Fermented Foods to Get Your Gut Out of a Pickle
As someone who struggles to keep their fingers out of every jar of gherkins in my fridge, I’m firmly of the belief that life’s greatest joy can be found in the sweet, salty and sometimes spicy flavour bombs that are pickled and fermented foods.
Before going any further on the topic, if you’re someone who dissects these green sour delights from a cheeseburger, please vacate the room.
While the popularity of fermenting one’s fruit and veg has resurged in recent years – topping the list of 2020 food trends – the process is nothing new.
It is said that this tangy tradition was started by the ancient Mesopotamians and goes as far back as 2400 BC. Since then, many notable stars of the old world have sung their praises for the mighty pickle. Aristotle celebrated their healing powers, Julius Caesar fed them to his army, Cleopatra put her beauty down to a ‘pickle a day’ philosophy, Christopher Columbus brought them to the New World, Shakespeare coined the first pickle metaphor… Heck, even the bible mentions these powerful little morsels.
So, uh… What exactly is a fermented food?
Simply put, fermentation is a process where microorganisms like bacteria and yeast are used to breakdown the sugars in a food, extending its shelf life and giving it that funky flavour. However, feel free to ask Alexa for a deeper dive into the matter. I skipped Year 12 Biology.
And what about the difference between pickled and fermented foods?
A very good question, indeed. Some pickled foods have undergone fermentation and some fermented foods have been pickled, which can cause quite the confusion. Pickling is a quick and easy process of dunking your goods into an acidic liquid like vinegar; whereas fermentation achieves that signature tang through the chemical reaction between a food’s natural bacteria and sugar content.
For instance, it’s likely the gherkins at your local Coles are probably pickled in vinegar – still delicious but not as nourishing for the gut as a proper fermented pickle.
What’s in it for my gut then?
It was quite the glorious day when my borderline addiction to funky fermented food was justified by every health magazine in town, praising their endless health benefits. Thanks Women’s Day.
On top of the lip-smacking tang your taste buds are treated to, indulging in everything from sauerkraut and kombucha to kefir and kimchi is proven to do wonders for your whole body.
According to Health Line, introducing fermented foods into your diet can…
🥒Improve your digestive health. This is especially important if you’re someone who suffers from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or any gut issues down there. Fermentation also converts complex sugars into ones that are easier to digest, which is why lactose or gluten free folk have a happier time consuming kefir yogurt or sourdough bread.
🥒Boost your immune system. Up your intake of fermented foods in winter for an extra hit of vitamin c, iron, zinc and other immunity boosting goodies. You’ll be the envy of all your sniffy work mates.
🥒Improve mental health as well as encourage weight loss and a healthy heart.
Now, it must be said that not all fermented foods are going to turn you into a health guru. After all, wine, cheese, bread, beer and chocolate all fall into that same category.
However, here’s 7 fermented favourites that your gut will go crazy for, including fun facts on their origin, recipes and ready-to-eat recommendations…
What is it?Kefir is a cultured, fermented milk drink that traditionally combines kefir grains with whole cow’s milk to be fermented in a covered glass jar at room temperature for around 24 hours. The yogurt-like liquid is strained for drinking and the leftover kefir can be used again and again for future batches.
Where is it from?The people of North Caucasus, Eastern Europe and Russia know what’s up and have been producing this healthy drink for many centuries.
How do I make it?Nourish Me Organics has a simple kefir recipe on their website, and they even sell organic milk kefir grains. If dairy ain’t your thing, there’s plenty of water kefir recipes out there.
How do I drink it?Shot it straight from the glass, pour it over your cereal, add it to your smoothie, turn your ice cream into a probiotic treat… The possibilities are endless.
Where can I drink it?The Fermentary has an excellent online shop full of water kefir products, including fig and ginger, lime and mint and burnt orange flavours, as well as kefir grains to make your own dairy-free drink. Some restaurants are also starting to introduce it to their menu, like The Good Place in Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra where the Semi Fredo dessert has a good kick of coconut kefir.
What is it?Considered by many to be god’s gift to mankind, Kimchi is a spicy fermented vegetable dish that has made it big in mainstream culture over the last few years. It is commonly made using salted napa cabbage, gochugaru (red chilli pepper flakes) and other various vegetables.
Where is it from?You can thank Korea for making the world a better place through kimchi. This lip tingling concoction has been a side dish staple in Korean cuisine since the early 1800s.
How do I make it?Maangchi’s traditional kimchi recipe is a goodie and comes with a handy video for you to follow along with.
How do I eat it?My favourite way to eat kimchi is on poached eggs or crammed into a sourdough cheese toastie, but you can also add it to your fried rice, make Korean pancakes with it or even savoury porridge.
Where can I eat it?Most specialty health stores and Asian supermarkets stock kimchi, but it’s also on the menu of some of our favourite restaurants across Australia. A side of kimchi can be added to any Korean dish at Seven Lanterns in Sydney, the kimchi dumplings at SEOULSSAMM in Brisbane will send you into another dimension and Melbourne’s best Korean BBQ restaurants are loaded with the spicy cabbage.
What is it?Okay, I’ll admit… Having alien-like bits of SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) floating in your cup isn’t the most pleasant thing ever. But give kombucha a chance won’t you? This effervescent elixir is made from black or green tea which is brewed in sugary hot water before the SCOBY comes along to kick off the fermentation. The result? A tart, fizzy beverage that is stuffed with probiotics and beneficial bacteria. We love it so much, we have a whole article dedicated to the wonders of kombucha.
Where is it from?Before the hipsters got a hold of these bubbles, Kombucha was first produced in China over 2,200 years ago.
