Yogurt and cheese. Tofu. Beer and wine. Sauerkraut and kimchi. Cocoa, soy, kombucha, and kefir. Sour herring and sourdough bread. The list can be made long, and each cultural circle has its given favorites. In addition to drying and salting, fermentation is our oldest food preservation method, dating as far back as nearly ten thousand years.
Simply put, it is about allowing microorganisms to change food in controlled forms. During the process, various substances are formed and made available that contribute to preserving the food and are actively good for our health. The fermented foods can contribute to better blood sugar regulation and build up strong and healthy gut flora. The microorganisms that do the job are mainly lactic acid bacteria with the ability to break down carbohydrates. This mechanism has been absolutely crucial in enabling people to assimilate the nutrients from dairy products. The vast majority of the world’s adult population is more or less lactose intolerant. Most can still consume fermented products, where milk sugar has been broken down by lactic acid bacteria. When the carbohydrates in a food are broken down, acetic, and lactic acid are formed, both of which have a beneficial effect on blood sugar regulation. The acetic acid slows down the emptying of the stomach. This means that you get full faster, and carbohydrates are released more slowly in the intestine. And lactic acid, e.g., in really sour sourdough bread, encapsulates the carbohydrates to become more difficult for the intestinal enzymes to access. The result is a slow and healthy rise in blood sugar.
The acids and other substances formed during fermentation also act as nutrients for beneficial bacteria in the large intestine. This is called a prebiotic effect and is of crucial importance to our immune system. Around 80 percent of our immune system is located in the large intestine. It consists mainly of bacteria in the mucus layer covering the intestinal wall that protects us from toxic substances. The bacteria “eat what we have eaten” and convert it into what the body or other good intestinal bacteria need to do their job.
If you eat fresh fermented products, i.e., those that have not been heated, some lactic acid bacteria can survive the passage through the small intestine and form colonies of good bacteria in the large intestine. We then talk about a probiotic effect. Unpasteurized sauerkraut and kimchi, and sour milk with bifid bacteria are examples of foods with particularly viable bacteria that make the stomach feel good.
So, there are many good reasons to eat more fermented.
Although fermentation has been used as a preservation method for almost ten thousand years, it now has something of an upswing, both in home cooking and in research. Those who want to immerse themselves can, for example, read this brand new American research article that has investigated how our intestinal flora and metabolism can be affected by fermented food.