Fermented foods that will help your gut
Fermented foods are all the rage at the moment with traditional foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt and sourdough bread experiencing a resurgence in popularity with the home cook.
These foods contribute to the wellbeing of our gut, specifically the microbiome or good bacteria that populate our large instestine. They're are crucial for our digestion, and if our gut is in a good state, then we're well on our way to experiencing better health and wellbeing.
The modern diet, with its high fat, high sugar and preservative-laden ingredients, has seen the quantity and quality of our gut microbiome suffer. Couple this with an unhealthy lifestyle of highly acidic foods and high stress, we have a formula for poor health that can lead to more serious illnesses. Also, a lack of dietary fibre in our diets has meant that the good guys in our guts aren't getting fed enough of the right foods.
We can improve our gut health by introducing simple fermented foods back into our diet. They're a great way of putting probiotic bacteria cultures (such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum) back into our digestive system, and increasing intake of a raft of minerals, vitamins and amino acids.
Be sure to incorporate fermentable fibre from foods such as whole oats, barley, mushrooms, kumara, bananas, leeks, onions and garlic - they'll provide the fuel to the microbiome to do the good work in digestion, nutrient absorption and immune responses in the gut.
- Feeding the gut by nutritionist Mikki Williden
- Good bacteria by Nadia Lim
- Kimchi and sauerkraut by Peter Gordon
Sauerkraut is a fermented cabbage that originates from Germany. With only two simple ingredients - cabbage and salt - it's an easy recipe to get you on the road to fermenting your own food. Sauerkraut delivers a healthy dose of probiotics and fibre and is incredibly easy to make. Once you're familiar with the process, play around with different seasonings and flavour enhancers like spices and herbs.
See Aaron Brunet's step-by-step process on how to make sauerkraut
Cooking with it
Kimchi is often described as sauerkraut's Korean (and spicier) cousin. This fermented chilli cabbage is eaten as an accompaniment to most meals and it imparts tangy, savoury and spicy flavours to Korean dishes like bibimbap and bulgogi, and it works just as well in other Asian dishes like gyoza, spring rolls and stir-fries. Don't stop at Asian dishes... burgers and toasted sandwiches are given an interesting twist wtih the addition of kimchi so it is worth experimenting with flavour combinations.
Cooking with it
High in protein and calcium, yoghurt holds its position as a nutritious food also because it contains plenty of live and active cultures of probiotics. The beneficial bacteria commonly found in most yoghurts include Bifidobacterium bifidus, Lactobacillus acidophilus and L. casei.
When making your own, use a starter yoghurt that's free of preservatives and thickeners, and avoid ones high in fat and sugars. It's an incredibly easy process that will have you wondering why you never made your own yoghurt before. We recommend using organic milk for a better yoghurt.
See Nadia Lim's recipe for homemade yoghurt
Cooking with it
We've got hundreds of recipes that use yoghurt. Here, we've chosen to highlight recipes with yoghurt as the star
- Raspberry and apple yoghurt smoothie
- Yoghurt and orange dressing
- Tzatziki-style cucumber yoghurt and dill dip
- Yoghurt and buttermilk dressing
Sourdough is a bread that is raised through the action of a naturally-occuring starter that comprises a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria.
Celia Hay sums it up here: "Sourdough is a bread raised by aerobic yeast (yeasts in the atmosphere) that are captured in a mixture of flour and water and fed regularly to keep them alive. It’s very effective to get a cup of someone else’s starter that you can then feed and grow yourself. Other people have sourdough starters that have been handed down through generations, but there’s no need for all that fuss: it’s incredibly easy to make your own."
Sourdough bread is more digestible than the most loaves of stock-standard bread as the lactic acids produced by the fermentation process makes gluten easier for our guts to digest. These acids also lower the bread's glycaemic index; glucose is released at a slower rate so insulin spikes are avoided. Additionally, vitamins and minerals in the flour are made more available to the body, meaning sourdough is better for us and is the reason why so many gluten-intolerant and health-conscious bread-lovers are switching to it.
Celia Hay's sourdough starter and bread recipe
Cooking with it
- Tofu sourdough burger with peanut sauce
- Mixed mushrooms on sourdough
- Chicken livers on sourdough toast
- Lemongrass-cured snapper bites
Miso is a Japanese seasoning paste commonly made from fermented soy beans, as well as rice or barley. It forms the base of miso soup which is the popular accompaniment served with most meals in Japan. You can enjoy a bowl of miso as an instant and very satisfying meal or use it to add depth of flavour (called umami) to dishes such as soups, stir-fries, salad dressings and marinades. Care should be taken when consuming miso - it is high in salt so those watching sodium levels should exercise restraint.
Making miso in the traditional way is an involved process - we recommend buying miso paste (available at most supermarkets and Asian grocers) and using it in one of these recipes.
Cooking with it
Finish off with a fermented drink
Kombucha is an effervescent fermented drink made from sweetened organic black tea (made with filtered water) and a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, otherwise known as a scoby.
Homemade ginger beer also uses the lacto-fermentation process to create a fizzy drink that the whole family will love. A ginger bug (or ginger beer plant) is first grown and this culture of bacteria and yeast, along with ground or fresh ginger, is used to ferment a liquid concoction of water, sugar and lemons. Along with the commonly-known health benefits of ginger being anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea, naturally fermented ginger beer will deliver a dose of probiotics and enzymes to aid digestion.
Kefir is a milk drink, also fermented with a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria that form grains that look like lumps of cooked rice or cauliflower. It tastes similar to drinking yoghurt and can also be made from water, coconut water or non-dairy milks.
Read more on SCOBY drinks and other fermented foods.