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Health & Flavour, All in One: What’s Up With Fermented Foods?

What started as a Kombucha trend has now reached Kefir. Kimchi is the pickle of choice, and sauerkraut is now 'it'.

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All of a sudden, you’re hearing ‘microbial growth’, ‘enzymatic action’, ‘gut health’ and the mystical science of ‘zymology’.

All of it actually boils down to a science you have been a part of for generations and probably never gave it a lick of thought. We’re talking ‘fermented foods’ and they’re in vogue like never before.

What started as a Kombucha trend has now reached Kefir. Kimchi is the pickle of choice, and sauerkraut is now sold locally, online.

These are trendy foods that have brought the focus back on a process that humans have been practising for thousands of years. There is evidence of ancient alcoholic beverages, preservation techniques practised on various types of dairy milks, fish and vegetables that supports the fact that fermentation is actually an ancient technique.

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In Our Kitchens From Ages Ago

When it boils down to semantics, cheese, yogurt and breads are all essentially foods that were produced through a fermentation process.

If you look at the Indian culinary landscape, then the process of fermentation extends from ‘dhokla’ batter to ‘dosa’ batter, ‘khameeri roti’ and even the beloved, ‘jalebi’.

Fermentation as a process isn’t a new concept, it’s just being revisited to make new products, bringing the science back to the forefront and making it a talking point but does that mean that it’s a fad?

The answer is, fermented foods are not necessarily just a fad! Just because a set of foods become trendy doesn’t mean there is no merit in their journey to the top.

The first thing that works in favour of fermented foods is that some of them are age old, a time when the purpose was more about lengthening shelf life, so these foods can be stored for longer periods of time.

Progress has allowed us to keep food for longer with the help of additives and preservatives which is counter productive when it comes to health, so perhaps, revisiting ‘fermentation’ as a process is a good idea.

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Fermented Foods From Across The Asian Culture

Kimchi is the perfect example of using fermentation as a preservation technique, in turn the final product is also rich in gut healthy probiotics that aid digestion and maintain a balance in the body’s gut flora.

Every food culture has an ingredient that has been fermented, in Japan, there is Miso, fermented soybean paste. As a food culture, Japanese cuisine has mastered the art of fermentation with products like soy sauce, natto (fermented soy beans), umeboshi (dried and fermented plums) but miso has made it to menus across the world, even those that don’t serve Japanese food.

The sweet savoury funk of Miso is unique yet very palatable. Considered a complete source of protein, Miso paste is heavy in probiotics too, high in salt, it is often used as a salting ingredient in soups, stews, and marinades.

Fermented soybeans aren’t unique to just the far east, Hawaijar, found in Manipur is made by fermenting cooked soybeans, it has an unusual flavour and stickiness, it is said to regulate inflammation in the body.

Within Asia, we can attribute Kombucha to China, a drink that’s made by fermenting black or green tea with yeast and sugar which makes a bubbly beverage that balances gut health in a way that boosts the immune system.

Though high in sugars, measured intake of Kombucha has shown favourable results in the overall health of people who consume it on a regular basis.

In Indonesia, the most common fermented food is Tempeh, made with cooked soybeans and a live mold called ‘rhizopus’, the natural culturing results in a cake like cheese block that can be sliced or cubed and used as an ingredient in various dishes. Tempeh isn’t just fermented; it is vegan and gluten free too.
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From The European Ovens

In Europe, fermentation is seen primarily in vegetables, dairy, and fish. The most common is sauerkraut of course, a product of Germany, this pickle is made using a simple and abundant vegetable like cabbage with the aid of lactic acid.

This has proven to have several health benefits, it is antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, stalls inflammation in the body, and has sufficient amount in probiotics in a regular serving.

Sauerkraut is easy to make and very versatile to use, it can be used in salads, sandwiches, stews, and also used as a starter to ferment other vegetables.

Further north, you will find products like Kefir and Smetana, where dairy is fermented. Kefir grains are a milk byproduct, a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria, these grains are used with water or milk to make a fermented beverage much like the Turkish ayran in terms of taste profile but Kefir has more health benefits since is it is laden with probiotics.

Smetana is similar to French crème fraiche, it is made by fermenting milk in a warm space for a few days. It is easy to digest and aids digestion too, reduces inflammation and strengthens the immune system, it is a versatile ingredient used in both sweet and savoury dishes, from salads to desserts.

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Flavour & Health: The Easier Food Hack

India being one of the oldest food cultures in the world has fermented foods in the cuisine of practically every state. Starting with ‘kanji’ made with black carrots, asafoetida and spices, being seasonal enhances its food value, it is made during the monsoon season when several gut related health conditions prevail.

Being fermented, kanji aids digestions and the probiotic nature of the drink adds to gut health. Like Kimchi, India has ‘gundruk’, fermented leafy greens (like mustard leaves) found across the north east of India and parts of Uttarakhand.

Packed with Vitamin C, a bowl of gundruk soup helps with inflammation and is an excellent remedy for colds and coughs, research has also suggested that the consumption helps with alleviating heart disease and diabetes.

At the helm of it all is perhaps the most common Indian food, yoghurt, the best example of fermentation in India. Made by using a starter of the same product, yoghurt is a remedy for all digestion related health conditions, it is used to cool the body in Indian summers and used as an ingredient to make warm curries and soups (jhoi, kadhi, mor kozhumbu, etc) in cooler weather.

To summarise, fermented foods are essential for gut health which in turn is essential to good immunity.

By adding a variety of fermented foods to your diet, it is easier to main good gut health, you can do this by including dishes that have flavour and food value versus taking artificial supplements.

Like all foods, everything is beneficial in moderation, so find the right balance of the foods that suit your dietary pattern and palate and start eating healthier with every meal.

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Bonus Recipe For Spicy Sauerkraut (Vegan)

Ingredients:

Makes: 500 gms

  • ½ kg Cabbage, thinly sliced

  • 1 large Red Onion, thinly sliced

  • 2 thick Orange Slices, cut into half

  • 2 tbsp Ginger, sliced

  • 1 tsp Caraway Seeds

  • 3-4 Dry Red Chillies, break one & add so the seeds spill

  • 6-8 Peppercorns, preferably white, crush a few and add to enhance flavour

  • 1.5 tbsp Sea Salt

Method: Place the sliced cabbage in a large mixing bowl, salt well and leave for 2-3 hours for it to wilt and for it to release moisture. Now add all the other ingredients and gently toss it all together.

Store the sauerkraut in a large dry, clean, glass jar, press it down and close the lid. Leave at room temperature to ferment for up to 2-3 days in warm weather or 5-6 days in cooler weather.

You may need to press it down every day so the ingredients remain submerged in the brine that has released. For tropical places it is best to refrigerate the sauerkraut in about a week of fermenting.

Uses:

  • As a side salad

  • In a sandwich

  • In a dip

  • In a salad

  • In a stir fry

  • In a burger instead of lettuce

  • In soup to add extra flavour

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Health   Food   Healthy Foods 

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