The recent rise in popularity of probiotic-rich fermented food products has seen more people become fascinated by the “mystical” process of fermentation. Coinciding with the demand for more organic and naturally-made foods, a variety of more exotic fermented products now grace our specialist food shelves.
Ancient drinks such as kombucha, kefir and kvass are now widely available. Old favourites such as sauerkraut, kimchi and yoghurt have once again become fashionable.
But what are the bacterial strains contained in foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi? And how do they benefit gut health? This week we’ll take a look at the good bacteria that are contained in fermented products, see where they come from in the fermenting process, the variety of strains that are present and how they work to protect our health.
How does fermentation happen?
Originally a highly-efficient method of preserving food, fermentation harnesses the power of microbial bacteria by creating conditions in which the beneficial bacteria grow. It is a transformation process where an organism — such as yeast or bacteria — converts a carbohydrate such as sugar into lactic acid.
This is replicating the same conditions in the wild. When these are met, a wonderful transformation takes place, taking the food from its original state to a more nutritious level. This is an aerobic process, meaning no oxygen is needed to ferment the wild bacteria.
The resulting fermented products are very healthy. Sandor Katz, fermentation author, teacher and guru states in his book “Basic Fermentation”:
“Live, unpasteurised fermented foods have extraordinary nutritional value. They feed the bacteria which break them down directly into your digestive system, where they keep breaking down food, aiding digestion and nutritional absorption.”
Fermentation occurs naturally in the digestive systems of humans and other animals. It also occurs in muscles when the energy needs are more than the oxygen available.
Athletes such as cyclists or bodybuilders experience lactic acid fermentation during strenuous exercise. Their muscle cells make adenosine triphosphate (ATP), an energy-carrying molecule that is used by the body when not enough oxygen is present.
From where do the bacteria originate?
In the case of sauerkraut and kimchi — or other fermented food/vegetables — the microbes already exist on the plant. The first part of the fermentation process of sauerkraut is anaerobic. Without oxygen. This is why it is stored in airtight containers. At Gutsy we ferment the cabbage in sealed oak barrels, giving our fermented products a superior taste over those fermented in plastic.
This is mostly Leuconostoc bacteria which produces carbon dioxide, the common bubbles that form at the top of ferments. This signifies the beginning of the fermenting process. The conditions inside the ferment will eventually be too acidic for these bacteria to survive. However, they will be replaced by bacteria, such as the Lactobacillus species, which thrive under these conditions.
With shop-bought sauerkraut or kimchi, the number of bacteria will vary according to the manufacturing process. Indeed, any pasteurised fermented products listed will have none of the beneficial bugs. Pasteurisation, a form of heat treatment, will kill all bacteria, good and bad. Obviously this defeats the purpose of buying any fermented products for better gut health.
How do these bacteria in fermented foods work to maintain our health?
As mentioned fermented products such as sauerkraut and kimchi contain live bacteria that help improve the balance of the “good bugs” in our digestive system. However, studies have shown that the makeup of our gut bacteria may also have a strong influence on physical and mental health.
As science has now shown in several studies, (also here) our gut microbiome may influence a number of other health factors. These include lowering the risk of Type 2 Diabetes and improving cardiovascular disease.
Exciting new research has linked gut health with mental health. This due to the gut’s ability to communicate with the brain via the nervous system, hormones and the immune system.
Modern science has now given a good understanding of the link between fermented products and good gut health. Natural, raw ferments such as sauerkraut and kimchi will help restore the balance of these beneficial bacteria in the gut. This will help maintain good digestion but also help restore our physical and mental health.
At Gutsy Ferments we commit ourselves to bring you the finest fermented food products. We source our vegetables and spices from local farms. These vegetables ferment for four to six weeks in special oak barrels. They are then hand-packed into glass jars for sale.
Interested in hearing more about our story? Check out our book Forage, Ferment, Feast. This is our 356-page book with the mouthwatering subtitle “Tales of food, and family with recipes for restoring gut health, connection, healing and wholeness”.
You can contact us here for any questions about our fermented products.