How do I make it?Here’s a Kombucha recipe from Good Food Australia, which includes a traditional method as well as a ginger-infused version.
How do I drink it?I used to think there was just one way to get your Kombucha fix, but the internet says otherwise. Turns out, people are adding Kombucha to vegan cheesecake recipes, salad dressings, muffins and more. Even bartenders are getting on board and shaking it into their signature cocktails.
Where can I drink it?Nowadays, pretty much every supermarket and cafe across Australia stocks the stuff. Check out organic Australian-owned brands like Buchi, MOJO and Jiva or visit any of the healthy spots across Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney and you’ll likely bump into the bubbly brew.
What is it?Similar to the fizzy qualities of Kombucha, Kvass is a lesser known fermented beverage usually made by soaking rye bread in water and adding yeast (although some versions skip the rye and use earthy beets instead). After letting it do its thing for a few days, the concoction becomes naturally carbonated with a signature sour and beer-like flavour. Perfect for the Dry January and Sober October menu!
Where is it from?Kvass dates back to the Middle Ages, where it was a popular drink for the people of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. You’ll still find many Eastern European countries sipping on one of these traditional cold brews, and it is slowly making its way into other cultures.
How do I make it?Grab some stale rye bread, sugar and water. It’s time to brew your own Kvass with an exciting fruity kick.
How do I drink it?Pretty simple: bottoms up!
Where can I drink it?While kvass is definitely not dominating the food scene in Australia just yet, there are a limited number of places you can get your hands on it, including Beetroot Kvass from Wholefood Family and Organic BioBeet Kvass. Wildflower’s limited release of Daily Bread – a Kvass-inspired Australian Wild Ale that used leftover rye bread from Ester – was an epic collab. Although it’s no longer available, here’s hoping for a rerun.
What is it?Move over tofu. There’s a new soy in town – and it’s jam-packed with protein and gut health benefits. Reow. Tempeh is made from soybeans that are fermented and moulded into a dense cake-like form with a range of other beans and tasty flavours. It’s probably the meatiest of all vegan friendly ingredients and has a nutty, earthy, mushroom-esque flavour. The love affair is real.
Where is it from?Indonesia, take a bow! Foodies on the Island of Java in Indonesia were the likely culprits of this fermented food, with it first appearing in written records going all the way back to the early 1800’s.
How do I make it?Here’s an easy tempeh recipe to get you started.
How do I eat it?Most recipes call for a salty sour marinade to bathe your tempeh in before sending it off to be baked. Then it’s up to you what happens next. Pop it in a taco, stack it in a sandwich, add it to your curries or snack on it in bed. You do you. Here’s some tempeh inspo for you.
Where can I eat it?For fried tempeh delights alongside other traditional Indonesian street food eats, head to Sydney’s Salt and Palm. The Vegie Bar in Melbourne uses tempeh in their wraps, salads, spaghetti and other dishes and Brisbane’s Dicki’s lets you add crispy tempeh as a side to anything.
What is it?Combine shredded cabbage and some salt in a container and voila – you’ve just activated the start of something truly beautiful. Cabbage produces its own brining liquid so over the next week or so it will naturally transform into a crunchy sauerkraut creation.
Where is it from?Although Germany has claimed it as their superfood, sauerkraut was in fact a result of Chinese ingenuity. The first fermented cabbage was soaked in rice wine over 2,000 years ago in China before popping up in Europe in the 16th century. But when it goes so well with Currywurst, it’s easy to see why the Germans would want to claim it as their own.
How do I make it?Just starting out with the art of fermentation? Then sauerkraut is an excellent starting point. Two ingredients, a mason jar and a little bit of patience is all that’s required. The Minimalist Baker Sauerkraut recipe is pimped up with beetroot, carrots and a few extra aromatics. If you really can’t wait, Yotam Ottolenghi has a quick version of sauerkraut that skips the two-week wait.
How do I eat it?Digging in with a spoon is my preferred method (it’s basically the Nutella of the fermented world!). However, it’s also excellent added to avo on toast, stirred into pasta, blended into a green smoothie, stuffed into sushi wraps, loaded onto a jacket potato and more.
Where can I eat it?Gutsy Ferments is a neat locally owned business in Brisbane that delivers batches of Sauerkraut and other fermented goods across Australia. Otherwise, immerse yourself in a traditional kraut experience and head to a traditional German restaurant like Maggie’s Potts Point in Sydney or Hofbrauhaus in Melbourne where huge meats sit on beds of sauerkraut.
What is it?One word. Umami. Miso comes in over 1,000 different forms, but it is typically made from cooked soybeans, rice or barley, salt and a funky fungus called koji. The fermentation period can last from a few weeks to well over a year.
Where is it from?This caramelly, salty and earthy soybean paste goes back yonks and was first established by the Japanese in ancient times. There’s an old saying in Japan that goes along the same lines of ‘a cup of miso a day, keeps the doctor away’.
How do I make it?Get your funk on at home with this beginner’s guide to making miso.
How do I eat it?Slurping up ramen is hands down one of my favourite ways to experience the wonders of miso. However, the world really isn’t short of recipes when it comes to utilising this healthy paste. Bon Appetit went to funky town sharing 59 of their favourite miso recipes.
Where can I eat it?We’ve previously explored Australia’s delicious Japanese restaurant scene, so we know you’ll be sure to to find an abundance of miso in these Melbourne, Perth, Sydney and Brisbane hotspots.
Well, there you have it – 7 fermented foods to fall into a healthy relationship with.
If any of your fermented favourites have been missed off the list, or you know of a killer Australian restaurant or retailer supplying the goods, let us know in the comments below!
In the meantime… It’s back to that jar of pickles for me.