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A Revolution is Fomenting in Formented Foods

Naturally lacto-fermented foods are making a resurgence as their health and culinary benefits become better known in our culture. Most of the world’s people have enjoyed foods fermented as a means of preservation before refrigeration. The delicious flavor and enhanced nutritional value are a bonus.

Although we often think of sauerkraut, which means “sour cabbage”, as European in origin, evidence links it to workers on the Great Wall of China more than 2,000 years ago. Modern civilizations have gotten away from live lactofermented foods mostly for economic reasons, sacrificing texture, taste and nutritional value for shelf stability, consistency and reduced costs of production and distribution.

Vegetables are equipped with a plentiful supply of bacteria that produce lactic acid. When placed in a mild, 1 percent brine solution, lactobacilli thrive, producing an acid environment that prevents harmful bacteria from gaining the upper hand. “The bacteria create vitamin C and certain B vitamins as byproducts of their metabolism. They digest parts of the cabbage, and as part of their digestion, the vitamins are made,” says Alex Lewin, fermented food guru and author of Real Food Fermentation. “So you get more vitamin C from sauerkraut than just from cabbage; it’s sort of a super raw food in that way.”

Our gastrointestinal tract contains 100 trillion bacteria, weighing from three to five pounds, according to a 2012 article in the scientific journal Nature. They constitute about 10 percent of our dry body weight, and with 50 to 70 percent of our immune system residing in the colon, good gut health is critical. There is a symbiosis between humans and the microbes in our gut. The diversity of our intestinal microflora is critical to digestion, proper functioning of our immune system and even mental health.

Consuming fermented foods increases the biodiversity of the bacterial community in our digestive tract, creating a more stable ecosystem that helps protect us from pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella and the overgrowth of yeast. Acetylcholine, made during fermentation, stimulates the peristaltic movement of the intestines, aiding regular bowel movements. This neurochemical also affects the nervous system, leading to a more peaceful state of mind, reduced blood pressure and improved sleep.

Fermented vegetables also contain large quantities of fiber, as well as friendly bacteria. The fiber acts as a prebiotic, providing the food and environment for microflora to flourish. Eating two tablespoons a day of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi or fermented carrots is a tasty way to boost health.

Jeff Ziebelman is the co-founder of Zymbiotics, a maker of fermented foods. For more information, visit

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