What are fermented foods and which are best for improving our gut health?

Traditionally many different cultures have used the process of fermentation to preserve foods.

In India lassi was a common pre-dinner drink, Asian cultures enjoy pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips and eggplant, kefir originated in the northern Caucasus Mountains and sauerkraut is associated strongly with Germany. Other fermented foods include yoghurts, cheeses, sour dough bread and chutneys.

However, as well as lasting longer, fermented foods often contain a variety of ‘good’ bacteria which, if they can survive the journey to our gut, can be beneficial for our health.

In our big probiotics study, the group taking a fermented milk based drink called kefir saw significant changes in their gut bacteria – specifically a rise in a family of bacteria called Lactobacillales, which are known to maintain gut health.

We wanted to explore this further and find out which other fermented foods might be good options for improving our gut bacteria, so we gathered some of the most popular products and put them to the test.

We took 5 foods: a soft cheese, sauerkraut (preserved white cabbage), kimchi (traditional Korean fermented vegetables), kefir and kombucha (a fermented tea-based drink).

We gathered together homemade versions of these foods, made by volunteers from The Fermentarium, and we also bought readily available ‘off the shelf’ versions from supermarkets and shops. Once we had all of our samples, we sent them to the lab for testing.

Martha Villegas-Montes and a team at Roehampton University analysed our samples, looking for specific bacteria that we know to be good for our guts and Dr Paul Cotter from Teagasc Food Research Centre in Cork presented the results.

When we looked at the shop bought sauerkraut, kimchi and soft cheese we didn’t find any of the bacteria we were looking for. This is probably because these foods will have been pasteurised to make them safe and to improve their shelf life – both important factors in commercial food production. The downside however, is that these processes also kill off the ‘good’ bacteria that might be present.

Two of our shop-bought foods, the kefir and the kombucha, did contain levels of the bacteria. This suggests that both of these foods were made using traditional processes and were not pasteurised, meaning that the good bacteria survived.

In our homemade foods, which had all been produced using traditional methods, we found diverse strains of bacteria and higher levels, particularly of a type called Lactobacillus.

There are many different species and strains of Lactobacillus – some that have good health-giving properties that we know about, and some that don’t. But by eating a fermented food with lots of different varieties, like our homemade versions, there is a chance that some of the strains present will be good for you.

There’s still a lot of research that needs to be done into the world of our gut bacteria, but so far studies suggest that for general good gut health, a range of bacteria is best, so it would seem that traditionally made fermented foods – whether they be homemade versions or commercial varieties that are unpasteurised – are a good way to achieve this.

But there are important things to be aware of if you’re planning to produce your own homemade fermented foods. Just as homemade versions can contain greater numbers and varieties of beneficial bacteria, they can also contain harmful bacteria, particularly if they are not produced or stored correctly. So if you do want to make your own you should follow a recipe, use the correct equipment and store your foods at the correct temperature.

Kimchi vs. Sauerkraut: What’s the difference?

At YUMCHI taster sessions, we regularly get asked: what’s the difference between kimchi and sauerkraut? Aren’t they both just cabbage that has been fermented?

We answer them, yes, both kimchi and sauerkraut are cabbage that has been preserved by the process of lacto-fermentation over a period of 2-4 weeks. But yet there are numerous differences between the two of them.

In this post, YUMCHI founder – aka Kimchi Queen – Lily Hirasawa, will highlight the similarities and differences between these delicious and nutritious fermented foods.

Both kimchi and sauerkraut are fermented in a salt and water solution called brine. Within this microclimate, bacteria breaks down the naturally occuring sugars in the cabbage, resulting in lactic acid and that classic mouth-puckering tanginess. This bacteria is what makes kimchi and sauerkraut great for your gut, and offers kimchi and sauerkraut its rich and tangy flavour.

So, how are they different? Kimchi hails from Korea where it is a staple dish, and boasts a more pronounced pungency due to the addition of ginger, garlic and chilli. Sauerkraut has its roots in Central and Eastern Europe. And with less ingredients added to the fermentation process, it has a saltier, tart taste that comes from the brine.

We think kimchi’s flavour makes it more palatable that sauerkraut, and restaurants agree. It can now be found in condiments, stews, soups and even cocktails in restaurants all over the UK and America.

Kimchi and other fermented foods are now so popular, that Upserve, a tech-based restaurant management platform, analysed data from across their customer base and found that consumption of fermented foods was up 149% in 2018 alone.

