Would you eat food or drink a beverage processed by microorganisms?

Many would probably answer “no” to this question, but that’s exactly what we do each day when we eat bread or drink wine and beer.

These foods, like others, belong to the category of fermented food or drink. A practice that we haven’t just invented, although some people dismiss it as merely sounding like a good idea.

The fermentation of food is very old and it’s a way of preserving food; but not only that, because fermented foods also acquire therapeutic properties.

What does the fermentation of a food consist of?

With this term, we’re reffering to a process that occurs within a food when some bacteria or yeasts transform some of the substances contained in it, giving rise to acids that lower its pH (a system that measures acidity). Basically, they convert the sugars contained in the food into acids, and mainly lactic acid. With fermentation the food is not only preserved but also remains edible for a certain duration.

When the acidity level of the food reaches a point that limits the growth of further bacteria, then the fresh food will have been transformed into a fermented food. This transformation increases the preservation of food, increases its nutritional properties, and makes it a formidable enrichment factor for the microbial (or microbiota) component of our intestine.

Fermentation can be spontaneous, taking place in nature thanks to the exposure of the food to a specific environmental condition, or it can be triggered by adding a small amount of an already fermented product to a fresh product that begins the fermentation process.

As we’ve written a few lines above, the fermentation process increases the preservation of food, and this was exactly what was convenient for our ancestors before we invented the technology of cooling and controlled environments.

Which other foods belong to the category of fermented foods or beverages?

We’ve already mentioned bread, wine and beer, but there are many others. Perhaps the best known is yogurt, which owes its transformation to a Lactobacillus and Streptococcus. The two bacteria increase the acidity of milk by transforming lactose into lactic acid, and this allows even those who are lactose intolerant to be able to eat yogurt safely. In addition, the bacteria slightly coagulate the milk, thickening proteins such as casein, making the yogurt creamy. The beneficial effects of yogurt on digestion have long been known to strengthen the immune system.

Another example is cabbage (that is transformed into sauerkraut) and has its place on the table of German-speaking populations. Kefir is also a popular product. It’s a drink originating from the Caucasus that’s produced by adding a small culture of bacteria and yeasts to milk. Kefir helps to regulate the intestine, balance the intestinal flora and counteract “bad” cholesterol. There are also many other fermented foods such as lacto-fermented vegetables, olives and cucumbers.

But what’s the relationship between fermented foods and probiotics?

Knowing that probiotics are basically the symbiotic microorganisms present in our intestine and that they bring benefits to our health, it’s clear that they’re the same microorganisms that form the basis of food fermentation. There are many products based on probiotics available on the market, but if we simply want to eat seasonal products that are easy to prepare, we just have to rediscover old recipes that mention fermented foods, and we’ll also find natural medicines in them.

In the society in which we live, it’s not easy to find time to cook, and the easiest solution is to go to the ready-made products in the grocery store; we all do it. The hope is that at least once per week, you invest a little time to take care of your intestines, as well as go for a run or hit the gym.

This post is also available in: Italiano


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