Like every trend that comes and goes, this one too, has come full circle. We’re talking about fermented food. For the uninitiated, fermentation is a process whereby food is exposed to bacteria or yeast (also called culture) to change its texture, taste, and form, also making it healthier. To put it simply, it involves cooking food that is actually alive.
Now it may sound quite ridiculous, but it’s actually not. There’s probably a whole lot of fermented foods that you consume on a daily basis, and don’t even know about. Take for instance beer and wine, I bet you’ve heard of those (no judgements here)! They use live bacteria to convert grain into the cold one you pop open on at the end of a tiring day, and grapes into a sophisticated drink you order at a fine dining.
I think it’s safe to say that this age old cooking technique has been brought back with a bang as part of the yearly food trends in the health and nutrition category. Okay, let’s not take away all the credit, fermented foods can also be delicious. A proof of the fuss about fermentation is the annual Fermentation Festivals that have been taking place in Los Angeles, Boston, and some other places around the globe. It is an event held exclusively to showcase a variety of fermented foods such as sauerkraut, pickles, kombucha, kimchi, kefir, among many. Not only do the guests come to try these foods, but also to learn how to ferment at home.
Let’s put this into an Indian perspective. Because not many Indian homes have kimchi with every meal, but we do have dahi and a whole lot else. From the South we have idli, dhokla, dosa, medu vada, and appam. From the North of we have our beloved jalebis. I bet most of you didn’t know that a jalebi has probiotic qualities (more reasons to chow down). From the west we have a variety of dhoklas. Besides that, the homely kadhi we get for dinner on weeknights, with a dash of achaar, is the perfect fermented Indian delight.
So let’s dive into why every part of the Indian subcontinent, and in fact the world, has some form of fermented food in their diet:
1. Probiotics for a healthy gut
Before Yakult came into the picture, every child who had an upset stomach was made to eat dahi-chawal, because of the colony of microbes in dahi. It helps maintain the right flora in your gut, and improves digestion.
2. Fermenting can even make veggies delicious
I’d probably leave out the cabbage from my meals if they weren’t pickled or served in the form of kimchi or sauerkraut!
3. Fermenting helps preserve food longer
So not all fermentation will preserve food longer, but items like pickles will definitely have a longer shelf life than its unfermented counterpart.
4. Fermentation for lactose intolerance
Ask a lactose intolerant friend if they’re also intolerant to yogurt or buttermilk. Chances are, they aren’t. The microbial properties in yogurt help digest your food better. Hence, even a milk product that is fermented can potentially be tolerated by a lactose intolerant gut.
5. May reduce risk of certain cancers
Studies have shown that probiotic foods actually might help your body fight certain cancers.
If you’re one of those people who buys their yogurt from outside, you’re probably wondering how to include fermented food into your diet everyday without having to spend at the market. Don’t worry – there’s a lot of articles and videos out there to help you with the process of fermentation for different foods and recipes. Go on, add some healthy probiotics to your diet.