Traditional cultures have been using fermented foods as an everyday staple for thousands of years. When a food is fermented, this means it has been left to sit and steep until the sugars start to feed naturally occurring bacteria in the food. Fermentation is an excellent way to preserve foods without refrigeration, but it also gives foods a tangy and sour-like taste that few other foods can offer.
Some of the more common fermented foods you might recognize include yogurt, kimchi, sour poi, sauerkraut (raw), miso, natto, fresh pickles, kombucha, and some raw cheeses.
Fermented and probiotic rich foods are becoming a more popular food choice these days, and for good reason! These foods contain good bacteria which help keep our digestive systems healthy and our immune systems strong; therefore, eating them daily can go a long way for our overall health. Ferments also regulate the appetite and reduce sugar and refined carb cravings, so they are a must have for any health connoisseur.
If you are new to fermented foods, start with eating just 1/2 cup each day and build up from there.
Here is a list of our favorite fermented foods and a few tips on where to find them:
1. Kimchi: This traditional fermented Korean dish dating back to the 7th century is available pretty much everywhere on the islands. Though it can be made with a variety of ingredients, we commonly find it made with cabbage, spices and seasonings. Kimchi’s high level of antioxidants may help reduce the risk of serious health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and gastric ulcers.
2. Yogurt: Yogurt is a popular, mainstream probiotic-rich food. In fact, it’s the most consumed fermented dairy product in the U.S.! We recommend you opt for plain, organic yogurt when you can. Because of it’s popularity, many yogurt brands have a ton of added sugar and food colorings that take away from the nutritional benefits. If you can’t stomach dairy, try out this recipe for our Creamy & Dreamy Coconut Yogurt using young coconut flesh right from your backyard.
3. Kefir: Similar to yogurt is kefir, a fermented milk product (cow, goat or sheep) that you can find at most supermarkets including Safeway and Foodland. Kefir includes high levels of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, folate, enzymes, and of course, friendly bacteria from probiotics. This food may help boost immunity, heal irritable bowels, protect bone density, fight allergies and improve overall digestion. For more foods that combat tummy troubles, check out this article.
4. Miso: This fermented product is also popular in Hawaii and was originally made in Japan by fermenting soybeans with salt and the fungus, Aspergillus oryae. It can also be made with rice, barley, or other ingredients. This immune-system booster is great for the gut and found at most grocery stores.
5. Natto: Another traditional dish in Japan, natto is a superfood by nature, but an acquired taste for sure! It contains extremely powerful probiotics and also contains vitamin K2, a very important vitamin for bone health among other things. Natto also contains an enzyme called nattokinase that has been studied to fight cancer. Natto can be found at many grocery stores, including specialty Asian markets. Just keep your eye out for the fresh stuff as it tastes much better!
6. Kombucha: More and more stores are carrying this fermented tea, thought by some to be developed in China, it also has been used in Eastern Europe, Russia and Japan (where it’s name was coined) for several centuries. Traditionally kombucha is made using black tea, sugar, and a colony of bacteria and yeast that are responsible for initiating the fermentation process. Kombucha is slightly carbonated, which makes it enjoyable and a better choice than soda. Be careful, kombucha can be high in sugar so be mindful of portion sizes.
Another great place to find other fermented foods is at your local farmer’s market. Stands including Hawaiian Fresh Farms and Hawaiian Remedies both have local fermented foods available to try and purchase. Who doesn’t like to support local? Down To Earth and Whole Foods are also excellent places to stalk up on fermented foods, especially if finding organic and minimally processed ingredients is important to you.
You can learn more about how to support a healthy gut by reading another article we posted about treating imbalances in gut bacteria.