What is most interesting about their data, is the fact that sauerkraut is actually being ordered less in the restaurants surveyed, than it was in 2017. Diners are switching over from sauerkraut to kimchi, and we are not going to argue with that!

So, for all you ‘kraut lovers, now is the time to try kimchi. And for you kimchi lovers, why not give sauerkraut a try? It goes great with hot dogs. Just don’t add it to your Asian stir-fry any time soon…

Thanks to new emerging evidence that supports how important our microbiomes are to our health, gut health is at the forefront of health concerns today; it’s about time! Our guts control and deal with every aspect of our health. From our mood to our weight to our food cravings, hormones, overall wellness, how we digest our food and even the food sensitivities we have. Our guts are essentially what determine our overall health.

Research has shown that we have more bacteria organisms in our body than typical cells; we’re essentially walking forms of bacteria. But the good news is, many forms of these bacterial cells are beneficial and help us fight disease. It’s when unhealthy bacteria from certain yeasts, fungi, parasites, worms, and others take over that become a problem. We encounter bad bugs every single day in various ways most of us don’t realize. These bacteria are found in conventional animal foods, toxic and polluted waters (and fish from those waters), tap water, parasites from the environment and our food, foodborne illnesses, food poisoning, and they can also take over our body if we’ve ever taken prescription drugs, antibiotics, birth control pills, or have a long history of an unhealthy diet.


Establishing a Gut Health Protocol: Where to Start

The best way to regain gut balance and establish a healthy digestive system is to give your body more good bacteria than sources of bad bacteria. Probiotic supplements are a great place to start, but unless you find a reputable brand that seems to work for you, they can be a waste of time and money due to loss of bacteria cultures through transit time, manufacturing practices, and even due to heat damage from the weather if not stored properly in the store.

Foods that contain probiotic cultures are the best way to eat your way to a healthy gut, along with avoiding foods that feed unhealthy bacteria. Bad microbes’ favorite foods are sugar and anything that turns to sugar quickly in the bloodstream like refined grains and even natural sugars, processed foods, conventional animal products laced with bad bacteria, and alcohol. These foods fuel bad bacteria and allow them to take over, so work on eating more organic foods, especially greens and all vegetables, fiber-rich foods which cleanse the body like flax, chia and psyllium, and eat a variety of anti-fungal foods like coconut, turmeric, ginger, garlic, onion, oregano, cruciferous vegetables, cloves, cinnamon, coriander and olive oil. Next, add cultured and properly fermented foods into your diet which provide tons of good bacteria cultures for your body.

Probiotic-rich foods support the immune system, digestive system and can even reduce cravings for unhealthy foods like sugar and refined grains because they bring the good bacteria into balance and starve the bad bacteria from thriving. These foods feed the good guys, not the bad guys!

Top 5 Fermented Foods to Add to Your Diet


1. Sauerkraut

Sauerkraut has been around for hundreds of years and has been used as a digestive remedy, healer, and immune system booster. It’s also a great way to preserve your food and is easy to make at home. Sauerkraut is made from fermented cabbage which naturally has B vitamins for good gut health and natural prebiotics. See these tips for making your own at home and have a serving a day with any meal that you choose.

2. Kimchi

Kimchi is a fantastic source of probiotics and very similar to sauerkraut with a few differences. It’s normally spicier and is known as Korean kraut. Containing peppers and other vegetables, it’s also normally richer in antioxidants though still made in a base of cabbage. It does not contain caraway seeds, dill or other spices typically used in sauerkraut. Choose this option if you want more bang for your buck and more spice in your bite! See tips on making your own kimchi at home and why it truly is such a healing food to include in your diet.


3. Real Pickles

Real pickles (not those on the shelves) are much like sauerkraut except made with cucumbers and spices. Buy real pickles found in the produce section that are refrigerated. The best brands will just include organic cucumbers, salt (preferably sea salt) and water. Several brands also include herbs like dill or even garlic and onion if you like more flavor. Pickles are packed with good probiotics, and cucumbers that they are made from have many gut healing properties along with sources of minerals like silica which aids the health of the hair, skin, and nails.

