What’s not fresh and yet is really good for you? We are talking fermented foods—foods that have been kept around for a while, smell weird but are packed with nutrients. Fermentation has been used to preserve food in the absence of refrigeration, canning, preservatives and irradiation. But with the advent of modern techniques of preserving food, fermentation took a back seat. Here, we explore some facts about fermented foods and their health benefits.
How did it all start?
According to the 2012 book, The Art Of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration Of Essential Concepts And Processes From Around the Worldby Sandor Ellix Katz, “Fermented foods were not exactly human inventions; they are natural phenomena that people observed and then learned how to cultivate.” In each geographic location, this depended on the plants and crops that grew in abundance and the different microbial communities that thrived in that environment. Places with difficult winters fermented foods during summer for winter and those with tropical weather conditions used fermentation as a way to save food that would otherwise spoil quickly in the hot weather.
Fermentation is the process where sugar/ starch in the food is broken down into alcohol or acid. Yeast fermentation involves a breakdown of sugar into alcohol, while bacterial fermentation converts carbohydrates to lactic acid. A few strains of organisms multiply quickly, outnumbering the other bacteria by producing bacteriocins which prevent the growth of other closely related bacteria, thereby preventing the food from spoiling. Food scientist and fermentation expert Keith Steinkraus writes in his 1995 book, Handbook Of Indigenous Fermented Foods—Second Edition, Revised And Expanded: “The process of acidic fermentation: (1) they render foods resistant to microbial spoilage and the development of food toxins, (2) they make the foods less likely to transfer pathogenic microorganisms, (3) they generally preserve the foods between the time of harvest and consumption, and (4) they modify the flavour of the original ingredients and often improve the nutritional value.”
Article from Live Mint, May 12, 2014, by Nandita Iyer.