Cultures around the world have used fermentation for thousands of years, and each region has its own fermented specialty. From tempeh to kimchi to kefir and beyond, fermented foods have played an important role in our health.
Oh, fermented foods. We love you so, so, so much. And here’s why:
- Fermented foods improve digestion. The fermentation process yields innumerable probiotics, which help to maintain and nourish the microbiome in our guts.
- Fermented foods benefit the immune system. About 70% of our immune system is found in and around our digestive tract. When we cultivate the good bacteria in our guts, our immune system also receives a big ‘ol boost.
- Fermented foods contain substantial nutrients. Cultured foods are nutritious because they contain more nutrients than their unfermented counterparts. Depending on the type of food, fermentation can increase B vitamins, folic acid, and Vitamins K, C and A (well hello there, antioxidants). Fermentation also decreases phytic acid, a compound that interferes with our digestion.
Here are some of our favourite fermented foods, and how you can incorporate them into your everyday eating.
1. Fermented Nut Cheese
Photo courtesy of Meghan Telpner
There’s nut cheese and then there’s fermented nut cheese, which takes vegan cheesemaking to a whole other level. It’s actually quite simple to do: soak nuts or seeds, drain, blend them with a probiotic powder, and then let the live cultures flourish.
How to Enjoy: Smear it on toast or crackers, use it as a spread for veggies, dollop it on salads, chilis, sandwiches or wraps, or melt it into warm (not boiling hot) soup.
A Recipe to Try: Fermented Nut Cheese by Meghan Telpner
Photo courtesy of Smitten Kitchen
Miso is traditionally made from fermented soybeans, but rice, barley and even chickpeas can be used as its base (just be sure to read labels, as miso that contains barley isn’t gluten-free). In addition to the digestive benefits, miso contains the valuable minerals zinc, manganese and copper, as well as the bone-building Vitamin K.
How to Enjoy: Stir miso into a mug of warm water for an instant miso soup, or add it to sauces, dressings, dips, stews, soups or marinades. Remember that the beneficial bacteria will be destroyed at high temperatures – so never boil your miso! If you’re adding it to a hot dish, mix the miso with a little bit of warm water and stir it in at the end of cooking.
Recipe to Try: Miso Sweet Potato and Broccoli Bowl by Smitten Kitchen
Photo courtesy of My Vegan P
Kombucha is concocted from a mix of tea and sugar – but don’t worry, the fermentation process eats all the caffeine and sugar until all you’re left with is a delicious brew of enzymes, minerals and vitamins (especially the B vitamins, which are crucial to our energy levels and help manage stress).
Kombucha has become very popular of late and many brands are loaded with added sugars. In some cases, the amount of sugar eclipses the health benefits, so watch out! Kombucha should still taste sharp and sour, with a wee bit of sweetness if sugar has been tossed into the mix.
How to Enjoy: Kombucha is commonly enjoyed on its own (so raise your glass and make a toast), but you can also add it to green smoothies, or blend it with fruit and to make a non-alcoholic margarita.
Recipe to Try: Kombucha 101 by My Vegan P
4. Dairy-Free Yogurt
Photo courtesy of Vega
True fermented dairy can be easier to digest than other forms of dairy products, however, even with the fermented benefits many of us are still intolerant. Thankfully, there are many brands of non-dairy yogurt available made from coconuts, almonds, soy, cashews and rice.
You can also try to make your own! You don’t need a fancy yogurt maker, either: just take your non-dairy milk and mix in some probiotic powder (or open up a capsule or two). If you have a dehydrator, you can transfer the yogurt mixture in there for 6-8 hours, but you can also leave it out on your counter for a day or two.
How to Enjoy: Dairy-free yogurt can be tossed into smoothies, eaten with fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, cacao nibs, or granola, or used as a topping for oatmeal, pancakes, French toast, or chia pudding. You can use unsweetened dairy-free yogurt in savory situations, too. Mix it with some herbs and garlic for a delicious dipping sauce or creamy salad dressing, or dollop it on your chili in place of sour cream.
Recipe to Try: DIY Almond Milk Yogurt by Vega
Photo courtesy of Fermented Food Lab
Did you know that you don’t have to use vinegar to make pickles? It’s true. All you need is salt and water to make the pickling and fermentation process happen. Most store-bought pickles are loaded with white vinegar, plus they are cooked and canned, which destroys all the beneficial bacteria.
Cucumbers are a popular vegetable to pickle, but you can basically pickle anything: carrots, asparagus, garlic, garlic scapes, zucchini, pearl onions, beets, peppers, leeks, radishes – the sky’s the limit! If you can cram it into a jar, you can attempt to pickle it, we say.
How to Enjoy: Spear a fermented vegetable for a quick snack (the salty taste can also quash sugar cravings), add a few to your plate every night, or use them as a topping for burgers and sandwiches.
Recipe to Try: How to Make Crunchy Pickles by Fermented Food Lab
What are your favourite fermented foods, and how do you like to enjoy them?