Fermenting foods can prolong their shelf-life and produce gut-restoring probiotics. Most cultures have at least one or two traditionally fermented foods on the menu. These days, fermented foods are back in vogue, and our diets are better for it.
But it can be hard to know where to start if you’re new to fermented food.
Don’t worry; fermented foods are more than just yogurt and sauerkraut! It’s easy to make a batch of fermented foods. Try a few at a time and see which fits best with your meals.
Each on this list can help balance your gut flora while also livening up your table.
Kombucha is a trendy fermented beverage right now. You can find great kombucha in many grocery stores. You can also make your own relatively easily. No wonder this is one of the most popular fermented foods…./’
Pick up a kombucha SCOBY from a kombucha-brewing friend or on Amazon, make a big batch of black tea, add some sugar, and dissolve it into some plain kombucha. Wait a few weeks. Now you can add flavorings and bottle the mixture to ferment.
Your homemade kombucha is an excellent way to provide healthy gut bacteria in a fun, flavorful drink.
Visit our guide to developing a healthy SCOBY for more tips.
Beet kvass is another fermented drink. I love kvass. It tastes surprisingly amazing. You can also use fermented beet kvass as a starter for traditional, fermented borscht.
Use a little kvass in your borscht to add the benefits of this fermented drink to your homemade soups. You can also make kvass from stale sourdough bread, but this version is less widespread outside Slavic countries.
Kvass requires beets, salt, and flavoring. You’ll put all the ingredients in a jar, and seal it up to ferment.
This Korean staple is a delicious fermented food. Kimchi contains a variety of fermented vegetables – cabbage, carrots, radishes, ginger, and peppers. Kimchi comes in a variety of flavors and spice levels.
It is also one of the most researched fermented foods available, with many studied benefits. Immune-boosting and anti-carcinogenic, kimchi is a fascinating and fantastic fermented food.
Visit our guide to get started with kimchi.
Many people are sensitive to unfermented soybeans. There are a lot of soy-based products in processed foods, and these products aren’t ideal for a healthy lifestyle. But fermented soy is much easier for the body to digest.
It even has health benefits of its own that are absent in unfermented soy.
Many people agree that miso is one of the most delicious of the fermented soy products. Gochujang is super spicy, nattō is an acquired taste, and stinky tofu lives up to its name. But miso has a toasty, savory richness.
You can add miso paste to soups and sauces. It adds a deep umami flavor to those dishes as well as boosting cardiovascular health and immunity.
My grandmother used to have a huge jar of fermented pickles in her refrigerator. We’d eat them every time we came over. I always wondered why my grandmother’s pickles tasted better than the ones at the store.
Later, I learned that fermented pickles, made without vinegar, are a totally different version of the popular staple. Fermented pickles are a great place to start in your home fermenting journey.
It basically involves combining the cucumbers and any spices you want in a salt brine and sealing it up in a jar. Easy stuff!
6. Raw Cheeses
Yes, cheeses count as fermented foods. But unfortunately, most cheeses you can find in the store are pasteurized. Pasteurization kills the healthy bacteria.
If you’re looking for cheeses that will offer beneficial gut bacteria and help you maintain your health, look for raw cheeses. Look for unpasturized cheese at farmer’s markets and specialty shops. They can also be occasionally found in gourmet grocery stores.
7. Apple Cider Vinegar
You’ve probably heard all about the weight-loss benefits of apple cider vinegar. Proponents say adding a small amount of apple cider vinegar to your morning cup of water to improve your ability to digest sugars, stabilize your blood sugar, and even out your metabolism.
There need to be more studies to confirm the health benefits of apple cider vinegar, but the few small studies that have been done are promising. At the very least, ACV is high in potassium, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus.
Part of the reason apple cider vinegar improves your health is because it contains so many probiotics. Make sure to buy apple cider vinegar “with the mother.” That is the raw, fermented vinegar. This is the kind that will improve your health.
Lots of manufacturer’s make this type of vinegar. Bragg, for instance, is extremely popular and is available at places like Amazon.
8. Sourdough Bread
Baking sourdough is a lot of fun, and it’s easy to build your own sourdough starter and start exploring recipes. If you’re having trouble digesting bread, give sourdough a try.
