While you've probably eaten a variety of fermented foods in your life, you may be wondering what exactly is fermentation? Strangely enough, a food or beverage is fermented by adding a healthy bacteria or fungi to it. The process brings the food to life and changes both the taste and texture. Just think about the difference in flavor between a cucumber and its fermented counterpart the pickle. Or the difference between cabbage and sauerkraut.
But, it's not just about the taste. The fermentation process makes the food easier to digest, promotes a healthy digestive tract, makes the food more nutritious, and removes toxins from soy, grains, and legumesstaples in a vegetarian diet.
Soy Sauce Sourdough Bread
Wine & Beer
The problem with soy, grains, and legumes is they're high in phytic acid. And, phytic acid blocks the absorption of zinc and other essential minerals, including calcium, magnesium, and copper. The good news is, the fermentation process removes most of the phytic acid.
Fermentation also makes foods easier to digest. Take soybeans, for example. When they're fermented to make tempeh, miso and soy sauce, for example, this vegetarian protein is broken down into amino acids. In other words, the soy protein is predigested.
Other foods that become easier to digest are dairy and bread. If you're lactose intolerant (can't eat dairy), fermented alternatives like kefir and yogurt are safe because fermentation breaks down the lactose. If wheat is an issue, try sourdough bread. It's easier to digest because it's made with wheat that's been fermented.
There are plenty. Fermented foods provide healthy bacteria (commonly known as probiotics) for your digestive tract, and promote the growth of more beneficial gut flora.
Fermentation also improves the bioavailability (this is what your body absorbs) of the mineral content of food; create B vitamins, including folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamin, and biotin; and help rid your body of toxins, including heavy metals.
Be sure to read product labels carefully. Many commercial, fermented products are now pasteurized. When it's pasteurized, the food is heated to the point where the beneficial bacteria is destroyed. This is common with yogurt.
Sometimes it's the packaging process that destroys the healthy bacteria. Sauerkraut, for example, is usually heat-processed and canned, which kills off its live, healthy bacteria.
Fermented foods are an excellent addition to any diet, especially a vegetarian one. They add variety, flavor and good health to your plate.
Sandor Katz, Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods
Jeff Gordinier (2012, September 17), Better Eating, Thanks to Bacteria, New York Times,