10 Must Eat Fermented Foods For a Healthy Gut
Are you looking to improve your gut health? We have compiled a comprehensive list of ten fermented foods / drinks which you can incorporate into your diet to increase your gut health.
With new technology available, modern research has been overturning more and more fascinating evidence of the importance of bacteria and microbes within the body. This is quite a big break for bacteria, as they have been cast as the bad guys almost as soon as they were discovered!
Why We Need Fermented Foods
Fermented foods have taken a bit of a back seat during the past 80 years or so. With the widespread use of chemical means of preserving foods, fermentation fell into a state of disuse. It is still used for integral foods such as beer, wine, other alcohols and cheese. However often the end products of these foods are pasteurized and thereby devoid of the usual benefits inherent to fermented foods.
This disuse of fermentation for preservation of food has a few unforeseen spin off effects. Fermented foods are very nutritious and act as a potent source of probiotics. If you are unfamiliar with the invisible but incredibly crucial role that probiotics play in the body let’s take a look at why these are so incredibly important to good health.
The Unseen Crucial Role that Probiotics Play Within the Body
As it turns out, bacteria and other microbes do a whole host of vital work within the body, and without them we could not survive for very long. The gut is the hub of this bacterial activity, being naturally home to over a 1000 species of bacteria. The gut bacteria are responsible for carrying out most of the body’s work associated with digestion, absorption and assimilation.
Protection Against Viruses and Pathogens
In addition these hardworking and supportive good bacteria also make up 80% of our immune systems. Yes, 80% of our immune system lives within our digestive tract. This might sound far out if you are like me and were under the impression that our immune system is located in our armpits. By this I mean those mysterious glands which form part of the endocrine system.
However, once the science is explained it all makes perfect sense. Most pathogens enter the body through the mouth and nose. They then try to take hold in some part of the digestive tract – often starting with a sore throat. If the probiotic microbes in the digestive tract are present in full force, these pathogens do not get much chance to take hold. The probiotic microbes which line the digestive tract literally crowd them out and make it very difficult for them to take up residence.
This is why probiotic microbes form such a large part of the immune system. They play a huge role in protecting us from ailments ranging from the common cold to salmonella.
Uptake of Nutrients
Besides this role they of course are pivotal in digesting and taking up the nutrients from the food we eat. Which means that the overall health and strength of the body relies heavily on these microbes to be present. It does not matter how healthy a diet and how many superfoods one eats – if we do not have the microbes present to absorb the nutrition!
10 Fermented Foods for Boosting Gut Health
So, we need to eat fermented foods. But which ones? While some fermented foods have a larger diversity of probiotics than others, in reality they will all do good. The key with fermented foods is to try and find the ones which you really enjoy – maybe even get addicted to! This way you can incorporate them into your diet with ease. Usually the first thing that springs to mind when there is any talk of probiotics is yoghurt. However there are many other fermented products which you can choose from – if perhaps you are not a huge fan of yoghurt for example.
Let’s take a look.
Sauerkraut is a classic traditional food which is actually a potent probiotic ferment! Of course, for sauerkraut to have gut boosting benefits it must be unpasteurized. Depending on where you live, it can be that most brands of sauerkraut are pasteurized. However if this is the case, sauerkraut is incredibly easy to make at home. It is also a great way to use up excess cabbages!
Sauerkraut can be easily incorporated into salads or served as a side along with cooked food. Stick it into sandwiches, sprinkle it on buddha bowls, there are lots of opportunities to add into a meal or snack. And of course there is the traditional Germanic way of eating it alongside mashed potato and icebine! You could even add it into soups and stews, but remember that the high heat can kill off the probiotics, so you will just be getting the flavor and nutrients.
Yoghurt is a popular fermented food in western diets, however unfortunately the majority of brands are pasteurized and often loaded with sugar. It is however possible to buy raw brands of yoghurt – they just might need some finding. Try your local farmer’s market or health shop. You can also easily make your own yoghurt, all you need is a starter and milk. A starter is basically a bit of ready made live yoghurt. You can either purchase starters online, or simply use a bit of plain live yoghurt from a brand that you like. For full guidelines on how to make regular yoghurt have a look at this post. If you are a fan of thicker and creamier greek yogurt, we have too.
