For years, the fermentation process was usually done to preserve food products that spoil quickly. However, food preservation is not the only advantage you can get from this ancient method. As you know, fermented foods and beverages are infamous all over the world for their health benefits.
For now, let us focus on raw cultured vegetables and how it can positively affect a person's health, wellness and life span.
A Brief Description of Cultured Foods
When we hear the word “fermented,” most of us will automatically think of products like kefir, blue cheese and yogurt. Some of you may or may not adore these products. This is not surprising since most cultured foods have a distinct flavor.
Described by Sandor Katz as “the flavorful space between fresh and rotten,” some people perceive fermented foods as unsafe for human consumption. This is mostly because of the common misconception that these kinds of products are either “rotten” or “contaminated.” While it is true that cultured foods have live microorganisms in it, these products are healthful and safe.
What about cultured vegetables? Fermenting vegetables is an ancient practice to prolong a vegetable's shelf life. Since, it has undergone the fermentation process, these products also have living microorganisms in it. But, there's more. Cultured veggies are universally considered healthful for a reason. So, what makes these products special?
The Benefits of Including Fermented Vegetables in Your Diet
A. Cultured Vegetables are More Nutritious Compared to Raw VegetablesCredit: Image courtesy of Pavlofox (pixabay.com)
In the ancient times, sailors include jars of sauerkraut in their long voyages to battle scurvy in the midst of endless waves. There are two primary reasons for this. It has a long shelf life and it is loaded with vitamin C.
Back then, they have minimal means to gauge the nutrient contents of cultured vegetables like sauerkraut. Today, several studies have proven and confirmed that the fermentation process will not only enhance a vegetable's shelf life. It will also yield more nutrients.
Take cultured vegetables like Kimchi and Sauerkraut as an example. During the fermentation process, an increased in vitamin A, B and C is typically observed. This is most likely because of the various fruits and vegetables used as ingredients in making Kimchi or Sauerkraut. Another possible reason is the strains of “good” bacteria present in these kinds of products. How so?
As you know, microbes play a crucial role in human survival. Basically, the “good” bacteria living in our digestive system aid in the biosynthesis of enzymes, vitamins, amino acids and other biological substances needed by our body. During the fermentation process, the same thing happens. Lactic acid bacteria are able to produce these substances. Hence, vitamins and minerals are not the only healthful substances found in cultured veggies. Enzymes are also present in these kinds of products.
Some anti-nutrients are also reduced during fermentation. As its name implies, these compounds can block nutrient absorption. There are several vegetables that have high amounts of anti-nutrients. An example for this is soybeans.
Soy is rich in phytate or phytic acid. Basically, phytic acid blocks minerals like zinc, iron and calcium from being absorbed by our body. Fermentation is a proven method to remove or reduce this unwanted compound. Hence, fermented soybeans like natto, miso, pickled tofu and tempeh are more nutritious compared to its unfermented counterparts. But, wait, there's more. The protein quality found in fermented soybeans is agreeably more superior compared to other soybean products. This is due to the bacterial enzymes that can alter the amino acids in it.
If you like to know more about soy foods including fermented soybean products, this article entitled "Soybeans - A Friend, Foe or Frenemy?" may give you more information.
B. Raw Cultured Vegetables as a Predigest Food
To explain further, digesting raw vegetables is not an easy task for our digestive system. Mainly because our body doesn't produce the necessary enzyme that can break a plant's cell wall. Still, we can partially break down raw veggies once it reaches our large intestine where microbes can help in its digestion. But, this is not a guarantee that our body will be able to absorb all nutrients in raw vegetables.
Keep in mind that within these plant cell walls are essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. To gain access to a vegetable's nutritional and health benefits, your main goal is to liberate these essential nutrients out of this resilient plant part. There are several ways to weaken or break a plant's cell wall. Fermentation is one of these methods. How so?
Lactic acid bacteria present in cultured foods are capable of producing cellulase, an enzyme that can activate cellulose digestion. Cellulose is a primary constituent of a vegetable's cell wall. During fermentation, microbial species digest this resilient plant part.
This specific bacterial activity is the primary reason fermented vegetables turn into a “predigest” food. In other words, cultured veggies are already "broken down" before it enters our gastrointestinal tract. Through this, our body is able to absorb essential nutrients with less effort and energy.
C. Cultured Vegetables have Microorganisms that Eliminate Toxins Externally and Internally
Today, pollution is one of the leading environmental issues all over the world. As part of the environment, vegetables are not excluded from this problem. In several studies, they found out that most fruits and vegetables sold in today's market have organophosphorous pesticides and other harmful chemicals. Fermentation can help decompose these toxic compounds.
In a study about one of Korea's infamous cultured foods, it was evidently observed that the probiotic strains found in Kimchi are able to completely degrade several kinds of organophosphorous pesticides within nine days of fermentation. In this study, they noted that various strains of lactic acid bacteria use these chemicals as one of their food sources.
