Product Spotlight: What's the Big Deal about Fermented Food?
By Pam Turczyn
Between kimchi, kombucha and all kinds of creative pickles, delicious fermented foods are on many people’s plates these days. Why the sudden clamor to consume foods that have been around for centuries? Traditionally, fermentation was a way to extend the shelf life of food, before the invention of refrigeration. Now, we are finding that fermented foods have many benefits that can help counter the negative effects of modern life by improving the immune and digestive systems, cognitive function, restoring the gut microbiome and providing important nutrients.
No doubt some of you must be asking, “What is the gut microbiome and why does it need to be restored?” The microbiome is the community of microbes that inhabit the human body. Did you know there are more “foreigners” living in or on us than there are human cells in our body? Humans evolved in tandem with these tiny beings and, ideally, co-exist in a win-win situation. Those that live in our gut help digest our food and support brain and heart health, control blood sugar levels and weight, for example.
Through most of human history, we lived far closer to the land than we do now and were exposed to a full range of beneficial microbes. Not so much in urban, relatively sanitary environments! To make matters worse, antibiotics kill off a lot the good guys when helping you get over an infection. Then, things can get out of balance. To address that imbalance, it’s a good idea to eat a variety of fermented foods as part of a wholesome diet. For more information on the gut microbiome, click here
You can also read certified holistic health coach Jillian Levy’s very complete summary on fermented foods from Dr. Axe’s website here. (All quoted passages below are from this article.)
The Co-op has a special refrigerator dedicated to fermented foods but others can be found throughout the store. Here is a handy list with prices from May, 2019; please note that pricing is subject to change:
~Kimchi by Sun-ja ($6.76), Mother-in-Law Napa Cabbage Kimchi ($8.15) and Daikon Kimchi ($8.15).
“Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean dish that is made from vegetables, including cabbage, plus spices like ginger, garlic and pepper, and other seasoning. It’s often added to Korean recipes like rice bowls, ramen or bibimbap.”
~Sauerkraut: White Sauerkraut by Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op (32 oz $4.79), Ruby Sauerkraut by Hawthorne Valley ($6.71) and Turmeric Kraut by Real Pickles.
“Sauerkraut is one of the oldest traditional foods, with very long roots in German, Russian and Chinese cuisine, for example. Sauerkraut means ‘sour cabbage’ in German, although the Germans weren’t actually the first to make sauerkraut (it’s believed the Chinese were). Made from fermented green or red cabbage, sauerkraut is high in dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and B vitamins. It’s also a great source of iron, copper, calcium, sodium, manganese and magnesium.”
~Miso: South River Chickpea or Dandelion Leek Miso. ($11.69) For tips on making miso soup, read about miso in the Fermented Soy category just below.
~Pickles: Half Sour Pickles by Ba-Tampte ($4.08) and Organic Beets by Real Pickles.
There’s a lot of controversy about soy these days, with research supporting both its benefits and its possible dangers. The rule of thumb is to consume only organic soy as the rest is most likely genetically modified. The fermentation process makes soy easier to digest, creates additional nutrients and contains probiotics. I, personally, feel confident about including moderate amounts of these traditional foods in my diet:
~Miso: Miso Master Red or Mellow White Miso ($5.66), Rhapsody Mellow Red Miso, 16 oz. and South River Sweet White ($11.69).
“Miso is created by fermenting soybeans, barley or brown rice with koji, a type of fungus. It’s a traditional Japanese ingredient in recipes including miso soup.”
If you are making miso soup, put a scoop of miso into your soup ladle and dip it half-way into the prepared soup while it is still in the pot and on very low heat. Allow some of the broth into the ladle. With a pair of chopsticks, stir the miso paste into the broth in the ladle, then distribute into the soup. Taste test to check for desired strength. Miso should never be boiled as high temperatures will kill beneficial microbes.
American-made miso is less salty and intense than most Japanese miso and can be stirred into soups, stews or grains to add umami flavoring without overpowering other flavors. Miso Master white or red miso (both $5.66) is milder and more versatile than the South River.
~Tempeh: You can find Barry’s Tempeh and Lite Life 8 oz. packages in the refrigerator. We also occasionally sell the 2lb sheets of Soyboy tempeh ($7.60) in the freezer section.
