Confused about which fermented food to choose? Read on for some ideas on which one to choose first.
The popularity of fermented foods had exploded and now it’s possible to buy all sorts of variations everywhere, from kombucha to kimchi and kefir to sauerkraut.
Not sure which one to try first? Read on for some guidance.
Sauerkraut translates as ‘sour cabbage’ and can be made as a traditional plain sauerkraut with juniper berries and carraway seeds, or livened up with all sorts of flavours such as turmeric, ginger, cinnamon. The wonderful book, The Cultured Club, by Dearbhla Reynolds, contains many variations to try.
Sauerkraut has many benefits, some of which include:
• It contains cabbage which itself is high in Vitamin C, Vitamin K and fibre, and also contains polyphenols, antioxidants and sulphur compounds, such as sulforaphane and I3C that may help to support hormone metabolism (1, 2)
• It is a naturally fermented food, rich in lactic acid producing probiotics, particularly Lactobacillus and Leuconostoc species (3, 4). Not only do these probiotics produce short chain fatty acids and vitamins (vitamins B, K and C), they also help to maintain a healthy intestinal flora, help to keep the gut moving, reinforce the intestinal barrier against foreign invaders, produce anti-inflammatory substances and stimulate the immune system in the gut. Conservative estimates state that a single cup of sauerkraut can contain 10 million probiotics (5), or maybe even more.
• Adding spices, such as ginger, garlic and tumeric not only add prebiotics to feed your growing population of probiotics (5), but also have health benefits in themselves, such as boosting the immune system (6)
So, while it has all of these benefits, is highly nutritious and is easy to make, it is not to everyone’s taste. It has a tart, acidic taste, not unlike pickled vegetables. Kimchi is produced on the same cabbage base, but with lots of added spices and chilli, so packing a much zingier punch. If you don’t think you’d like to start there, then why not try kefir.
Kefir grains act as the starter culture in the fermentation of milk, converting it into a probiotic rich, sour, slightly acidic and effervescent drink. Kefir grains consist of lactose-fermenting yeasts (e.g., Kluyveromyces marxianus) and non-lactose fermenting yeasts (e.g., Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Saccharomyces unisporus), as well as lactic and acetic acid producing bacteria, housed within a polysaccharide and protein matrix (7).
Due to this make up, kefir contains a broad array of lactic acid producing bacteria, as well as other beneficial bacteria and yeasts. It has been studied for its immune boosting, anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-cholesterol and gut protective properties (8). In addition, lactose is broken down as part of the fermentation process, making kefir a possible source of calcium for people with lactose intolerance.
Flavouring kefir is very simple, by using it in smoothies with banana and raspberries, for example, making it possibly more palatable than sauerkraut. Maybe, however, most palatable of all is kombucha.
Traditional kombucha is produced through aerobic fermentation of black tea (green tea may also be used) and white sugar by a combination of bacteria and yeast, known as the symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) (7).
The bacterial and fungal species that make up the SCOBY typically include acetic acid bacteria (Acetobacter, Gluconobacter), lactic acid bacteria (Lactobacillus, Lactococcus) and yeasts (Saccharomyces, Zygosaccharomyces), which again confers a mix of beneficial microbes to the resulting kombucha.
Kombucha has been shown to have a beneficial effect in animal studies on lowering blood sugar, reducing oxidative stress and diabetes-induced weight loss and lowering high cholesterol. While there are limited studies on the impact of kombucha on the human gastrointestinal tract, research has demonstrated that polyphenol and flavonoid content of tea increases with fermentation (7).
Flavoured kombucha is widely available and is a very palatable option.
Ultimately, it is recommended to have at least one serving of probiotic rich foods per day. Due to the variation of probiotic strains across each type of food, having a mix would be ideal, so a kefir smoothie in the morning, a little bit of sauerkraut with lunch and a glass of kombucha with dinner. However, they all have their benefits, and starting with the one you like best is a great approach!
If you’d like to learn how to make any of the above, check out the Events tab to register your interest for upcoming online Fermentation Workshops.
1. Rokayya S, Li C, Zhao Y, Li Y, Sun C. Cabbage (Brassica oleracea L. var. capitata) Phytochemicals with Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Potential. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention [Internet]. 2013 [cited 20 November 2019];14(11):6657-6662. Available from: http /journal.waocp.org/article_28350_52583657b77af22c1a222d7c5934562a.pdf
2. HIGDON J, DELAGE B, WILLIAMS D, DASHWOOD R. Cruciferous vegetables and human cancer risk: epidemiologic evidence and mechanistic basis. Pharmacological Research [Internet]. 2007 [cited 20 November 2019];55(3):224-236. Available from: https /www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17317210
3. Touret T, Oliveira M, Semedo-Lemsaddek T. Putative probiotic lactic acid bacteria isolated from sauerkraut fermentations. PLOS ONE [Internet]. 2018 [cited 20 November 2019];13(9):e0203501. Available from: https /www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30192827
4. Masood M, Qadir M, Shirazi J, Khan I. Beneficial effects of lactic acid bacteria on human beings. Critical Reviews in Microbiology [Internet]. 2010 [cited 20 November 2019];37(1):91-98. Available from: https /www.researchgate.net/publication/49687659_Beneficial_effects_of_lactic_acid_bacteria_on_human_beings
5. Anderson S. The psychobiotic revolution. Washington DC: National Geographic Partners, LLC; 2017.
6. Kahkhaie K, Mirhosseini A, Aliabadi A, Mohammadi A, Mousavi M, Haftcheshmeh S et al. Curcumin: a modulator of inflammatory signaling pathways in the immune system. Inflammopharmacology [Internet]. 2019 [cited 20 November 2019];27(5):885-900. Available from: https /www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31140036
7. Dimidi E, Cox S, Rossi M, Whelan K. Fermented Foods: Definitions and Characteristics, Impact on the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Gastrointestinal Health and Disease. Nutrients [Internet]. 2019 [cited 20 November 2019];11(8):1806. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31387262
8. Leite A, Miguel M, Peixoto R, Rosado A, Silva J, Paschoalin V. Microbiological, technological and therapeutic properties of kefir: a natural probiotic beverage. Brazilian Journal of Microbiology [Internet]. 2013 [cited 20 November 2019];44(2):341-349. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3833126/pdf/bjm-44-341.pdf