Whether you’re looking to increase your energy or heal a specific condition such as high blood pressure or IBS, certain fermented foods can get you results quickly and naturally.
You’ll want to use certain fermented foods depending on the desired result you want. And not all fermented foods are used medicinally, such as beer or chocolate.
(Even though you could make an argument for chocolate being medically necessary…It definitely is for me sometimes!)
Below is an overview of functional fermented foods — foods that are used for their nutritional and healing properties.
First mentioned in a Chinese poem nearly 3,000 years ago, kimchi is one of the world’s first lacto-fermented foods. This traditional Korean dish — made of cabbage and spices — improves the cardiovascular and digestive systems. Its antioxidants help lessen the risk of serious health conditions, such as cancer and diabetes.
Of all fermented products, yogurt is the most popular and most commonly consumed. Yogurt directly impacts diet quality, metabolism, and blood pressure. There is a new study that shows a major correlation between reduction in diabetes and intake of sugar-free yogurt. NOTE: When buying yogurt, check that the milk source is either grass-fed goat or sheep, and that it’s certified organic. Or, of course, you can make your own!
This fermented milk product is high in calcium, magnesium, and vitamins, with a similar taste and texture to that of drinkable yogurt. This sour-flavored fluid is made from milk and kefir grains, boosting immunity, alleviating bowel-related issues, improving digestion, and building bone density. It’s even been linked to killing Candida — a yeast-like parasitic fungus. Although it’s less popular than yogurt, it is actually higher in probiotics. (Coconut Kefir is a great dairy-free option that utilizes fermented juice of young coconuts to replace milk.)
Kombucha is a fermented beverage, composed of black tea and sugar that originated in China about 2,000 years ago. (The sugar can come from various sources, i.e. cane or pasteurized honey.) When the SCOBY is added, the fermentation process begins. Once fermented, the sugary tea transforms into a carbonated, fizzy drink, high in enzymes, probiotics, advantageous acids, small amounts of alcohol, and vinegar. Studies show that kombucha improves digestion, increases energy, supports immunity, aids weight loss, and serves as a full-body detox. To read more about the pros and cons of Kombucha, click here.
There’s two different kinds of pickles. When you preserve cucumbers in vinegar, you get pickles. But when you soak cucumbers in a salt-water brine, you get probiotic pickles!!! One pickle can contain up to 20 percent of your daily Vitamin K value — a vitamin essential to bone and heart health. NOTE: Because pickles are commonly processed and come in many forms (i.e. relish, dill pickle, sweet pickle, etc.), it’s important to look for organic or locally produced pickles to ensure quality. You also want to make sure that they say ‘cultured,’ ‘unpasteurized,’ or ‘lactofermented.’ Pickles are one of the most common ferments, and super easy to make yourself!
Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage made with salt and often herbs, which enhance the flavor and nutritional content. High in fibers, vitamins, iron, copper, calcium, and magnesium, consuming sauerkraut strengthens bones, supports your natural, healthy inflammation response, reduces cholesterol, regulates digestion, fills the gut with much-needed Lactobacillus plantarum (a great probiotic), and assists circulation. It’s also dairy-free and can be made ‘wild’ which means no starter culture is required! Learn how to make your own probiotic factory on your kitchen counter!
Idli is a steamed, naturally leavened cake, made from ground rice, urad dal (white lentil) and beans. This gluten-free food is light and digestible, with high levels of calcium, potassium, and iron. Because idli requires steaming, it doesn’t have probiotics; however, its high iron content is crucial to oxygenating the blood.
Unpasteurized vinegar is considered an extraordinary stimulant. While the majority of vinegar in American grocery stores is a cheap, mass-produced product with absolutely no health benefit, traditional vinegars made with quality alcohols and live cultures possess various health benefits. Vinegar is among the world’s first preservatives, and apple cider vinegar (ACV) has been used as a home remedy for thousands of years. Raw vinegars — made from unpasteurized juice of fruits — contain all the nutrients and enzymes of the fruit used. (For example, ACV contains all the nutrients of apples: pectin, acetic and malic acids, B vitamins, etc.) All in all, vinegar is a tonic that aids digestion, lowers blood pressure, and relieves stress and fatigue. Additionally, consuming vinegar makes it more difficult to absorb sugars and starches. To read more about the variations of vinegar and their specific health benefits, click here.
Miso is a broth formed from fermenting soybeans, barley, or rice, and mold. This popular Asian dish has anti-aging properties, strengthens bones, allows healthy skin, helps lower the risk of cancer, and aids the nervous system. It is alkalizing and delicious — especially when homemade.
Traditionally an Indonesian cake-like dish is made from fermenting soybeans with live molds. Because it possesses the same protein qualities as meat, it’s a great option for vegetarians! It’s high in vitamins, reduces cholesterol, and quickens muscle recovery. Fresh tempeh is more delicious than the stuff you get out of the freezer, alas this is one of the more time-consumptive and difficult ferments to make at home.
This popular Japanese side dish is similar to tempeh, also made from fermented soybeans. The power of natto lies is in its high levels of vitamin K2, a vitamin that delivers calcium appropriately to the body. It’s common that those who take calcium supplements experience absorption problems. When K2 is not delivered to the bones, calcium is deposited into the cardiovascular system and can cause osteoporosis, but with the help of K2, the calcium is distributed properly to help strengthen bones. Natto also contains nattokinase an enzyme used to support cardiovascular health and blood clotting.
Raw cheese and Nut Cheese
Raw milk has not undergone the pasteurization process that kills many of the beneficial bacteria. Goat, sheep, and A2 cows’ cheeses are particularly high in probiotics, healing digestive tissues and studies show it is linked to relieving depressive symptoms and lifting neurological problems. Only raw and unpasteurized cheeses possess probiotics.
Nut cheeses can be made from a variety of nuts: almonds, cashews, macadamia, walnuts, etc. A great substitute for cheese made from animal milk, nut cheese is ideal for those with vegan diets, as well as those who are lactose intolerant. Though the nutritional value isn’t quite the same as raw cheese, nuts provide high levels of protein and healthy fats. By adding probiotics and fermenting them you get a delicious vehicle for probiotic delivery to the gut.
Sourdough starter is a leaven for making bread, comprised of fermented wild yeasts and bacteria. Sourdough has lower sugar levels than most breads, and it helps reduce damaged starches. Because the bacteria and yeasts in sourdough pre-digest the starches, eating it supports gut health and strengthens the bacterial ecosystem, making one is less prone to infection.
Kvass has been brewed in Eastern Europe for several thousands of years, traditionally created by fermenting rye or barley. Nowadays it is usually made with fruits and various root vegetables. Loaded with Lactobacilli probiotics, kvass is known for its ability to cleanse blood and the liver.
This traditional Ethiopian, yeast-risen flatbread can be made from different grains, but generally is made of teff. Packed with proteins, calcium and iron, injera serves to build strength and aid in recovery after illness.
Please keep in mind that many foods not listed here can also be fermented for nutritional value, if done appropriately. Some of these include pumpkin, hot sauces, salsas, daikon, dilly beans, olives and mushrooms. You can learn more about other highly nutrient dense fermented foods in the Fermentationist Certification Program.
For more information on how to use these foods for specific conditions, including recommended amounts, preparation methods, and current scientific research showing the benefits of these healing foods, consider joining us in the Fermentationist Certification Program.
Originally published at fermentationist.com on May 5, 2016.