4. Raw Coconut Yogurt

Yogurt is fantastic cultured food to include in your healing plan and in your regular routine. Why? Because unlike fermented foods, yogurt is a cultured food meaning it is kept in a stabilized environment to ensure the right cultures develop and take place. Normally it is made with milk which mixes the cultures acidophilus and a few others that provide healing and regulating properties to the digestive tract. However, if you’re a dairy-free eater or just looking to avoid the negative issues that can come from eating dairy, opt for homemade raw coconut yogurt. Avoid those in the store that have a good bit of fillers and sugars that can actually hurt your gut instead of help it. Coconut yogurt also has the benefits of containing antiviral nutrients known as lauric acid and caprylic acid which have been shown to fight and kill yeasts and other forms of bad bacteria in the body. Coconut yogurt is also delicious creamy, filling, and so easy to make!


5. Water or Coconut Kefir

Water kefir is a great option to dairy-based kefir, which has 10- 12 times the probiotics than yogurt. However, one thing to keep in mind about kefir is that is made from yeasts, not just probiotic cultures. Kefir is made from kefir grains which are not grains but merely a cluster of yeasts that produce good bacteria during the culturing process. If you’re sensitive or allergic to yeast, you’ll need to opt for yogurt instead since it is not derived from yeast. However, if you are not sensitive to yeast, definitely opt for kefir whenever possible. It is one of the most ancient healing beverages to consume and is available as water or coconut kefir if you do not tolerate dairy. See more tips about coconut kefir here, or purchase water kefir at your local health food store.

Bonus: Raw Cacao or Dark Chocolate (90 percent or higher)

Unless you have candida overgrowth, (which can be triggered by chocolate due to it being fermented with wild airborne yeasts and not cultured in a stabilized environment), feel free to enjoy chocolate occasionally to support gut health. Why? Because dark chocolate, especially raw cacao, is actually rich in natural probiotics. The beans go through fermentation after they are harvested which is when the delectable tastes of chocolate actually forms. When purchasing cacao, always buy raw and organic if you can to avoid pesticides, chemicals, and possible toxins such as lead that can occur in regular chocolate. Dark chocolate that is organic and 90 percent is also a great choice, just be sure to avoid those especially high in sugar which feeds bad bacteria in the body. Cacao is also a great source of iron, magnesium, zinc, and B vitamins that establish a healthy gut too. See more about chocolate for gut health here!

Now that you’ve got an array of healthy foods for your gut, have a look at all of our recipes and see how you can work these probiotic-rich foods into your plant-based meals. Got a meal idea you’d like to share? Leave us a comment and let us know!

For more on candida overgrowth, probiotics, fermented foods and gut health, also be sure to check out some expert tips from a professional in the field, such as Donna Gates of Body Ecology, and Ricki Heller, who you can find at RickiHeller.com.

We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 8,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to ten new recipes per day. Check it out!


Lead Image Source: Amy/Flickr


Why fermented foods — sauerkraut, kimchi and yogurt — are good for your gut

By now you’ve probably heard that a little bacteria in your food isn’t always a bad thing. Beneficial live bacteria and yeasts, called probiotics, which are found in some foods, have been associated with many benefits: weight loss and improved digestion and immunity, among others. Some evidence suggests that probiotics may help shorten a bout of diarrhea and improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. But more research is needed to support those claims and others.

Probiotic foods are made through the process of fermentation. As bacteria chemically alter the food — say, turning milk into yogurt — they secrete enzymes, organic acids and proteins. Some of the potential health perks of probiotics may be due to those compounds, says Gail Cresci of the department of gastroenterology and hepatology at the Cleveland Clinic. That’s why food is a better choice than supplements.

Benjamin Wolfe, an assistant professor of microbiology at Tufts University, says, “The benefits people get from fermented foods come largely from improved digestibility and the nutrients the foods provide.” In many cases, fermentation adds nutritional value.

To get more gut-boosting bacteria, consider incorporating these three probiotic foods into your day.


Combine sliced cabbage with kosher salt, then cover. The bacteria present on the surface of the cabbage leaves will ferment the vegetable’s natural sugars into lactic acid, creating sauerkraut. In addition to having healthy bacteria, sauerkraut is an excellent source of vitamin C. Kimchi is a similar fermented food.

Look for: Refrigerated products, such as Bubbies and Farmhouse Culture. Shelf-stable varieties are pasteurized, which kills the healthy bacteria.

Use it: To add tartness and crunch to a salad or for roasted vegetables and grains.


