According to a recent study conducted by AIIMS-Bhubhneshwar, fermented water rice or “pakhala”, the traditional food of Orissa (also eaten in many eastern states) that is made by adding water to rice and allowing it to ferment overnight is found to boost immunity and tackle malnutrition.
Microbes present in water rice chew the complex carbohydrate and form short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which besides being a source of energy also have effective anti-viral and anti inflammatory properties.
Fermented foods are indeed the way forward. Yet, somehow we have forgotten about them, and eat them only sparingly these days. This despite the fact that our traditional diets always placed a lot of emphasis on them and included them regularly in diet.
Remember that omnipresent bowl of curd and a small dollop of a homemade pickle in the thalis… no meal was considered complete without them.
It’s time to bring these ‘good for us’ foods back in our diet as research worldwide is now making it clear that our gut needs a regular infusion of good bacteria to stay healthy and disease free, and the easiest and most practical way to source these is via fermented foods.
Fermented foods besides paving the way to a healthier gut by restoring the proper balance of bacteria in the gut, also help us absorb the nutrients we are eating via other foods better.
That’s a win-win as ayurveda (and now modern science too) believes that the key to a longer, healthier life lies in intestinal health - keep the intestines healthy and happy, your body will stay the same, it is said.
Plus they are easy to digest, are loaded with multiple good for us micronutrients, and help spice up our taste buds too with their exciting tangy-sour taste. And yes, they are brilliant for our immunity too, and are in fact the best immune booster you can have.
There are lots of traditional fermented foods still eaten across the country like the fermented radish root pieces called sinki in north east, gundruk soup eaten in Arunachal pradesh, fermented rai (cures stomach pain and gas trouble).
Similarly all cultures worldwide too have their own stock of fermented foods: Bonny Clabber (Scotland), Filmjölk (Sweden), Villi (Finland), Matsoni (Russia and Georgia), Doenjang (korea) and Blaand, a traditional Scottish drink are some popular names.
While all these are not available in India yet, and the regional ones are unfortunately getting lost, there are lots of other humble probiotic foods which are easily accessible and can/must be made a part of our daily diet to reap the benefits.
The Dairy Benefit
Yoghurt is the commonest fermented food. It is milk that has been cultured with two very specific strains of bacteria: streptoccus thermophilus and lactobacillus bulgaricus and must be made part of our main meals, everyday.
Most packaged yoghurts may not contain enough ‘active and live’ cultures (of bacteria), so it makes sense to check labels carefully, or set your own.
Buttermilk is a by-product of butter churning. In this lactose is converted by bacteria into lactic acid, so it is better digested even by those who are lactose intolerant compared to regular milk. Most of us are already familiar with it.
Homemade pickles made by fermenting vegetables and fruits are loaded with probiotics. Most dishes of South-Indian cuisine are rich sources of probiotics. Idli, dosa, appam, dhokla, uttapam are all made by fermenting rice and lentils, which makes them high in live cultures of the good bacteria.
Kanji a traditional drink make with black carrots, mustard seeds, sea salt and water is fermented for a week - and is thus loaded with good bacteria.
Kullu, a fermented drink made with buttermilk and wheat in Himachal Pradesh.
Kefir is made by fermenting whole milk and has a strikingly tart taste. It originated in Russia.
Miso, the salty paste used in Japanese cooking is made with a special koji culture, rice or barley, and soybeans, and is full of essential minerals, like potassium, and multiple microorganisms that boost health substantially. Incorporate miso soup in your diet.
Tempeh is originally from Indonesia and is made by a natural culturing process that binds soybeans into a cake form. It contains even more protein and fiber than the more popular tofu, and is great added crumbled to salads, soups, casseroles.
Kimchi and Sauerkraut are interesting too.
Sauerkraut is made by culturing chopped or shredded cabbage in its own juice or brine solution. Its popular Korean version is known as kimchi.
Studies show that it has a powerful impact on brain health, including depression and anxiety.
(Kavita Devgan is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico), Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 Kickass Traditional Habits for a Fitter You (Rupa) and Fix it with foods.)
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