Food Focus: What You Need to Know About Fermented Foods

fermented foods

Fermented foods are nothing new. Though they’re gaining attention lately—especially on restaurant menus as a tasty counterpoint to rich foods—the process of fermenting foods has been used for thousands of years, across a wide range of cultures, primarily as a means of preserving food for future consumption, as well as for supporting the development of healthy gut bacteria. Our ancestors knew what was up!

That Fermented Foods Taste

Basically, fermented foods have gone through a process where microorganisms or yeasts convert sugars in the food into ethanol, lactic acid or carbon dioxide. This results in really interesting (and sometimes unexpected!) flavor characteristics. If it’s your first time tasting fermented foods, we don’t want you to be surprised. Fermented foods definitely have their own unique flavor. The process uses salt to encourage bacteria in the food to convert sugars (don’t worry, it prevents pathogenic microbes as well), so fermented foods have a tendency to taste rather sour or tangy. Some might call it an “acquired taste.” We call it yummy goodness! It may take several exposures for you to decide whether or not you care for fermented foods. Tip: Try it with a warm, rich meat that needs a punch of flavor. And know that there are significant health benefits to liking fermented foods and consuming them regularly!

Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

Why pay a premium for what is essentially aged food? Well, you get the most nutritional bang for your buck.

Probiotics: Fermented foods contain naturally occurring probiotics, which means a better immune system, reduced inflammation, and a healthy gut microflora for you.

Cost Effective: Take the food-first approach to culturing a healthy gut. You will likely find that fermented foods are just as efficient if not more than a supplement, and tend to be lower in cost.

Nutrient Content: Depending on your selection, fermented foods can be extremely high in certain nutrients. For example, sauerkraut is a fermented cabbage that contains high levels of vitamins C and K, and a healthy dose of fiber.

Detoxification: The probiotic bacteria that helps with the fermentation process can also support detoxification of the body by removing harmful compounds.

Protection: Fermented foods have the potential to protect against foodborne illness because beneficial bacteria helps prevents pathogenic growth.

fermented foods

Flock to These Fermented Foods

  • Sauerkraut – Fermented cabbage high in vitamin C and K, as well as fiber
  • Kimchi – Similar to sauerkraut but with a spicy kick
  • Miso – Fermented barley, rice or soybeans that produce a umami flavor
  • Tempeh – Fermented soybeans with a slightly nutty flavor
  • Kefir – Tangy, almost sour fermented milk beverage (typically 99% lactose free!)
  • Kombucha – Tangy, sweet effervescent beverage made from fermented tea
  • Yogurt – Particularly greek is full of probiotics, protein, and calcium
  • Buttermilk – Sour fermented milk used in many baked goods
  • Wine – Yeasts convert sugars in grape juice into alcohol to be enjoyed in moderation

Making Your Own

Fermented foods tend to be more expensive, particularly after their explosion in popularity. So you may have the desire to make them yourself. A word to the wise: Just be careful. We’re in support of this option; in fact, here are some tips from Dr. Mercola on how to ferment at home. Do be mindful when making them, however, as pathogenic microbes in your food is not something to be messed with.

Sources: Fermented Foods: How to ‘Culture’ Your Way to Optimum Health – Dr. Mercola, The History and Health Benefits of Fermented Foods – Food and Nutrition, GAPS Diet – Science Based Medicine

Pictured: yogurt, kefir, kombucha

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


Carly Sippel is a registered yoga teacher, certified life coach, and nutrition nut. She has a Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Dietetics from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She turns her passion into practice, promoting healthy bodies in both her personal and professional life.