The Fermented Foods Frenzy: Everything You Need to Know

Fermented foods are all the rage these days.

Over the past four years, US restaurants have used the term “fermented” 46% more often on their menus, and items like kombucha and kefir are becoming more commonly available in major grocery stores and food chains.[1]

So, why are these funky-flavored foods getting so much shine? Let’s take it from the top to help paint a clearer picture.

What is Fermentation?

Fermentation is a natural process used to preserve food that’s been around since 6000 BC. The ancient technique is used to make all sorts of popular foods and drinks like yogurt, cheese, kimchi, beer and kombucha.

Kombucha undergoing the fermentation process

During fermentation, yeast and “good” bacteria are used to break down sugars and carbohydrates into acids and alcohols, which act as a preservative and give fermented foods a distinctly tart taste.

Fermentation isn’t just a Western wellness trend, either. In some cultures, fermentation is used as a method to preserve their crops and ensure long-term sustenance. For example, in some African countries, garri, a critical food source, is made from cassava, a vegetable root containing natural cyanides that can be poisonous when not fermented correctly.[2]

So, Why are Fermented Foods so Popular?

Well, for starters, the tangy, tart taste isn’t an issue. Nearly half of gen Z and millennial consumers are open to trying “new and unusual flavors.”[3]

Millennials eating fermented foods from a food truck

People are also becoming increasingly more health-conscious, especially when it comes to their guts. 58% of people associate weight management with good gut health. And, since fermented foods have shown to improve digestion and support a healthy microbiome, it’s no wonder this trend has sprouted wings.[4]

What are the Health Benefits of Fermented Foods?

With an abundance of live bacteria, fermented foods help replenish the gut microbiome, which is associated with a myriad of health benefits, including:

Good Gut Health

Say “buh-bye” to indigestion! The “good” bacteria found in fermented foods have shown to dramatically improve digestion and gut health. Research shows that probiotics can help treat and prevent many gastrointestinal diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Helicobacter pylori and antibiotic-associated diarrhea.[5]

Immune-Boosting Properties

From reducing the risk of infection to speeding up recovery time, eating fermented foods rich with probiotics can give your immune system a boost. Fermentation increases the bioavailability of nutrients found in food, making it easier to absorb and providing your body with additional immune-boosting nutrients.[6,7]

Women smiling in a field

Mental Health Improvements

Studies show a connection between our gut and brain health — commonly referred to as the “gut-brain connection” — with probiotics improving mental health markers associated with anxiety and depression.[8]

Heart-Healthy Benefits

Fermented foods may also keep your ticker healthy. Studies show that probiotics found in fermented foods may help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure and maintain healthy cholesterol levels.[9]

Where Can I Buy Fermented Foods?

From your local farmer’s market to the nearest convenience store, fermented foods and other probiotic-rich products aren’t as hard to find as they once were. However, less popular options, such as kvass, kimchi, tempeh or batto, can be trickier to track down. If your local grocery store doesn’t carry them, you can always order them online or seek them out at a local specialty store.

Can I Make Fermented Foods at Home?

Yes! Fermenting your favorite foods is relatively easy. So, if you’re feeling crafty, feel free to give it a shot. If it’s your first time, consider starting with vegetables since they’re typically easier to work with and take less time.

Person pickling fermented foods at home.

How to Make Homemade Fermented Veggies:

  1. To start, you’ll need a glass jar with a lid.
  2. Choose your veggies, then chop or slice it to your liking.
  3. Add brine. Use about one tablespoon of salt per cup of water.
  4. Immerse the vegetables in the brine.
  5. Snuggly tighten the lid to create an airtight seal.
  6. Store the jar in a cool, dark place at 65 to 70 degrees.
  7. Wait until your jar emits a zingy aroma, then enjoy.*

*Note: Fermentation can take anywhere from days to months, depending on the type and amount of food.

Sources:

[1] www.ift.org/news-and-publications/
[2] https://foodandnutrition.org/
[3] https://www.foodnavigator.com/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6567126/
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22529959
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25430686
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24780623
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5056568/
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21660519

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written by

Frankie O'Brien

Frankie O'Brien

MS, RD, LDN

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