other words, the bacteria is digesting our food before we do.  This creates a ton of health benefits, and here’s an overview.

Fermented foods:

1. Contain loads of enzymes and probiotics (aka good bacteria, most commonly heard about in yogurt).  This helps your body digest and absorb nutrients, improve immunity and even ward off or reverse some diseases.

2. Add minerals, vitamins and essential amino acids to your food while removing toxins.

3. Have long shelf lives. This makes them easy to incorporate into your daily routine. As much as I’m a big fan of green juice, it requires a fair amount of effort to maintain the habit between shopping regularly for the produce, cleaning and preparing it. But fermented food can last for months, so spend a Sunday whipping up a few batches and you’re good to go!

4. Extend your seasonal eating. Take some of your favorite fruits and vegetables and preserve them so you can enjoy them long after the growing season ends. Love watermelons? Try watermelon rind pickles! Heirloom tomatoes? Ferment them!

5. Are easy and cheap to make at home. All you need is a mason jar and a culture starter or in recipes like this one, all you need is salt!

6. Taste good! The breaking down of fats and proteins creates an umami taste that most people love.  Did you know that wine, cheese, bread and chocolate are fermented foods? Need I say more? Again, just remember to choose the organic/raw/unpasteurized options when possible.

Here are some easy ways to include these super foods in your diet:

1. KOMBUCHA-A raw, fermented tea beverage that’s all the rage right now so you shouldn’t have any problem finding it at any Whole Foods or health food store. It is mildly effervescent and comes in several flavors so check out a few and see what you like. Lately I’ve been into  GT gingerade.

2. PICKLES- If you buy them look for the unpasteurized raw kind because pasteurization kills most of the good bacteria and essentially turns it from a living food into a dead food. No bueno. Also, as I mentioned earlier, you don’t have to stick to cucumbers – you can pickle just about anything –  garlic, jalapenos, beets, cauliflower, carrots, even eggs, to name a few! Here is a website with pickling recipes and I recommend both the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving (try not to get tongue tied on that one!) and Joy of Pickling.

(Image via Smitten Kitchen)

3. SAUERKRAUT – who knew all those years there was something more behind putting sauerkraut on  hotdogs? I’ve mentioned this before but if you want to put a little something in your something, try the jalapeno sauerkraut from Hawthorne Farm. Their other flavors (caraway, curry, ginger and others) are also great.

4. MISO – Typically made from fermented soybean, it can also can come from fermented barley, rice or chickpea (good news for us gluten-free-ers). Most of us think of miso soup but there are a ton of other uses. At school I learned that a lot of vegans (and non-vegans!) use it as a substitute for cheese in recipes because of the umami or “cheesy” quality it lends. I also made a killer salmon in miso marinade, will post that recipe shortly!


5. TEMPEH – One of the healthiest ways to eat soy (yes even better than tofu!) because unlike tofu, tempeh is a whole food (meaning all parts of the bean are used). Therefore, it has a higher protein and fiber content than tofu, and since its fermented you get all the previously mentioned benefits. Find it in the refrigerated section at most health food stores.

(image via Wikipedia)


*Yogurt- to get the most benefits look for a full fat (yes full fat!) version (I like Fage Greek yogurt). If you live in a state where raw dairy can legally be sold (NY is not one of them) and you’re open to it you can get raw yogurt. The liquid that sometimes forms at the top of yogurt (I used to dump it out) is good stuff, mix it in! It’s the whey and contains a lot of the beneficial bacteria. Lastly, be sure to read the label, yogurt is one of those seemingly healthy foods that can be loaded with sugar (Cotton Candy GoGurt anyone?)

*Kefir-Fermented milk, similar taste to yogurt with a thinner consistency. You can find it at Whole Foods, health food stores or farmer’s markets.

*Raw cheese – Fortunately, raw cheese that has been aged 60 days is legally sold in all states (less than 60 days illegal in some states) and it’s an excellent fermented food source so I encourage you to try it if you haven’t!


And today, June 4th, is National Cheese Day so Happy Cheese Day!



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