Fermentation Methods and the Best Fermented FoodsDr. Miranda Wiley, ND
August 24, 2016
Microbes have been with us since long before the dawn of humankind. Bacteria and fungi (yeasts and moulds) are so instrumental to our health and evolution that they can be considered as an essential precursor and support for our very existence. Even in our modern world, these microbes continue to have a profound effect on: the foods we eat; how we preserve food; and the improved nutrition available to us from fermented foods.
Fermentation is an anaerobic process, one that takes place in the absence of oxygen, in which certain bacteria thrive. There are a variety of ways to initiate the process of fermentation giving the friendly, acid-loving bacteria a chance to replicate to sufficient numbers that they have an advantage over the less friendly micro-organisms that can set in.
Lactic acid bacteria are so called because they produce lactic acid as a by-product of sugar consumption; they need a simple sugar molecule to use as energy for replication and for the release of enzymes into their local environment .
Yeasts generally produce alcohol, but that alcohol can then be converted into acids by bacteria. This is how vinegars are made from wines or ciders (ie. red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. The word vinegar literally means “sour wine”).
Fermentation with and without Sugar
Fermentation methods vary between ethnic cultures and microbial cultures. Despite the many differences that may occur in the production methods and final products the common characteristics of fermented foods is that they are sour, rich in probiotic strains of microbes, and provide helpful enzymes and B vitamins to the body.
- When there is sugar present in the starting material, such as in the case of fructose in juice used in the production of wine or vinegar, or lactose in milk used to create yogurt or kefir, then the simple addition of microbes to the food in a low oxygen environment is sufficient to initiate fermentation. The sugar is digested and converted into acids that lower the pH of the food and prevent the growth of moulds or bacteria that could make the food harmful.
- In the production of kombucha, a fermented black tea, or other fermented herbs a small amount of sugar needs to be added to “jump start” the growth of the bacteria and to give them enough energy to create the enzymes that will liberate the naturally occurring sugars from compounds in the tea or starting material.
- In another method of fermentation, brine (dry salt or a salt solution) may be used, as in the case of pickles and sauerkraut. The addition of salt to shredded cabbage draws water and a little sugar out from the cabbage, both of which support the growth of lactic acid bacteria already present on the leaves. When placed in a crock with a heavy lid on top to press out oxygen the bacteria consume the sugar for fuel, and in turn they secrete enzymes to break down compounds in the vegetable. The enzymes release more sugar molecules into the liquid and a positive growth cycle develops. Bacteria begin the process of digesting the cabbage and convert sugars into lactic acid in the process.
- Sourdough bread is leavened with a fermented flour starter. Flour and water are exposed to the air and “catch” yeast and bacteria from the environment. The microbes liberate sugar molecules from the flour starch and convert them into lactic acid. When the starter is used as the leavening agent in bread production the final product is a slightly tangy sourdough loaf.
Today, there are new ways to obtain the benefits of fermentation. There are fermented ingredients in some supplements; fermented probiotics; and fermented botanicals like our very own Daily Immune Shot. Here the fermentation process transforms the carvacrol and other significant phytocompounds in oregano into their bioavailable forms and also produces beneficial organic acids, enzymes and B vitamins, providing the body with an effective safe form of oregano now in a whole food form.
There is good reason why fermentation is becoming more commonplace again. To maximize absorption and efficacy look for a reputable company who is using organic ingredients. Ask your local natural health and wellness store about how you can integrate fermented products into your life.