Yogurt is made when milk has been inoculated with friendly bacteria, usually Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. The microbes alter the milk’s natural sugar, lactose. That process thickens the yogurt, producing the sour, tart flavor you expect. It also makes yogurt less likely than milk to cause bloating, gas and other digestive discomfort in lactose-intolerant people. “The microbes essentially predigest the food,” Wolfe says. “That makes it more pleasant to eat.”

Look for: Plain yogurt made with live active cultures. Sweetened yogurt can pack as many as three teaspoons of added sugars; plain has natural sugars in the form of lactose. If you prefer flavored yogurt, add fruit or look for a low-sugar option, such as Siggi’s Icelandic Style Yogurt.

Use it: Top a bowl of plain yogurt with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, black olives and a sprinkle of the Middle Eastern herb blend za’atar.


Adding microbial cultures to cooked soybeans results in this dense, chewy cake with a nutty texture. Tempeh is higher in protein and fiber than tofu, and some say it’s easier to digest.

Look for: Shrink-wrapped packages near the tofu and meat alternatives in supermarkets. Some brands, such as Lightlife, have grains or seeds, which alter the texture and flavor.

Use it: Slice and marinate for 30 minutes in lower-sodium soy sauce (or tamari), rice-wine vinegar and sesame oil. Pan-fry until golden. Serve with stir-fried vegetables.

Prebiotics have benefits, too

What do asparagus, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, onions and whole wheat have in common? In addition to being the makings of a tasty dish, they contain specific types of fiber that act as what are called prebiotics.

These compounds feed the healthy probiotic bacteria in your body, helping them to grow and thrive. It’s this dynamic duo that might be responsible for many of the benefits probiotics get credit for, such as improved gastrointestinal and immune health. Some manufacturers add prebiotic fibers (namely fructans, galacto-oligosaccharides and inulin) to packaged foods to boost the fiber content. But it’s better to get your prebiotic fibers from foods that naturally contain them, because they can cause digestive distress in large amounts.

Copyright 2017. Consumers Union of United States Inc.

For further guidance, go to ConsumerReports.org/Health, where more detailed information, including CR’s ratings of prescription drugs, treatments, hospitals and healthy-living products, is available to subscribers.

Understanding Kimchi

Kimchi is a simple Korean pickle, a fermented mash-up of vegetables like napa cabbage and scallions. It’s easy to make. And it’s everywhere: from modest ramen houses to the trendiest of tapas bars. It’s crossing cultural barriers on menus and filling home refrigerators, from the dorm room to your suburban mom’s well-stocked kitchen. Chefs are slapping it on burgers, layering it into grilled “kimcheese” sandwiches, and even sneaking it into your Bloody Mary. But how can something as basic as cabbage, salt, and spices be so buzzworthy? It’s simple: science.

Kimchi relies on fermentation, or the digestion of sugars into acid, gases, or alcohol (don’t worry, your kimchi won’t be boozy). It’s the fermentation process that gives kimchi its trademark effervescence, tang, and delicious funk, harnessing the natural interactions between bacteria and their environment.

Fermentation is a delicate balance of biology and art—the two things that I’m most passionate about. I didn’t always think I’d become a chef. I studied microbiology, ecology, and evolutionary studies in college. My favorite classes were focused on the interaction between species in a given niche environment. I loved learning how different animals face natural challenges, adapt to best survive, and consequently influence each other. While I enjoyed what I was studying, I loved my night job as a line cook even more. I had planned to go to veterinary school after college. But, in the end, my love for food was stronger than my love for puppies. I left the world of Petri dishes behind in exchange for one of sauté pans. When I started developing a recipe for kimchi for the America’s Test Kitchen book Foolproof Preserving, which came out in April 2016, I had no idea those two worlds were about to collide.

To develop my kimchi recipe, I started by salting the cabbage, a traditional step that draws out excess water. (Nobody likes a soggy pickle.) I then added a potent paste of garlic, ginger, Korean chili powder (gochugaru), sugar, fish sauce, and soy sauce to bring out complexity, heat, and a peppery freshness. I kept my vegetable selection simple: napa cabbage, scallions, and carrots. From this point on, the kimchi just needed to ferment, which would happen naturally when left alone in a jar in the kitchen cabinet. So, basically, I was done! Or so I thought.

But my first attempt was . . . gross. After just three days in a kitchen cabinet, the kimchi pickle was bubbling, overly sharp, and mushy. One taster described it as having too much “zing!” and not enough depth, while another described it as having an overpowering cheesy and dirty flavor. (Nobody wants a dirty pickle.)

