Before refrigeration, we dug holes.
We would gather clay pots that were full of muddled cabbage and bury those pots. Then we would wait.
After one week or several, we would dig up our clay pots and find perfectly vibrant and crisp cabbage leaves. Submerged in a bubbly brine, the leaves had lost their sweetness, and they were a touch sour.
This process, otherwise known as fermentation, is one of the oldest ways to preserve food.
Long before high-fructose corn syrup and synthetic chemicals ever existed, we used bacteria and yeast to extend the “shelf life” of foods that would otherwise perish. The friendly lactic acid bacteria and yeast that are naturally involved in the fermentation process are our original food preservatives.
And while we no longer dig holes in order to ferment food, many stores still sell supermarket versions of time-tested fermented favorites. Examples include sauerkraut, dill pickles, and yogurt.
But are these supermarket versions really as good as their lacto-fermented forerunners?
A Raw, Plant-Based Diet Is Difficult to Stomach
Your picky little eater may be picky for a reason. Raw and sometimes even cooked vegetables can be tough to digest.
Often, children appreciate fermented foods more than their parents. This is because the digestive tract of a child is not yet mature. Fermented foods naturally boost a child’s digestive system and assist in the breakdown of a meal.
Traditional fermented foods like sauerkraut are full of friendly bacteria that can prevent bacterial overgrowth in the gut to ease symptoms of gas, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn.
For similar reasons, adults often avoid hard-to-digest plants because they lack the force necessary to break these plant fibers down. This invites the normally friendly bacteria in the gut to overgrow and cause irritating symptoms. Signs of bacterial overgrowth include:
- Cramping pain and bloating
Although plenty of us eat a plant-based diet, raw vegetables are harder to digest than fermented veggies. As it turns out, the body is able to access more of the precious nutrients available in plants when they are fermented.
We simply digest foods with more ease when they are fermented!
Fermented Foods Build a Strong and Resilient Inner Ecosystem
Unfortunately, many people now eat the standard American diet (SAD). This means refined seed oils, lots of sugar, and worst of all - no fermented foods.
Fermented foods help with the digestion of a meal. This is because the enzymes in fermented food are still intact. These enzymes help the body to break down food into usable parts.
Fermented foods also help to replenish and maintain a healthy inner ecosystem.
The digestive tract is not just a hollow pathway that breaks down food. All along the digestive tract are unique communities of bacteria and yeast that interact with our immune system.
The bacteria found in the mouth are different than the bacteria you will find in the small intestine. These are both different than the bacteria found in the large intestine. These unique communities make up what we call our inner ecosystem.
Every time we eat fermented foods, we nourish our inner ecosystem.
Choose Foods That Nourish Your Inner Ecosystem
Another term used to describe the beneficial bacteria and yeast found in fermented foods is probiotics.
Examples of traditionally fermented foods that naturally contain probiotics include:
- Fermented dairy: Like kefir, yogurt, cheese, buttermilk, and sour cream.
- Fermented vegetables: Like sauerkraut, kimchee, and dill pickles.
- Fermented soy: Like miso, tempeh, and natto.
There is a lot of confusion around soy. Soy is both a superfood and a perfect protein. BUT Soy is also one of the most genetically modified crops on the planet! You can find soy in just about every processed food that you encounter.
However, fermentation not only enhances the nutrient density of soy - it also gets rid of anti-nutrients that can interfere with digestion and absorption.
Like most foods, soy becomes more valuable when fermented.
Just because a food is fermented, it does not mean that we need to eat it in its raw state. Cooked fermented foods may not have good bacteria or active enzymes, but they are still valuable.
The most important benefit that we receive when eating cooked fermented soy is that it is less irritating to the lining of the gut. With fermentation, we also have access to all of the wonderful cancer-fighting phytonutrients in soy.
Miso is one example of fermented soy that we cook with. For centuries, miso has been highly prized for its healing qualities, which include anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-aging benefits!
Miso makes a wonderful addition to soup, giving it that umami flair. It is fermented for three months to produce a mild, light-colored miso, up to two years. The longer miso ferments, the deeper its color and the richer its flavor.