What is Fermentation?
Not only is fermentation an age-old process, but it is actually the oldest method of storage and preservation of foods. Eons ago, before electricity was harnessed and refrigeration became ubiquitous, people relied on various methods of preservation, one of the most important being fermentation. But as small farming led to large scale farming, along the way most families dropped the chore of preparing non dairy fermented foods in their homes. They also stopped eating these foods as part of their daily diet. And because the scientific community didn’t really understand the real health benefits to fermentation, the whole concept became more or less outdated.
Non-dairy fermented foods are making a BIG comeback. Not only are foodies falling in love with their signature tang (a wee bit sour and a smidgen savory), nutritionists and doctors are praising their incredible whole body and gut health benefits.
Pasteurization, and the process of killing bacteria has been helpful in reducing the transmission of diseases (such as typhoid fever, tuberculosis, scarlet fever, polio, and dysentery), but it has led people to believe all bacteria is bad. Not so.
We now know good bacteria are a critical component to enjoying great health. The fermentation process generates an important source of friendly, health-giving good bacteria. We need this good bacteria in our guts to fight off the harmful bacteria, restore the balance of our immune system and help our body to work at its best. The “good bacteria” are called probiotics, which literally means “for life”, because of the incredible health promoting job they do. (You can read more about the benefits of probiotics HERE.)
Allowing bacteria to form in a sealed jar of vegetables over a few months might not seem like the most appealing way to create an appetizing dish, but fermentation really has a lot going for it. Just ask the Koreans and Japanese, who have been fermenting vegetables and beans for generations. They even ferment their fish!
Health Benefits of Non Dairy Fermented Foods
The good bacteria in non dairy fermented foods absolutely improve gut health, aid in digestion and support a healthy immune system. But did you also know they can help you manage your weight and even improve your mood? And for someone who has a neurological disorder like me (if you don’t know my story, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998 at the age of 22), the benefits of probiotics on brain health are especially intriguing. My former neurologist and four-time NY Times bestselling author, Dr. David Perlmutter (who wrote the forward to our first book, by the way), talks a great deal about the benefits of probiotics in his book, “Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain for Life.”
More Probiotic Perks
What’s more, the probiotics in non-dairy fermented foods help to make the foods you eat more nutritious. How so? Probiotic-rich foods enhance digestion and absorption. For example, eating probiotic rich kimchi or sauerkraut can increase the availability of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as vitamins from the B-complex group.
Probiotic rich foods also help decrease inflammation and there is some research showing they may even help protect against certain types of cancer.
Non Dairy Fermented Foods to Start Eating Today!
- REAL unpasteurized Sauerkraut
- Pickled carrots
- Pickled beets
- Pickled cucumbers (yup, good old pickles!! But they have to be REAL pickles in order to get the probiotic benefits.)
- Kombucha (Here is a blog post I did on the health benefits specific to Kombucha)
- Nama Shoyu (this is an unpasteurized soy sauce)
- Tempeh (originally from Indonesia, tempeh is made from fermented soybeans. It has a slightly mushroomy taste and makes a great substitute for meat. We eat it a lot on Meat Free Mondays!)
- Coconut Kefir
- Natto (Made from fermented soybeans, Natto contains the extremely powerful probiotic Bacillus subtilis.)
How to Make Your Own Non Dairy Fermented Foods
Resources for How to Make Your Own Non Dairy Fermented Foods at Home:
How to Ferment Vegetables on the “Running to the Kitchen” blog
Natural Fermentation and How to Ferment Vegetables on the “Cultures for Health” blog
Fermenting Vegetables by Sarah Wilson
There are also plenty of books on the subject, but “Fermented Vegetables” (see photo) is my favorite.