What was going on? I started to do some research and learned that, traditionally, kimchi is often fermented in cool pits in the ground—a very different setup from my warm kitchen cabinet. Because kimchi relies on an important balance of salt and a type of bacteria called lactobacilli for preservation, I needed to create the ideal home for these bacteria to thrive. These guys are facultative anaerobes, meaning they can survive both in the presence and absence of oxygen. Either way, they create lactic acid as a by-product of their digestion, which creates an acidic environment, lowering the pH (the measurement of how acidic, neutral, or alkaline something is) and preserving (or pickling) the cabbage. The lactobacilli also make carbon dioxide (which results in the bubbly zing) and create flavorful compounds.

Clearly, lactobacilli’s work is important, and this is why salt is so key. Salt prohibits the growth of unwanted bacteria, giving our beneficial buddies, who are largely salt tolerant, enough time to dominate and pickle the vegetables. But adjusting the salt in my kimchi mixture wasn’t enough to get the texture and flavor I wanted. I decided to tackle the other variable at hand: temperature.

Do all ferments contain alcohol? Is it possible to ferment without any alcohol produced?

asked Elizabeth H.

It’s a question I get a lot (!!!) and I’m happy to answer it today for #AskWardee.

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Table Of Contents

The Question: Do Lacto-Ferments Contain Alcohol?

Elizabeth H. asked:

Hi! I’m interested in starting to use ferments in our home and am doing some research on lactic acid fermentation and wondered if you could help me. I have been looking at your website and from what I understand lactic acid fermentation does not produce alcohol, is this correct? Or does it produce a small amount of alcohol? If it does produce alcohol, is there any type of fermentation that eliminates the production of alcohol completely? Thank you for your help!

Elizabeth, thank you for your question!

Because we’re featuring your question today’s #AskWardee, you’re getting a gift — a FREE Mini eCourse! Our team will be in contact with you so you can choose which one you’d like!)

How Lacto-Fermentation Works: Fermented Means Alcoholic, For The Most Part

Lacto-fermentation involves the work of lactic acid bacteria consuming the sugars and starches in foods and through that process, creating a fermented food such as sauerkraut. During the fermentation of that food (in this case, cabbage), these beneficial bacteria produce lactic acid, ethanol (a form of alcohol), and carbon dioxide.

However, there are certain strains of bacteria that produce only lactic acid, not ethanol or alchohol, including Streptococcus thermophiles (used in yogurt), Lactobacillus lactis (buttermilk and cheese), Lactobacillus bulgarius (yogurt), and Pediococcus (sauerkraut). This fermentation is called homolactic fermentation, while the former is called heterolactic. (Source.)

And often our ferments have some yeast activity going on, too. Yeast fermentation produces alcohol (which converts to vinegar with time).

Although I could be wrong about this, I reason that most ferments we do in our homes involve diverse combinations of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts, meaning we are nearly always going to produce some alcohol, often without even trying.

So if you’re still wondering… does yogurt contain alcohol? Even though certain bacteria used to culture yogurt don’t produce alcohol, we’re not normally making yogurt in a closed environment, so there will be other bacteria and yeast present producing alcohol.

It’s just the way it is. To avoid alcohol, one should avoid fermented foods. In other words, fermented means alcoholic.

But How Much Alcohol Is In Ferments?

Ok, so alcohol in ferments is hard to avoid. But how much is there? You might want to know this to decide whether or not it’s an amount you are willing to tolerate.

And there are very good reasons for knowing this because:

  • certain medications shouldn’t mix with alcohol
  • children shouldn’t consume alcohol
  • pregnant moms shouldn’t consume alcohol
  • alcoholics shouldn’t touch alcohol
  • some people have religious reasons for not consuming alcohol
  • and other reasons, too!

Even though I can’t give you specific amounts (there are so many variables), there are some guidelines that will help you determine which ferments are likely to have more alcohol than others.

First, fermented fruits and other high sugar/starch fermented foods and beverages are likely to contain more alcohol, from .5% to 2% and possibly even higher, while low sugar/starch ferments such as sauerkraut probably do not have nearly as much.

If any ferment is fizzy, it could have a higher concentration of alcohol (such as a fizzy kefir or ginger beer or Kombucha). If you’ve been wondering if all fermented drinks contain alcohol, then the answer is yes, at least some. Naturally fermented sodas tend to be fizzy, and made with fruit — both of which encourage alcohol production.

