Kombu-what? Understanding Fermented Foods

Kombu-what? Understanding Fermented Foods

by Desiree Nielsen, Registered Dietitian

It seems that health foodies everywhere are in love with fermented foods and yet, fermented foods are nothing new. Most traditional food cultures feature at least one fermented food on their menu. Koreans eat kimchi, a spicy fermented cabbage dish, at every meal. Indonesians enjoy a fermented soybean cake called tempeh; and Elie Metchnikoff famously ascribed Bulgarians’ longevity to yogurt over one hundred years ago.

So what are fermented foods? They are foods that have been cultured with bacteria, yeast or fungus. For example, lacto-bacteria ferment when they metabolize foods, creating lactic acid in the process. It is the lactic acid that preserves the food. They don’t do it for fun…this is how the bacteria live!

Name that fermented Foods!

Kombucha: fermented (yeast+ bacteria) tea

Tempeh: fermented (fungus) soybean cake

Yogurt: fermented (bacteria) milk

Kefir: fermented (yeast + bacteria) milk

Bio-K+: Product contains 50 billion probiotic bacteria

Miso: fermented (fungus) soybean paste

Tamari: fermented (fungus) soybean condiment

Natto: fermented (bacteria) soybeans

Kimchi: spicy fermented (bacteria) vegetables

Sauerkraut: fermented (bacteria) cabbage

Fermentation is not central to our food history because it is good for us – it was an important way of preserving food. When you culture milk, which perishes quickly, you can make yogurt, which will last longer. It’s the same with vegetables. Fermentation allows you to create a product that you can keep long after the harvest has ended. The health effects are an unintended bonus…as are the complex new flavours that fermentation creates.

Now, you might be thinking, “Should I eat fermented foods to get my probiotics?” Not exactly. While fermented foods may contain live bacteria, the strain, the potency and the health effects are not guaranteed. You can’t drink a kombucha and fix your irritable bowel syndrome.  Fermented foods, if you are lucky, contain some probiotics…but they aren’t a probiotic in and of themselves.

This is where 100% probiotic supplements come in. Probiotics harness what is found in nature – beneficial bacteria – and concentrate it to a level where it might have a more immediate influence on your intestinal flora. A probiotic like Bio-K+ is unique in that it bridges both worlds: a live, drinkable fermented food that is clinically proven to have a beneficial effect on humans.

Where do fermented foods fit into your daily life? While not exactly therapeutic, they are a healthful addition to any pro-digestion diet. Eat them everyday, alongside your probiotic, to foster good health.

Desiree Nielsen
About the author
Desiree Nielsen, Registered Dietitian
Desiree Nielsen is a registered dietitian, author and host of the vegetarian cooking sshow, The Urban Vegetarian. Desiree takes an evidence-based, integrative approach to her dietetics work, with a focus on anti-inflammatory, plant-centredcentered nutrition and digestive health.
View all articles by Desiree Nielsen

Read more articles