When people think of their favorite foods, a few of the most common responses are chocolate, cheese, and fresh-baked bread. What is the main connector of foods like these? They have all undergone fermentation, which can be summarized as ANCIENT FOOD MAGIC. Or something along those lines.
Before refrigeration (i.e. for the past 19,900+ years or so), humans found all kinds of ways to preserve their hunts and harvests via salting, dehydrating or fermenting. At its core, fermentation is a natural process where various bacteria and yeasts break down carbohydrates in the food or beverage resulting in a product with a completely different taste and extended shelf-life — think of cow’s milk transforming into parmesan cheese.
This process of utilizing yeast and bacteria is one of the first instances of humans cultivating other living things to make their lives easier (Plus, they figured out yeast makes beer!). The controlled process of fermenting food is found in almost every culture around the world, but has seen a huge resurgence in American food culture as delicious “superfoods.”
A 2021 Stanford School of Medicine study assigned 36 healthy adults to a 10-week trial that was either a high-fiber diet or high-fermented food diet to see how they compared. Diets rich in fermented foods such as yogurt, kombucha tea, sauerkraut, and kimchi led to an increase in microbiome diversity and a decrease in inflammatory proteins.
This means that the diet rich in fermented foods enhanced the diversity of gut microbes, which aid in digestion and nutrient absorption while decreasing signs of inflammation. The results were compounded when the subjects were given higher amounts of fermented foods, too.
While the high-fiber diets help maintain microbiota, the consumption of fermented foods and subsequent increase in microbe diversity assists with weight maintenance, naturally boosts immunity, and may reduce the risk of diabetes, cancer, chronic stress, and cardiovascular disease; at the same time, evidence shows low microbiome diversity is linked to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, and other health complications.
One of the most promising aspects of the study is that the addition of fermented foods made a rapid change in a matter of weeks compared to other diets that stretch for months or require extreme dietary changes. “Microbiota-targeted diets can change immune status, providing a promising avenue for decreasing inflammation in healthy adults,” said Christopher Gardner, Ph.D., director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.
Rhode Island has several amazing fermented food companies including, CHI Kitchen Foods and Fully Rooted Juice & Kombucha. These two women-owned brands operate out of Lorraine Mills in Pawtucket and produce high-quality, super-fresh products available at local grocery stores and farmers’ markets.
CHI Kitchen (IG: @CHIKitchenfoods ) was started by Chef and Educator Minnie Luong as a way to start her own healthy Asian food business to share a product she grew up with – fresh kimchi. Her kimchi is gluten-free and handcrafted with locally sourced (when in season) Napa cabbage, sea salt, fresh ginger, garlic, scallion, radish and the real party animal: Korean red chili flakes.
The Napa cabbage is chopped to specific measurements and salted to make it easier to control bacteria growth and to add flavor before it is rinsed off. The seasoned cabbage is mixed with an intensely aromatic spice mix and fermented at a controlled temperature for about two weeks. The final product is a zingy, savory, health-packed food that is fantastic on rice bowls, avocado toast, or simply out of the jar as a snack. They craft additional fermented treats including colorful Sesame Slaw and spicy Kimchi Pickles that offer more unique ways to enjoy the funky goodness.
Fully Rooted (IG: @FullyRootedJuice) is another local company started by juice enthusiasts Amanda Repose, Ben Aalvik, and Angelo Mollis as a way to bring simplicity back to the beverages we drink. They produce cold-pressed juice as well as all kinds of kombucha, which is a 1,000-year-old fermented tea drink. The beverage is packed with probiotics as well as some antioxidants to boost immunity.
Their brewed tea is mixed with sugar, a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), and other various flavors such as lemon, hibiscus, ginger, rose hips and more. The mix is fermented over the course of a few days, leaving very little sugar at the end, but a bright funky taste and plenty of beneficial probiotics. They also supplement some of their kombuchas with dried lions’ mane and reishi mushrooms for even more unique health benefits.
Fun fact: the English word yeast originates from the German word geist meaning ghost or spirit. Before microbiology, people thought that spirits of the dead would enter whatever is brewing and turn it into something completely different, boozing up their beer and transforming their cabbage into sauerkraut.
Now go forth and protect your palette and your body by enjoying a variety of these funkified, magical foods.
Note: Author Sam Burgess is affiliated with CHI Kitchen Foods
Miriam Lee Photographer – CHI Website
Stanford Article: https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2021/07/fermented-food-diet-increases-microbiome-diversity-lowers-inflammation