In an internal point of view, several studies about microorganisms and detoxification have shown that “friendly” bacteria such as lactobacillus species are not only capable of degrading toxic chemicals. They can also bind with harmful substances present in our gastrointestinal tract. Once we defecate, microorganisms along with the toxic substances attached to them are then flushed out of our body.
D. Cultured Vegetables and a Healthy Gut
Ever heard of the statement “a healthy gut is the key to a healthy life?”
Our gut's health is vital in our existence for various reasons. Basically, it has several functions in our daily lives. Not only does it partake in food digestion and nutrient absorption, it also acts as our front line of defense for diseases. Aside from that, our gut is also considered our second brain. So, how would you describe a healthy gut?
"Friendly" microorganisms help us live and survive. Most of their important roles in our lives are already mentioned here. With that said, a very high percentage of beneficial bacteria is actually a prerequisite in acquiring a healthy gut. One way to achieve this is by including foods with living microorganisms in your diet.
E. An Excellent Food for Your Skin - Cultured Vegetables and It's Anti-aging Properties
It is commonly said that the things we do, drink and eat can deeply affect our overall appearance. This is because both diet and lifestyle are crucial factors when it comes to a person's aging process. On that note, let us discuss about raw cultured vegetables and how it promotes a vibrant and youthful skin.
As I've mentioned earlier, cultured veggies are nutrient-dense. Some of these nutrients are potent antioxidants. Take vitamin C as an example. Not only does it oxidize free radicals, it is also essential for collagen synthesis and other biological functions.
Aside from vitamins, there are other compounds present in cultured vegetables that act as antioxidants. This is especially true in cultured foods that have cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and kale as ingredients. Basically, these kinds of veggies are rich in sulfur compounds (isothiocyanates and indoles) known for their cancer preventing skills. In addition to that, isothiocyantes also support glutathione production. Glutathione, as you know, is infamous in the beauty or cosmetic department. This is not only because of its several skin and anti-aging benefits, but also because of its role as the “master antioxidant” of the human body.
Lastly, since "good" microorganisms are able to degrade and excrete harmful substances inside our body, it can also lead to a healthy skin.
F. Other Benefits of Fermenting Vegetables
- Food preservation or cultured vegetables can last for months.
- It's economical.
- It adds an exotic flavor to your meals.
- It's a low-calorie food ideal for weight or fat loss.
- It aids in digestion.
Probiotic Supplements VS Cultured Foods
As of today, there is an intensifying debate whether to take or not to take probiotic supplements. It is without doubt that “friendly” bacteria can help us in many ways. However, supplements are not the ideal products. How so?
When purchasing probiotic supplements, you have to meticulously check these products. Mainly because its efficacy will depend on various factors like the product's quality. Other factors such as safety, stability and price will also play some role in your decision. This is quite confusing. You may even undergo some trial and error before you can find the right brand for you.
Now, let us shift our attention to cultured vegetables. Considering its long list of health benefits, you're actually getting more than living microorganisms for an affordable price. Aside from that, safety is also guaranteed. This is especially true, if you're making your own cultured veggies.
Important Things to Remember when Including Cultured Veggies in Your Diet
Basically, the main problem with cultured vegetables is its high sodium contents. Salt is a vital ingredient in the fermentation process. Its primary role is to stall the growth of pathogenic microorganisms and to avoid nutrient loss. Nevertheless, there are available cultured veggie recipes that require minimal amount of salt. You can also find some recipes that uses seaweeds, celery and starter cultures as a substitute for salt.
Spoilage is another problem. Whilst cultured veggies can have a very long shelf life, it can still be spoiled and contaminated. This can happen when proper food handling is not done. Typically; you will notice a rancid smell and change in the vegetable's color or texture when it is already in the rotten stage.
Minor gastrointestinal problems may also occur. Several factors can cause this. In some cases, it is a result of eating spoiled or contaminated products. It can also be because consuming fermented food is something new to your digestive system. If this is the case, it is highly recommended to slowly introduce these kinds of products to your body. Aside from that, spicy foods like Kimchi may also cause gastrointestinal distress. If you're one of them, you can opt for other cultured foods with milder flavor like Sauerkraut.
What about commercial products? A lot of health experts don't recommend commercial products. One primary reason is that most of these products have undergone the pasteurization process. This manufacturing procedure kills the living microorganisms present in cultured veggies. For this specific reason, home-made products are highly preferred. In fact, if you have some time to learn the art of fermenting fruits and vegetables, making your own cultured vegetables is the best option.
With that, always remember, excessive consumption of any food will eventually harm your body even though it is universally categorized as "healthful."
Making Your Own Cultured Vegetables
If you're interested in culturing your own vegetables, the video below can guide you. You can also try making other cultured foods like cheese. This article entitled "Make Cheese and other Super Foods with Amasi (Fermented Milk)" may give you more information.
Freeze-dried Starter Cultures
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