The fermentation of the sourdough starter helps make the grains more digestible and the nutrients easier to absorb. But because of the high bake temperature of bread, sourdoughs don’t contain any active probiotics.
Still, it’s a healthy way to eat bread and you can use up your sourdough starter for other uses, as well.
Yogurt is a popular fermented food. But not all yogurts are created equal. If you’re making yogurt at home with farm-fresh, raw milk, you have access to the best possible yogurt for gut health.
If you’re buying yogurt at the grocery store, look for the words “live, active cultures” in the ingredient list. Try to avoid buying yogurts with sugar added. Instead, add your own fruit, honey, or other toppings.
You can also make yogurt. It’s easy.
Think of kefir as drinkable yogurt. Kefir has a fresher flavor than yogurt, and it tastes amazing blended with fresh berries into a kefir smoothie.
Kefir is rich in B12, magnesium, folate, and probiotics. You can also eat it like yogurt, especially if you’re sick of thicker yogurts like Greek and Icelandic yogurt. Or, use it to marinate chicken, add it to creamy soups, or mashed potatoes.
Poi paste is common in African, West Indian, and Polynesian cuisine. You can eat it like cream cheese, spread it on crackers, or use it as a dip for sourdough bread.
Fermented cabbage has been a staple in many cultures for thousands of years. Sauerkraut is high in Vitamins A and C. It’s a fantastic staple from cultures with long winters and short growing seasons.
You can make sauerkraut with either red or green cabbage. But you should be aware that many of the sauerkraut available in the stores don’t have any active probiotics.
If you’re buying sauerkraut from the store, look for fresh, refrigerated sauerkraut and avoid canned sauerkraut. The label will usually call it out if there are active probiotics. Hampton’s Brine, available at Amazon, makes a killer option.
This is a traditional Japanese fermented soy product. Unlike miso, natto isn’t a paste. The beans are left whole to ferment.
It has a distinct, pungent smell and flavor, and slimy texture that some people find off-putting at first. Those who love it love it, but it takes some getting used to if you’re new to it.
It’s definitely not one of those fermented foods to start with, especially if you’re not used to Japanese cuisine. In Japan, natto is often eaten for breakfast. Give it a try, you might love it.
Many Asian cuisines are full of fermented soy products but not all of them have gained popularity around the rest of the globe. But tempeh has caught on among vegetarians in the West and is now one of the more popular fermented foods.
That’s because tempeh, a fermented soy processed into a cake, can be used as vegetable-based protein. Tempeh can be used as a meat replacement, like the other fermented soy product – tofu.
It can be seasoned and cooked in a similar way to tofu and eaten as part of a meatless meal. Since tempeh is heavily processed and cooked before eating, it rarely has any active probiotics.
But the fermenting process does make soy more digestible than it might otherwise be.
Fermented fish may be incredibly low on the list of fermented foods you want to try if you don’t come from an area where it’s common. But, if you’ve ever taken a trip to Iceland and daringly tried fermented shark, or hákarl, you know that fermented fish can taste amazing.
Don’t be afraid to sample hákarl if you find it, or other fermented meat and fish dishes. You may just discover a new favorite.
16. Creme Fraiche and Sour Cream
Both creme fraiche and sour cream are fermented, naturally soured cream. Creme fraiche is less sour than sour cream, with a thicker texture and a higher butterfat content than American sour cream.
I think creme fraiche is a little easier to make at home than sour cream and easier to use on its own. Sour cream, on the other hand, is much easier to bake with.
Both are valuable in cooking and serving food. But remember that unless the packaging says “contains live culture,” you won’t get good probiotics from store-bought cultured creams.
Yes, one of America’s favorite beverages is a fermented food. Beer is made by fermenting grains and hops. When I was working on a small dairy farm, beer was the first remedy the farmer gave his cows when they were off their feed.
While we tend to think of beer as an indulgence or a party drink, traditionally, beer was much more important than an occasional treat.
Beer could help hydrate when the water was unsafe to drink. It provided calories and valuable probiotics. It also helped calm a restless peasant population, as both the hops and the low alcohol content can be calming.