Yoghurt can be eaten along with most breakfasts such as fruit, cereal and granola. It also acts as a great base for smoothies and shakes. On the savory side yoghurt can be used in salad dressings, dips and spreads.
Very similar to yoghurt, kefir has become pretty popular. It has a wide variety of probiotic microbes, and is easily used like yoghurt. Kefir is not as thick as yoghurt and could be compared to drinking yoghurt, or thick milk. Kefir is not as widely found in stores as yoghurt, but you should be able to find it ts health stores and markets.
As with yoghurt, you can also easily make your own kefir. All you need are some kefir grains and milk. Kefir grains are the culture which will inject your milk with all of the probiotic bacteria which will ferment it. They are called grains because they start off looking like small grains of cauliflower!
Like yoghurt, kefir makes for a great breakfast ingredient and can be wonderful in smoothies. You can also put it into salad dressings and dips the same as yoghurt. For some inspiration to get you going on how you could include kefir into your diet, here are some of our kefir recipes!
Onion Dip with Milk Kefir
Avocado with Chipotle Milk Kefir Sauce
Creamy Milk Kefir Dill Dip
Fruit Medley with Kefir Dessert Topping
Apple Pie Kefir Smoothie
Banana Mango Kefir Smoothie
Chocolate Kefir Frosty
Good Morning Kefir Muffins
Milk Kefir Dessert Sauce
Milk Kefir Dill Dip
Sour Cream Sauce with Milk Kefir
Pumpkin Flavored Kefir Smoothie
Water kefir is milk kefir’s soda pop sister. Water kefir is not quite as rich as milk kefir in diversity of bacterial species – but it is delicious! Personally I prefer water kefir to milk kefir and find that I can drink a lot more per day than milk kefir. It takes 2 days to brew, can taste great plain or flavored, and has a beautiful fine fizziness. Really and truly nature’s own probiotic soda pop.
Water kefir can be bought sometimes at health shops and markets. However it is so easy to make at home, that trying out this ferment is a no brainer. The fermentation time is super short, putting the ferment together is super simple, and the results are sure to wow the whole family. Again, you will need to purchase some kefir grains. You can do so online, and be making your own water kefir in couple of days. Besides the culture, you only need sugar and water, and optionally fruit or fruit juice for flavoring.
Water kefir is not usually used in cooking, but it can make some really great appearances in cold desserts or sauces. For drinking straight there are many recipes for flavoring which are delicious. Here are some of our flavoring and culinary recipes to get you started.
Ten Fabulous Ways to Flavor Water Kefir
Orange Zest Water Kefir
Water Kefir Punch
Pomegranate Blueberry Infused Water Kefir
Raspberry Water Kefir
Vanilla Water Kefir
Blueberry Water Kefir
Berry Gelatin From Water Kefir
Canned Fruit Syrup Water Kefir
Water Kefir Honey Mustard Sauce
Water Kefir Ketchup
Kombucha is another fermented drink which can take the place of soda pop. Originating in the East where it was drunk for its invigorating powers, it has now started to be pretty popular in Western countries as well. In the US there are a variety of different brands to choose from, and you can but it at pretty much any large store in the drinks section. You can also find micro brewed kombucha at farmer’s markets and the like.
When buying commercially produced kombucha always check to make sure that it is raw and unpasteurized. Additionally, if you are trying to minimize sugar in your diet, check the nutritional information to make sure that it does not contain too much additional sugar.
If you want to save some pennies and make your own kombucha, all you need is a culture (often termed a SCOBY), black tea, sugar and some glass jars. Cultures can usually bought or gifted from any one you might know who makes kombucha, or easily purchased online. Here is a post detailing some reputable places to purchase SCOBYs, Best Places to Buy a Kombucha SCOBY. And for full guidelines on how to brew up some kombucha check out our beginner’s guide to kombucha brewing.
Kombucha contains a good variety of bacteria and yeasts, and if you like the flavor can easily be incorporated into your day to day diet. There are lots of ways to flavor kombucha with fruit and spices – and you can even cook with it! Here are some ideas for flavoring kombucha, as well as a few recipes.
