All this talk of microbes, fungus and mothers had us curious to learn more about fermented foods. So we asked Molly Murray, chef and co-owner at Cleveland’s Wake Robin Fermented Foods, to share a bit about her favorites.
She started by explaining that all fermented foods are based on ancient recipes and are, at some level, pre-digested, meaning that it is easier for our bodies to assimilate all of the nutrients in these foods than in raw or simply cooked versions of these ingredients. Those that are probiotic contain healthy bacteria and enzymes that have been shown to improve digestion and overall health.
Kimchi and sauerkraut
Kimchi and sauerkraut are two examples lacto-fermented vegetables found in cultures across the world. While both sauerkraut and kimchi begin with cabbage as a base, the techniques vary. Born of necessity, these recipes have endured the test of time and their powerful flavors are enjoying a contemporary comeback. Use them in sandwiches and hearty suppers, and as crunchy appetizers or a quick healthy snack. To ensure the purchase of a probiotic product, look for unpasteurized (not canned) products at farmers markets and in the refrigerated section of grocery stores.
Kombucha has captured the attention of millions. It is tart, effervescent, refreshing and delicious. It comes in so many flavors, you’re bound to find one that appeals to you. This lightly caffeinated fermented sweet tea is a terrific pick-me-up, especially as an alternative to soda. While the internet is filled with unfounded claims of kombucha’s miraculous powers, there is no doubt that it is a hydrating, probiotic tonic. When you’re craving bubbles, opt for kombucha.
A cured bean paste known for its deep umami flavor, miso is a popular ingredient in marinades, salad dressings, sauces, spreads or the well-known, miso soup. Just be sure not to boil the miso as this will kill the helpful bacteria and enzymes. In cooked recipes, mix the thick paste into a bit of cool water, then add to hot liquids just before serving.
Tempeh is made by growing a special fungus on formed cakes of beans and grains, binding them into a delectable protein-rich food that is more digestible than its original components. Think of it as a magical combination of beans and mushrooms in one. Tempeh is always cooked, often marinated, and is delicious when sautéed in small strips, then included in stews, rice bowls and wraps.
The facts of yogurt’s health benefits are no new news. But as a fermented, probiotic food that is available at almost every grocery store in the nation, it is probably the most accessible ferment around. These days, many yogurt options are made from organic, grassfed or even local dairy, all of which add nutritional and environmental benefits to the products. Beware of yogurts with excessively high sugar levels, as well as those that do not include live strains of healthy bacteria—read your labels.