“Another beneficial fermented food made with soybeans is tempeh, a product that is created by combining soybeans with a tempeh starter (which is a mix of live mold). When it sits for a day or two, it becomes a dense, cake-like product that contains both probiotics and a hefty dose of protein too. Tempeh is similar to tofu but not as spongy and more ‘grainy.’”
If you like your tempeh on the crispy side, it is best to prepare it separately. It can then be added on top of any salad or stir fry, or made into a mouth watering tempeh Rueben sandwich or tempeh BLT.
~Natto: by Rhapsody ($2.60) Natto is made from steamed soy beans fermented with a special natto starter spore. A staple of the Japanese breakfast, natto may be an acquired taste for the uninitiated because of its strong aroma (sort of like blue cheese) and slimy texture. I, however, love it! Using chopsticks, briskly whip till it becomes foamy. Add rehydrated hot mustard (karashi) powder and soy sauce. Sliced scallions or chiffonaded shiso leaves add brightness. Serve on hot rice with toasted nori.
Natto contains an enzyme called nattokinase that is protective of arteries and is said to break up blood clots. Do not consume natto if you are on blood-thinning medication.
~Yogurt: The Co-op carries a large variety of cow’s milk yogurt by Siggi, Chobani, Ithaca Milk, Fage, Stonyfield Farm and Seven Stars Farm; sheep’s milk yogurt by Old Chatham Creamery and goat’s milk yogurt by Redwood Hill Farm.
“Yogurt is made with a starter culture that ferments lactose (milk sugar) and turns it into lactic acid, which is partially responsible for yogurt’s tangy flavor. Lactic acid decreases the pH of milk, causes it to clot and thicken, and gives it a smooth texture. After fermentation, yogurt contains the characteristic bacterial cultures called Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.”
~Cheese: Filling two entire refrigerators, the Co-op stocks an incredible array of cheeses, including some made from raw, unpasteurized milk.
“Raw milk cheeses are made with milk that hasn’t been pasteurized. Goat milk, sheep milk and A2 cow’s soft cheeses are particularly high in probiotics, including thermophillus, bifidus, bulgaricus and acidophilus. In order to find real fermented/aged cheeses, read the ingredient label and look for cheese that has NOT been pasteurized. The label should indicate that the cheese is raw and has been aged for six months or more.”
~Buttermilk: Cultured buttermilk by Pittsford Farms Dairy.
~Butter: Organic Valley Cultured Butter.
~Crème Fraiche: French-style cultured cream by Vermont Creamery
~Kombucha: We stock Aqua ViTea in flavors including Strawberry Sage, Hibiscus Ginger Lime, Peachmint, Blood Orange, Elderberry, Bluebernie, Mulled Cider, Turmeric Sunrise and Tea-Totaller
“Kombucha is a fermented beverage made of black tea and sugar (from various sources like cane sugar, fruit or honey). It contains a colony of bacteria and yeast that is responsible for initiating the fermentation process once combined with sugar. Kombucha has trace amounts of alcohol but too little to cause intoxication or even to be noticeable. Other fermented foods, such as yogurt or fermented veggies, typically do not have any alcohol.”
~Yogurt: Coconut milk yogurt by Anita’s, So Delicious and a special probiotic version by Cocoyo.
~Apple Cider Vinegar: Bragg’s Organic ACV in 16 oz. ($3.95) and 32 oz. ($6.10).
“Apple cider vinegar that is raw and contains ‘the mother’(the cloudy sediment seen at the bottom of the bottle, made of proteins, enzymes and microbes) is fermented and does contain some probiotics. It also contains certain types of acids like acetic acid, which supports the function of probiotics and prebiotics in your gut.”
Fermented apple cider vinegar has an almost mystical reputation for “curing what ails you.” From treating acid reflux to regulating blood sugar, its benefits are wide-ranging. Find out more here.
Adding a tablespoon of ACV with honey to a warm glass of water and drinking it before breakfast everyday can improve your digestion, alkalize your body and possibly eliminate all-over aches and pains. It worked for me!
~Sourdough Bread: Sourdough Rye from Bread Alone ($4.67) and the highly revered Sourdough Batard ($6.50) from She Wolf.
“Certain breads, such as sourdough bread, are fermented, but they don’t contain probiotics. Fermentation helps make nutrients found in the grains more available for absorption and reduces antinutrient content that may make digestion difficult.”
Caution: A very few people are sensitive to histamines produced by certain bacteria in fermented foods and should either select those low in histamines or avoid fermented foods altogether. For further information, click here.