Elderberry Kombucha – A Delicious Immune-Boosting Kombucha Recipe
Apple Cinnamon Kombucha Delight
Chocolate Raspberry Bliss Kombucha
Toasted Strawberry Kombucha
Pumpkin Spice Kombucha
Apricot Flavored Kombucha
Cherry and almond Flavored Kombucha
Berry Berry Kombucha
Mango Strawberry Flavored Kombucha
Lemon and Ginger Flavored Kombucha
Pear with Ginger and Clove Flavored Kombucha
Greens ‘Elixer of Life’ Kombucha
Cooking with Kombucha
How to Use Kombucha Vinegar as a Brine
Kombucha and Parmesan Salad Dressing
Make-Your-Own Kombucha Salad Dressing
Kombucha Italian Dressing
Pork Cutlets Marinated in Kombucha Smothered in a Cream Sauce
Italian Sausage with Kombucha, Peppers and Onions
Kombucha with Mustard and Garlic Dressing
Kombucha Barbecue Sauce
Lacto Fermented Pickles
Made using the same method as sauerkraut (which is classed as a lacto fermented pickle), lacto fermented pickles are a super potent probiotic. The reason why these old fashioned pickles are now often termed ‘lacto fermented’ is because they are preserved by and full of ‘lactic acid bacteria’. These bacteria are naturally occurring on the surface of fruits and vegetables. If kept in brine, these multiply and take over the ferment. The salt water keeps out pathogens and mold, allowing the lactic acid bacteria to run the show. This means that microbes which are responsible for decay cannot get it – and this is why the vegetables do not go off.
Naturally fermented pickled vegetables which do not contain vinegar or preservatives are not that common to find in stores. You might come across some at a farmer’s market or a health store. Fortunately however they are super simple to make your self – and can be a great way to use up excess veg! The basis behind fermenting vegetables and pickling them the old fashioned way goes like this:
- Chop and pack your vegetables in a jar.
- Cover fully with brine (salty water) and screw on the lid.
- Allow to ferment for any where between a few days and a few weeks.
Simple right? If you want to find out more about how to make your own probiotic pickles, have a look at our guide How to Ferment Vegetables: The Ultimate Guide.
If you like pickles, then fermented vegetables are a really great way to get a daily dose of probiotics into your system. You can make things like pickled onions, and even a probiotic version of ketchup! By the way, the very first ketchup there was originated in Asia, and was either fermented tomato or fish paste.
Recipe Ideas for Fermented Vegetables
Besides these traditional types of pickles, you can try fermenting almost any vegetable. Here are some of our recipes to get you started.
Like sauerkraut, kimchi also falls under the category of lacto fermented vegetables. Kimchi is a traditional food in the East, predominating in Korea. There are hundreds of documented variations of it and it forms a part of most meals in Korea. Kimchi is usually made out of cabbage and radishes but other vegetables might also be included. The vegetable pieces are usually spiced with a mixture of flavorings such as chilli powder, ginger, garlic etc and salt, and then bottled to ferment.
Like other lacto fermented vegetables, kimchi is rich in probiotics, and has all of the health benefits associated with the vegetables out of which it is made, as well as those from the spices. If you are a fan of hot, spicy, tangy and umami, then kimchi might be a great item to include in your diet.
Kimchi is not as well known in the West as sauerkraut, but it is possible to find it in some stores. You’ll probably meet with success if you look in a speciality store dealing in Eastern ingredients and products. Of course, always check with a probiotic food to make sure that it is unpasteurized and live, to make sure that you are getting what you are looking for.
If you want to make kimchi yourself, it is just as easy as making other lacto fermented pickles. Have a look at our guide How to Make Easy Kimchi at Home for instructions.
Kvass is a fermented drink originating in Eastern Europe. It is usually made with either beets or bread. Beet kvass has the signature ruby red color and earthy taste of beets, combined with the fizz and flavor of being fermented. Bread kvass is made using bread crusts and has a taste quite similar to beer. While both of these ferments are probiotic and beneficial, beet kvass has become more popular in health circles. This could be due to the celebrate nutritiousness of beets.
Like many fermented products, kvass is not the easiest thing to find in stores. However, you can find it online on Amazon, and perhaps at a Eastern European or Russian grocery store. Some Russian restaurants make their own kvass in house as well.
