Humans have been fermenting foods for thousands of years. And, fermented foods have been around for even longer - fermentation occurs naturally under the right conditions. Fermenting foods serves to preserve them, as well as to make them easier to digest and, in many cases, more nutritious.
But, don't enjoy fermented foods just for their health benefits - enjoy them for their sparkling, vibrant, tangy tastes!
Fermented foods are produced or preserved by the action of microorganisms. Fermenting foods involves allowing certain strains of bacteria or yeasts to break down the carbohydrates in the foodstuff, producing alcohol, lactic acid or acetic acid, all of which act as preservatives.
Some people fear eating these living foods, assuming that botulism or other harmful organisms may exist - not to worry. The by-products of the fermentation process (alcohol, acetic acid or lactic acid) make it very inhospitable to the dangerous bacteria. So, eating properly fermented fare is perfectly safe!
In addition to making foods taste more sparkling, pungent, and flavorful, fermenting foods breaks them down, making them easier to digest. People with intolerances to certain foods can usually eat the fermented form of that particular food - that's why people with lactose intolerance who can't digest milk can eat yogurt (fermented milk) with no problems!
And finally, one of the most well-known benefits of fermented foods is their ability to replenish your intestinal tract with good bacteria, thus greatly boosting intestinal health. This is especially important for anyone who has taken antibiotics - antibiotics kill the good bacteria in your gut, as well as the bad. It is vital that you replenish the good when your course of treatment is over! In short, eating "living" foods can be an incredibly healthy part of your healthy lifestyle!
Whether or not you will reap the benefits of naturally fermented foods depends on whether or not the products are pasteurized after fermenting. Pasteurization is the process of heating to kill any living organisms that may naturally exist on and in the food.
Pretty much all of the "pickled" products found on your grocers' shelves, such as sauerkraut and pickles, are simply canned under heat in a vinegar solution - not fermented. Pickling with vinegar and pasteurization ensures a uniform, shelf-stable product, which is great for the manufacturers and the stores, but not for you. These pickled foods are far from living. Honest to gosh "live" pickled or fermented products get their sour taste from lactic acid, not vinegar.
And once you've tried crisp, tangy "living" sauerkraut, the mushy canned stuff just doesn't cut it anymore. It is possible to find some foods (such as sauerkraut and pickles) that are still living - look in specialty shops, delis or the refrigerated section of your food store. True fermented foods need refrigeration (except if they are stil in the fermentation process, such as barrel pickles).
If you love pickled or fermented goodies as much as I do, fermenting your own may be for you! It is amazingly easy, fun and gratifying. You can have the best deli-style pickles in a couple of days, or authentic German-style sauerkraut in a couple of weeks. Fermenting foods is a passion of mine - be sure to visit my pages on making sauerkraut for step-by-step instructions on making your own!
There are so many things you can do to build a healthy lifestyle. Eating healthy, engaging in regular exercise, and - hey - eating a few real deli pickles each day can go a long way toward ensuring a happy, healthy life.
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