Fermented Foods: What Are They and Why Eat Them?

by Melissa Chichester

Probiotics are an important part of digestive and immune health, and they support the balance of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.* Besides taking probiotic supplements, eating fermented foods and drinks are another way to consume dietary probiotics. Some fermented foods contain other nutrients, including fiber and amino acids to nourish the body.

What is food fermentation?

Fermentation is the process of breaking down carbohydrates like glucose into organic acids with live yeast or bacteria. While this method is popularly used to make beverages like cider and beer, it is also used to preserve and produce other products, including sauerkraut, vinegar, and kefir.

In ancient civilizations, people attempted to preserve food through the fermentation process.

The earliest use of fermentation is documented in an alcoholic drink from the Neolithic Chinese village of Jiahu between 7000-6600 BC. Further evidence of fermentation was documented in ancient Egypt and Babylon. The University of Pennsylvania houses a display of wine bottles that date back 7,000 years, excavated from the Zagros Mountains in Iran. This discovery was made in 1968 and serves as evidence of some of the earliest wines in the world in addition to being evidence of how humans used fermentation.

Potential benefits of fermented foods

There are many unfounded claims regarding the health benefits of fermented foods; however, fermented foods and drinks contain beneficial enzymes and bacteria that contribute to digestive health.*

Some bacteria in fermented foods help the body better break down certain food components that are difficult to digest, like lactose sugar.

Like any food or drink products, just because it says “fermented” doesn’t mean it is nutritious. Some pre-packaged fermented foods contain high amounts of sugar or sodium, making it important to read the label. Puritan’s Pride Alkalizing Fermented Greens is a non-GMO and vegan source of fermented, organic greens that are easy to scoop into your favorite beverage.

5 nutritious fermented foods

Fermented food adds robust flavor to many dishes and many fermented foods and drinks contain other valuable nutrients in addition to probiotics. Check out some of them below!

Kombucha: It is likely that you’ve seen this product on the shelves at your local supermarket. This tangy tea has a bite to it and contains probiotics. Many kombuchas are infused with fruits or berries, herbs, and flowers like lavender and hibiscus. If you do not consume sugar or alcohol, it is important to read the bottle. Some kombucha blends contain trace amounts of both.

Miso: This flavorful paste is traditionally used in soups and salad dressings. Miso is typically made from fermented soybeans. While it has gut-healthy properties, it does contain high amounts of sodium.

Tempeh: Vegans and vegetarians often use tempeh as a meat substitute. Made out of fermented soybeans, tempeh contains amino acids and is a complete protein. It also contains probiotics and has a nutty flavor profile.

Sauerkraut: Sauerkraut is one of the most common fermented foods that you have likely enjoyed in a Reuben sandwich or on a hot dog. Sauerkraut is made out of fermented cabbage and not only contains probiotics, but it is also a source of fiber.

Yogurt: Another common fermented food, yogurt is made out of milk and comes in many flavor profiles. Some yogurts on the market today may contain live probiotics; however, many yogurt brands are flavored with artificial flavors and colors, so be sure to read the label.