But like the other ferments listed here, kvass too is simple to make at home. Beet kvass is made by chopping up raw beets, adding them to brine, and allowing fermentation to occur for between 2 days and 1 weeks. Bread kvass is made in much the same way. The bread is toasted and then combined with a saline solution of pure water. A lactic acid starter is usually used, such as liquid from fermented vegetables, or a bit of whey, kefir etc. The mix is allowed to ferment for between 3 and 7 days.
For full instruction on how to make bread and beet kvass – and lots of other interesting info – check out How to Make Kvass.
Both beet and bread kvass are probiotic in nature and are nutritious. Beet kvass has long been considered a tonic in its native countries, and carries with it the blood boosting properties of beets as well at its other nutritional and probiotic qualities. For more info on the specific health benefits of kvass, have a look at Benefits of Kvass. If you are wondering how kvass compares to kombucha in terms of taste and health benefits, check out Kvass Versus Kombucha
Did you know that homemade, old fashioned ginger beer is a probiotic? Yes! Ginger beer which is made the old school way at home is just as much of a probiotic ‘superfood’ drink as kombucha or water kefir! And who does not like ginger beer? Sharp, sweet and spicy from the ginger, ginger beer is a pretty easy thing to get into your diet – not to mention your family’s diet if you are trying to get them onto fermented foods as well.
Most ginger beer in stores is either artificially flavored, or, if originally fermented, has been pasteurized. Take note that if the bottle or can says ‘natural’ this does not mean that it is unpasteurized and still probiotic. It merely means that there aren’t any harmful chemical additives contained within.
If however you see a ginger beer or ginger ale sold in small scale at markets, road stalls or at health shops, there is a good chance that this is the good old fashioned homemade stuff. Reed’s also makes a natural version and you can buy from them online at Amazon if their products are not available in store near you.
If you are thinking of making you own ginger beer, here is a post detailing how to do it, and how to make a ‘ginger bug’ which is the probiotic starter needed to kickstart fermentation .
Just when you thought it didn’t get any better – yes – real root beer is also a probiotic drink! Traditionally root beer was made using roots, berries and spices. These were put through a process of fermentation, and the end result was a spicy natural soda pop. Old fashioned root beer originated from the indigenous peoples of North America who made root based beverages for health tonics.
Most root beers sold today are sad imitations of their previous fermented versions. Synthetic soda pop varieties are loaded with sugar and do not contain any healthful elements. There are however still places which make old fashioned root beer. Microbreweries and health shops might stock it, and artisan style food places. Reed’s also makes a natural root beer. If you cannot find any Reed’s products near you, you can order their brew on Amazon.
Making your own root beer is also not too complicated. You will need to source the specific ingredients, and then put them through the basic process of fermentation. You can purchase premixed root beer spice packets online, or buy the spices individually and make up your own mix. For more detailed information have a look at our guide How to Make a Real Root Beer.
As you can see, if you are interested in getting into eating fermented foods, there are many to choose from. Some are simply the old fashioned versions of family favorites, like ginger and root beer. Others like kombucha and kimchi come from the East and are busy gaining popularity in Western circles.
Besides these ten, there are of course numerous other ferments to try. We are busy working on a post which will detail over 60 fermented foods and drinks from around the world. So keep your eyes peeled! From these ten however, you should be able to pick out a few which you would like to try and think you will enjoy.
As mentioned a few times in this article, most simple home ferments like the ones listed here are easy to make. Fermentation might sound like rocket science before you get going. However once you start with one ferment, you soon get the hang of it.
A common concern is whether it is safe or not to do home fermentation. Yes it is! If done properly, the beneficial microbes which you are working with will protect your food from pathogens. And ultimately be a source of probiotics for your body.
If you do not have the time or inclination to do your own fermenting, then you can do an added good of supporting small scale makers of fermented products. Unpasteurized food and drink is usually more expensive than their shelf stable pasteurized counterparts. However the benefits of the probiotics which you will be consuming, should outweigh the additional cost. In fact, the extra expenditure could even save you money in the long run because you might not end up at the GP so often!
So, however you choose to do it, get those probiotic fermented foods in! : )