Fermentation is for more than making alcohol. Through the process of fermentation, ordinary ingredients like milk and vegetables are transformed into new foods with the help of good bacteria. A more familiar name for this type of bacteria is probiotics.
Here's a list of the top fermented foods that are a tasty way to incorporate probiotics into your diet.
Yes - this staple of your morning routine is actually fermented! Yogurt is made when bacterial cultures are added to milk to begin the process of breaking down lactose into lactic acid. The result is the thick, creamy treat with a hint of tartness that we all know and love. But this isn’t just for breakfast anymore, use it in marinades and dipping sauces, or try adding yogurt instead of mayo in chicken salad. Be sure to choose a brand that uses live cultures and has no added sugar.
Kefir is yogurt’s close culinary cousin, with a history dating back centuries to the Caucasus Mountains in Eastern Europe. To make this creamy treat, kefir grains containing multiple strains of yeast and bacteria are added to milk to begin fermentation. After 24 hours, the milk is strained, and voilà, a thick liquid that is a bit more tart than yogurt and has a distinctively fresh fizz is ready to drink or added to smoothies and sauces. Traditionally, this beverage is made with cow’s milk, but today, non-dairy alternatives can also be found.
Kombucha may be the current golden child of "foodies," but its roots run deep. This effervescent drink is made from tea and sugar that is fermented with the help of both bacteria and yeast to produce a tonic that the ancient Chinese, who began making it over 2,000 years ago, referred to as “the tea of immortality.” While the taste is an acquired one for some drinkers, the variety of flavors that now line grocery store shelves gives you a lot of options to choose from.
Sauerkraut is not just a delicious garnish for your annual Oktoberfest bratwurst, it is also a star of fermentation. This traditional German dish is made when cabbage and salt are combined and left to ferment for several days. The result has a slaw-like consistency that can stand alone as a side dish or included in dishes like perogies, stuffings, and casseroles. As an added bonus, this tasty treat will stay fresh in the fridge for months.
If sauerkraut is the fermented garnish of choice in Germany, kimchi is its equivalent in Korean culture, where the dish has been prepared for nearly 3,000 years. Using the same base vegetable—cabbage—and adding plenty of spices (think ginger, red pepper and garlic), this fermented concoction transforms into a condiment with a distinct, often spicy flavor. It’s a dish so iconic that UNESCO added it to the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity List in 2013.
A staple of Japanese cuisine, miso is made when cooked soybeans are combined with koji mold, salt and a dollop of miso saved from an earlier batch. This recipe is not for the impatient—the blend takes at least a few months to ferment properly and can be left for up to several years. But once the delicious result is ready, it can be used in pretty much any dish. Whether you’re turning your salty and sweet miso into a soup of its own, using it as a spice, or spreading it on top of your entrée as a garnish, it will add a dash of umami to pretty much any meal.
We all know about traditional pickles—cucumbers soaked in salt and water—but did you know that you can pickle just about any vegetable? When you add salt (and any desired herbs) to your carrots, cauliflower, or green beans and leave them to ferment, the result is a delicious snack similar to sauerkraut or kimchi. A word of caution—not all pickles sold at the grocery store are fermented, so don’t forget to check the label.
Kvass is a bubbly drink that has been consumed in Eastern Europe and Russia for centuries. In fact, the first written evidence of people enjoying kvass dates back to 989 AD. Made when yeast is added to a grain (rye bread is a popular choice) and left to ferment, kvass is known for its sour, tangy taste that is similar to kombucha.
Vegetarians and vegans have been singing the praises of this meat-substitute for years. Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh has a texture similar to tofu and a taste that, while a bit bland on its own, makes it the perfect canvas for all your favorite seasonings, spices, and sauces.
Created using a similar process as pickles and sauerkraut, fruit chutney is made by combining your favorite fruit with salt, water, and any additional nuts and spices that strike your fancy. When your fruit chutney is ready to go, it can be used as a sauce or lend a little dash of sweet and spicy to any savory dish, like grilled pork tenderloin. Not only is it tart and delicious, it can keep for up to a year in your refrigerator…if you don’t eat it all first!