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Your Guide to 2019's Top Health Trend: Fermented Foods

Your Guide to 2019's Top Health Trend: Fermented Foods

Fermentation is cool. There we said it. Big news. With the food shows and chefs turning their eyes to the delicious science of fermenting things -- we as eaters and food enthusiasts get to reap the benefits (and there are benefits) to chowing down on some of the most delicious and unique flavors you can get. Fermentation is part of the global food culture and nearly every country or regional cuisine has their own signature fermentated dish.

Step confidently into the unknown and check ouit some of this delicious fermented dishes!


www.pixabay Photo by kwasnica

Everyone knows what this is! It's finely cut raw cabbage that has been fermented by various lactic acid bacteria. It has a huge shelf life and a sour, punchy flavor because of the lactic acid formed when the bacteria ferment the sugars in the cabbage leaves.

Although "sauerkraut" is a German word, the dish did not originate in Germany. Some claim that the Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan brought it to Europe. Others claim that it originally came from China and the surrounding areas and Europe the Tatars brought it to Europe, and improved upon the original Chinese recipe by fermenting it with salt instead of rice wine. It took root mostly in Central and Eastern European cuisines, but also in other countries including the Netherlands, where it is known as zuurkool, and France, where the name became choucroute.

It is a high source of vitamins C and K; the fermentation process increases the bioavailability of nutrients rendering sauerkraut even more nutritious than the original cabbage. It is also low in calories and high in calcium and magnesium, and it is a very good source of dietary fiber, folate, iron, potassium, copper and manganese.

Kimchi: Photo by Jakub Kapusnak

A staple in Korean cuisine. It's like the above sauerkraut but with a bit more of a zang and a tang. A famous traditional side dish of salted and fermented vegetables, such as napa cabbage and Korean radish, made with a widely varying selection of seasonings including gochugaru (chili powder), scallions, garlic, ginger, and jeotgal (salted seafood), etc. There are hundreds of varieties of kimchi made with different vegetables as the main ingredients.

Traditionally, kimchi was stored in-ground in large earthenware to prevent the kimchi from being frozen during the winter months. It was the primary way of storing vegetables throughout the seasons. In the summer the in-ground storage kept the kimchi cool enough to slow down the fermentation process.

The origin of kimchi dates back at least to the early period of the Three Kingdoms (37 BC‒7 AD). Fermented foods were widely available, as the Records of the Three Kingdoms, a Chinese historical text published in 289 AD, mentions that "The Goguryeo people [referring to the Korean people] are skilled in making fermented foods such as wine, soybean paste, and salted and fermented fish" in the section named Dongyi in the Book of Wei. Samguk Sagi, a historical record of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, also mentions the pickle jar used to ferment vegetables, which indicates that fermented vegetables were commonly eaten during this time. During the Silla dynasty (57 BC – AD 935), kimchi became prevalent as Buddhism caught on throughout the nation and fostered a vegetarian lifestyle.


Kombucha Photo by Klara Avsenik

Stinky tea! What an idea. Who would have thought this would be so delicious on a hot summer day? Kombucha is a fermented, slightly alcoholic, lightly effervescent, sweetened black or green tea drink commonly intended as a functional beverage for its supposed health benefits. Most people call it 'Buch.

Sometimes the beverage is called kombucha tea to distinguish it from the culture of bacteria and yeast. Juice, spices, or other flavorings are often added to enhance the taste of the beverage. The exact origins of kombucha are not known.It is thought to have originated in Northeastern China where the drink is traditionally consumed, or in Russia and Eastern Europe. Kombucha is now homebrewed globally, and also bottled and sold commercially by various companies.

The etymology of kombucha is uncertain; however, it is speculated that it is a misapplied loanword from Japanese. It has been hypothesized that English speakers mistook the Japanese word kombucha to mean fermented tea, when in fact, fermented tea in Japanese is called kōcha kinoko (紅茶キノコ, "red tea mushroom"). The Merriam-Webster Dictionary maintains that the use of kombucha in the English language likely stems from the misapplication of Japanese words: konbucha, kobucha (which translate to "tea made from kelp"), kobu, konbu (which mean "kelp") and cha (meaning “tea”). The American Heritage Dictionary offers further insight into the etymology of kombucha, stating that it was “perhaps used by English speakers to designate fermented tea due to confusion or because the thick gelatinous film produced by the kombucha culture was thought to resemble seaweed."



Sticky beans! A traditional Japanese food made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis var. natto. Some eat it as a breakfast food. It is served with soy sauce, karashi mustard and Japanese bunching onion. Nattō may be an acquired taste because of its powerful smell, strong flavor, and sticky, slimy texture. In Japan, nattō is most popular in the eastern regions, including Kantō, Tōhoku, and Hokkaido.

Nattō has a distinctive smell, somewhat akin to a pungent cheese. Stirring nattō produces lots of sticky strings. Nattō is occasionally used in other foods, such as nattō sushi, nattō toast, in miso soup, tamagoyaki, salad, as an ingredient in okonomiyaki, or even with spaghetti. Sometimes soybeans are crushed and fermented. This is called hikiwari nattō. Many find the taste unpleasant and smelly while others relish it as a delicacy. Nattō is more popular in some areas of Japan than in others. Nattō is known to be popular in the eastern Kantō region, but less popular in Kansai. A 2009 Internet survey in Japan indicated 70.2% of respondents like nattō and 29.8% do not, but out of 29.8% who dislike nattō, about half of them eat nattō for its health benefits.

Tempeh: Photo by Joshua Bousel

Last but not least is a twist on natto with Tempeh originating from Indonesia. It is made by a natural culturing and controlled fermentation process that binds soybeans into a cake form. Here a special fungus is used, which has the Latin name Rhizopus oligosporus, usually marketed under the name Tempeh starter.

It is especially popular on the island of Java, where it is a staple source of protein. Like tofu, tempe is made from soybeans, but it is a whole soybean product with different nutritional characteristics and textural qualities. Tempe's fermentation process and its retention of the whole bean give it a higher content of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamins.

It has a firm texture and an earthy flavor, which becomes more pronounced as it ages. In the kitchen, tempe is often prepared by cutting it into pieces, soaking in brine or salty sauce, and then frying. Cooked tempe can be eaten alone, or used in chili, stir fries, soups, salads, sandwiches, and stews. Tempe's complex flavor has been described as nutty, meaty, and mushroom-like. It freezes well, and is now commonly available in many western supermarkets, as well as in ethnic markets and health food stores. Tempe can be steamed, marinated, thinly sliced, blackened, or crumbled into sauces and stews. Tempe performs well in a cheese grater, after which it may be used in the place of ground beef (as in tacos). When thin-sliced and deep-fried in oil, tempe obtains a crisp golden crust while maintaining a soft interior. Its sponge-like consistency makes it suitable for marinating. Dried tempe (whether cooked or raw) is more portable and less perishable and may be used as a stew base. Sometimes when tempe is diced and left, they will create white feathery fluff which bonds the cut—this is the Rhizopus mold still growing—this is normal and perfectly edible.