Fermentation is a health craze taking over your local farmer’s market, grocery store, and even your own kitchen. The popularity follows on the heels of recent studies revealing the incredible benefits of fermented foods from your toes to your gut microbiota to your brain. Yet, how can fermentation, basically a controlled form of rotting, be so darn good for your body? It’s all in the recipe! The fermentation process boosts the nutrition value, decreases sugar content, and imbibes the food product with healthy bacteria and probiotics.

Before embarking on your own personal fermentation agenda, it’s important to understand how to safely ferment food products at home, as well as the best-fermented products to find on your local grocery store shelf!

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What is fermentation?

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Food that has been fermented has gone through a fermentation process in which microorganisms (think healthy bacteria and yeast) change “carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids” usually within an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment. In other words, during the fermentation process, sugars are broken down by agents such as yeast and healthy bacteria. There are two types of fermentation: alcoholic fermentation used to make beer, wine, and bread products, and lactic acid fermentation, which is a further step in the fermentation process where lactose is converted into lactic acid.

Health Benefits of Fermented Food

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With the mounting evidence regarding gut microbiota and various ailments, conditions, and mood disorders, the importance of boosting healthy bacteria and probiotics is becoming even more prevalent. Yet, it’s not just your gut that will benefit from healthy fermented foods. There are a host of other benefits that are simply a plus to also boosting your gut microbiota!

Reduced Inflammation

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Inflammation is the cause of many inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, asthma, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, as well as many health issues including high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and even diabetes.

Fermentation to the rescue!

As part of a study published by the National Institutes of Health, fermented foods were discovered to have a host of incredibly healthy activity including “anti-oxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal,” anti-diabetic, anti-atherosclerotic, and anti-inflammatory activity. A separate study discovered that gut microbiota, which is bolstered by the bacteria and probiotics in fermented foods, has the potential to control and mitigate inflammation and oxidative stress.

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Better Digestive Health

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The health of your gut is an incredibly telling aspect of overall health. From your immune system (up to 80 percent of your immune system relies on a healthy gut environment) to Acid Reflux Disease to your brain health and mood regulation, the gut influences all.

Yet, this is especially prevalent when it comes to overall digestive health.

Your gut microbiota, the healthy bacteria that help to break down and parcel out nutrients, as well as get rid of food waste, requires a specific diet to remain healthy. While fiber is incredibly important, the other key component is probiotics, which are found in great supply in fermented food products. Probiotics are ingestible healthy bacteria that match bacteria that already live within your body. An environment resplendent in good bacteria is a healthy environment.

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Mood and Behavior Boosters

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The benefits of fermented foods are simply about the smooth functions of your bodily systems. Fermented foods aid in gut health, which has been linked to a healthier brain and, in turn, more even and uplifted mood and overall behavior.

How does your gut health affect your moods?

Simply put there’s a central highway linking your brain to your gut called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, in which neurons that line your gut, also called the enteric nervous system, can signal the brain regarding your emotions. On top of that, “serotonin — a neurotransmitter involved in mood — is made in the gut,” which then reports to the brain. A study published by the National Institute of Health reported that fermentation “may often amplify the specific nutrient and phytochemical content of foods,” as well as create certain microbes via fermentation, which, in turn, may affect mental and brain health.

Healthy Fermented Foods for Your Fridge

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When you think about fermented food, your mind most likely turns directly to sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi. While these are excellent fermented products to have in your kitchen, they are also usually an acquired taste. Do not fear if you can’t stomach these pungent fermented foods! There are a host of alternatives including miso, various raw soy products, kombucha, and, if you want to try your hand at fermenting at home, almost any vegetable can be fermented.

Sauerkraut

Homemade Raw Sauerkraut/One Green Planet

This classic German dish also happens to be one of the best and easiest fermented products to find in the states! Sauerkraut is made of finely chopped cabbage, which is then fermented with lactic-acid producing bacteria. It’s got all the benefits of fermented food, yet specializes in “increasing vitamin C, folate, and manganese.” Make your own sauerkraut with this Homemade Raw Sauerkraut recipe and then get creative in the kitchen such as this Sauerkraut Salad With Apples and Walnuts recipe or this Chickpea Sauerkraut Salad Wrap recipe.

Kimchi

Kimchi Poutine/One Green Planet

Kimchi — most commonly made with cabbage mixed with vinegar, garlic, salt, and chili peppers — is a spicy fermented food originating in Korea. As fermented food products go, this item should be a staple in your pantry! Kimchi has a low fat and carb content that is bolstered by its high vitamin, mineral, dietary fiber, and phytochemical content. It’s also incredibly easy to make at home or can be used to infuse other recipes such as this Kimchi Poutine.

PicklesSuper-Easy Refrigerator Dill Pickles

Super-Easy Refrigerator Dill Pickles/One Green Planet

These cucumber-based fermented foods are the cream of the crop when it comes to overall health benefits. Their high level of probiotics helps to support the central nervous system, reduce anxiety and depression, promote healthy skin, and can aid in weight loss. Plus, they are easy to make — take a stab with this Super-Easy Refrigerator Dill Pickles — and are a great addition to many classic dishes such as this Oven-Fried Pickles recipe or this Herby Flatbread With Pink Pickles recipe.

Kombucha Tea

Ginger Kombucha Mimosa/One Green Planet

Not all fermented foods are necessary solid. Kombucha is a tea that has been fermented using sugar, yeast, and healthy bacteria resulting in a drinkable liquid of vinegar, vitamin B, and probiotics. It’s most commonly made with caffeinated teas such as green or black. Kombucha is yet another fermented product that you can make at home or simply pick a bottle up at your local grocery store and have fun creating kombucha-based drinks such as this Ginger Kombucha Mimosa or this Lychee and Kombucha Spritz.

MisoCreamy Root Vegetable Soup

Creamy Root Vegetable Miso Soup/One Green Planet

You may only know miso as that delicious soup served at Japanese restaurants, yet this popular food product is a great source of healthy bacteria and probiotics. Miso is actually a fermented paste originating from Japan made by “inoculating a mixture of soybeans with a mold called koji,” which comes from rice, barley, or soybeans. During the fermentation process, certain enzymes are released, which have shown to have anticancer, antidiabetic, and antioxidant properties. While miso paste isn’t relegated to soups, it generally is a favorite, so here are a few creative miso soup recipes: Immunity Boosting Miso Soup, Zucchini and Edamame Miso Soup, and Creamy Root Vegetable Miso Soup.

For more fermented food recipes and ideas, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

Lead Image: Homemade Raw Sauerkraut