Do fermented foods call to mind dusty old jars of pickles in your grandmother’s basement? If they do, your attitude toward preserved products needs an update. Fermented foods may be months old, but this trend is anything but stale. Pickled foods are the new darlings of the culinary world for their sustainability, eco- and cost-consciousness and surprising health benefits. Fermented foods topped Whole Foods Market’s Top 10 Food Trends for 2016 list, along with the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 What’s Hot Culinary Forecast.
Should you hop on the trend, or pass and try some fresher flavors? Read on to learn all you need to know.
What does ‘fermentation’ mean?
Though fermented foods are a big trend this year, the preservation method has been around for a while. KCET explained that while people have been fermenting foods since ancient times, the practice was analyzed by European scientists in the 1830s, which established this definition of fermentation:
“The chemical transformation of organic substances into simpler compounds by the action of enzymes, complex organic catalysts, which are produced by microorganisms such as molds, yeasts, or bacteria.”
Fermented foods are enjoyed because the careful aging process enhances flavors, noted Homemade Mommy. Author Sandor Katz described these tastes as occupying “the flavorful space between fresh and rotten.”
Kimchi – the most popular fermented food for 2016.
Foods are fermented by being exposed to certain yeasts and bacteria, explained Chowhound. The method was originally developed as a way to preserve food for the longest period of time without using refrigeration or other traditional storage techniques.
What are fermented foods?
Many foods are fermented – probably more than you think. Bread, beer, chocolate, yogurt and cheese all go through a fermentation process. Cucumbers and cabbage can be fermented, creating pickles and sauerkraut, respectively. Cabbage is also responsible for the most popular kid on the culinary block right now: kimchi. A traditional Korean dish, spicy, salty kimchi is sweeping supermarkets around the country. Basic kimchi is made from cabbage, but it can also incorporate other vegetables, like radishes and cucumbers. You can eat it a variety of ways, whether on its own, as a topping on rice or noodles or even mixed with salads.
“The revived interest in fermented foods all comes down to germs.”
The revived interest in fermented foods all comes down to germs.
“I just think people are coming to peace with the fact that microbes are everywhere,” Camille Delebecque, CEO of fermented food producer, said in an interview with KCET.
The good germs found in fermented foods help support a healthy digestive system. Your stomach and intestines are lined with bacteria that aid in digestion, and when the amount of good bacteria in your system is out of whack, you can experience issues like irritable bowel syndrome or an upset stomach. Remember how fermented foods are preserved with bacteria? Well, that bacteria is a type called probiotics, which increase the number of good bacteria in your gut, balancing out the bad bacteria to promote better digestion, according to Wellness Mama. In addition, fermented foods help create a healthier digestive environment that enable you to absorb more nutrients from the foods you eat.
Some studies have shown a relationship between high intake of fermented foods and an increased risk of gastric cancer. Concerns about kimchi and other fermented foods stemmed from the finding that Korea has the highest incidence of gastric cancer in the world, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International. However, the American Institute for Cancer Research believes more research is needed in this field, with further analysis of how other lifestyle and dietary habits interact with fermented food consumption and subsequent cancer risk.
Incorporating fermented foods into their diets is a great option for people who suffer from digestive issues, and even those who do not have specific issues may benefit from the probiotics found in the foods, according to Mercola. Kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles and new, inventive fermented foods that chefs will be experimenting with this year will spice up palates and restaurant menus, and are an exciting trending taste to try.