You may have heard a lot about probiotics and how good they are for you. Did you know that eating fermented foods can give you the same benefits without taking a pill? And you can make them yourself if you have a few days and a desire to cook.
Fermented foods have made a comeback because they are packed with microflora that can provide a safe, inexpensive, and natural way to boost your immune system. You may not have heard of some of these because they are not common in most kitchens. There might be one that you like enough to have just a small serving every day. Our list includes a little bit about these foods as well as how to prepare them yourself, if possible, or alternately what brands we like if you buy them already prepared.
1.) Sauerkraut – Sauerkraut is typically made from water, salt and cabbage. You can purchase many different flavors of sauerkraut. The sour taste comes from the breakdown of lactose by the probiotic bacteria native to the cabbage. It can be easily made at home in large quantities with a kit like this. This essentially draws all the air out of a mason jar that has the cabbage and salt in it. You simply let the jar sit and ferment and you’ve got home-made sauerkraut.
2.) Kefir – First, how do you pronounce it? Kefir is simply just fermented milk. It has a texture of a melted milk shake and it comes in multiple flavors. My favorite brand is Maple Hill Creamery because it’s made from grass-fed dairy and there is a plain version that has no added sugar. If you have any problems with dairy this should not be your first choice, unless you purchase one made from coconut milk or almond milk. Watch out for brands that have a lot of added sugar. This article explains a lot more about Kefir. You can also purchase kefir starter if you want to make your own. Kefir is a great source of protein, vitamin B and calcium.
3.) Yogurt – Yogurt is probably the most common and widely consumed fermented food. Unfortunately, it is often processed with a lot of sugar. Like Kefir it is a dairy product unless you get yogurt made from coconut or almond milk. Yogurt is actually fairly easy to make with just milk, heat and time. There are kits you can purchase for under $20 or you can do it yourself, with a bit more work, without a kit. Here is a recipe for homemade yogurt. My favorite brand of over the counter yogurt is Stonyfield and Maple Hill Creamery because they are made from grass-fed dairy products.
4.) Apple cider vinegar – This one is probably the least expensive and easiest way to consume fermented foods. There are a few easy ways to get one or two teaspoons per day, which is all you need. My favorite way to get it is in salad dressing. Making your own salad dressing can be as simple as pouring vinegar and olive oil into a jar with a little salt, pepper and garlic. If you find the apple cider vinegar is too tangy, add another vinegar to the mix. You can also mix apple cider vinegar in a glass of water and drink it.
5.) Pickles – Not all pickles are fermented foods. Most pickles in the grocery store are pickled with vinegar, which is the acid that ferments them. Unfortunately they don’t have the same powerful probiotic benefit. Pickles made without vinegar are fermented using a “starter” or bacteria, salt, and water. Here are a few clues to watch for – pickles that are fermented are not made with vinegar and if you purchase them in a grocery store they will be refrigerated. This article explains the difference. My favorite brand which is widely available is Bubbies.
6.) Kombucha – You are likely to see lots of kombucha sold at your local grocery store. It’s better to buy one that isn’t loaded with sugar. Kombucha is made from tea, water, sugar, yeast, and bacteria. The bacteria and yeast consume the sugar, which makes it a fizzy, tangy soda alternative that has the added benefit of probiotics, Vitamin B and acetic acid. Kombucha can contain a small amount of alcohol. The starter required to make kombucha (which is the bacteria that starts the fermentation) can be taken from a batch of pre-made kombucha. This article does a great job of outlining how to make it and what variations you can try. My favorite brand is GT’s.
7.) Tempeh – Tempeh is very similar to Tofu, but far less popular. It is made from fermented soybeans. It is a good source of protein if you are vegetarian and it’s less processed than tofu. Here is a recipe for Quinoa salad with Tempeh.
8.) Miso – Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning made from fermenting soybeans. It’s not easy to make yourself but you can purchase a miso paste that can be added to soups and stir fries. Miso is high in Vitamin K and protein. Here is an easy recipe for Miso soup.
9.) Raw Cheese – Raw cheese can be difficult to find unless you live near something like a Whole Foods or other high end grocery store. Raw cheese is actually allowed by the FDA if it has been aged longer than 60 days, because they consider that long enough to kill any harmful pathogens. Raw cheeses are extremely common in Europe.
10.) Kimchi – The first thing I should warn you about is that Kimchi can have a very strong smell which can be off-putting. If you can get past that, it’s delicious. It’s a traditional Korean dish and can be spicy. Kimchi is normally made from napa cabbage or daikon radish. Here is a recipe to try.
11.) Natto – Natto is a traditional Japanese breakfast food served with miso soup, rice and fish. It’s no wonder the Japanese are so healthy in comparison to the US, because so many of the fermented foods are staples in their diet. Similar to Kimchi, it can have a strong smell which prevents many people from trying it. You can read more about Natto here. It is typically made from soy beans but it can also be made with black beans.
12.) Kvass – Kvass is a drink like kombucha, but it is traditionally made with rye bread and vegetables. Today people often skip the bread and make it with just veggies, fruit, salt, bacteria and yeast. It is fizzy just like kombucha. Here’s a recipe for beet kvass. NPR has also written about authentic Russian kvass.
Want to read more about fermented foods? Check out these articles.