If a ferment is done in an air-tight container, any alcohol produced is trapped inside and not allowed to disperse or convert to vinegar.

On the other hand, an open-air ferment may create alcohol initially, too, but the ferment being open allows that alcohol to disperse and convert to vinegar.

So you see there are a lot of variables!

How To Minimize Alcohol Production In Ferments

I am pretty sure you’ve already picked up on some of the “rules” you can follow to keep alcohol production down:

  • ferment low starch/sugar foods
  • if you do ferment sugary foods such as fruits, allow them to sit in the open air for awhile (days?) for the alcohol to disperse and/or convert to vinegar
  • start your ferment in a closed fermenting container (such as Pickl-It or crock with water barrier) but then leave your ferment in the open air for the alcohol to disperse and/or convert to vinegar
  • avoid fizzy ferments (and similarly ferment foods until done but not longer to minimize fizz)

In cast you’re interested, my friend Patty wrote an article, Fermenting In Pickl-It Jars, where she talked about using this closed air fermentation system to reduce alcohol content as well as other things (such as histamines).

More Fermenting Info, Reviews, and Recipes…

Check out my Lacto-Fermentation 101 Free Video Series RIGHT HERE.

And if you haven’t already, , where I share formulas so you can create your own safe ferments using the product you have on hand — salsas, relishes, krauts, beverages, and more!

We also have extensive archives of ferment recipes here!

Any Questions Or Comments?

If you have other questions or comments about your own experience with fermentation and alcohol production, be sure to leave them in the comments!

  • FREE “Fermenting Formulas” Cheat Sheet
  • Lacto-Fermentation 101 Video Series
  • Ferment recipes archive
  • Ohio Stoneware 3-Gallon Crock with water barrier
  • Pickl-It fermenting kits (for converting Fido jars to be able to perform anaerobic fermentation)
  • Pickle-Pro fermenting lids (not air-tight)
  • Lacto-Fermentation eCourse (or Mini eCourse)
  • Fermenting In Pickl-It Jars article
  • Milk Kefir Recipe
  • Honey-Sweetened Ginger Beer Recipe
  • Kombucha Recipe
  • Sauerkraut Recipe

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Bread and Beer Are Good for Your Gut


Fermented foods, like kombucha, are gaining popularity because of their health benefits. However, this method of preserving foods is not new—there are records of fermentation as early as 6000 B.C.

Dr. Robert Hutkins, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Technology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, recently published research about the beneficial microorganisms commonly found in fermented foods. We reached out to Dr. Hutkins to learn a bit more about fermented foods.

Registered dietician Anne Cundiff defined fermentation as “the chemical breakdown of a substance, carbohydrates, by bacteria, yeasts, or other microorganisms into acids, gases or alcohol. Common fermentation results in the production of beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages as well as leavening/yeast activity in bread products, lactic acid in foods like sauerkraut and yogurt and acetic acid in vinegars.”

Are there any dangers or disadvantages of fermented foods?

Dr. Hutkins: “Fermented foods and beverages have many desirable nutritional and sensory properties, which is why they are so popular. Indeed, fermented foods, like whole grain bread, yogurt, miso, red wine, and kimchi should be a considered as an important component of a healthy diet.

“Nonetheless, there are a few caveats. Obviously, while alcoholic fermented beverages have their merits, over-consumption has many health and societal dangers that most of us are well aware. Some fermented foods, like cheese and sausage, can contain high amounts of fat (and calories), whereas others, like pickles, sauerkraut, and kimchi contain rather high levels of salt. Pepperoni, salami, and other fermented sausages contain nitrite, which may also be a concern, so moderation is the key.

“There are also substances formed during fermentation called biogenic amines (e.g., tyramine and histamine) that can cause head-aches and nausea in susceptible individuals. They are occasionally present in wine, beer, aged cheese, and dry fermented sausage.”

Do fermented foods (not including alcoholic beverages) contain alcohol?

Dr. Hutkins: “Except for alcoholic fermented foods like wine, beers, and distilled spirits, fermented foods like cheese, yogurt, and pepperoni do not contain alcohol. When ethanol is present in fermented foods, it is often at very low levels. Thus, cultured buttermilk or sour cream may contain ethanol but it will be at concentrations so low (like 0.01%) it is even hard to measure. Indeed, this is about the same as that present in apple juice or bread.

“There are a few exceptions. In theory, ‘wild’ kefir (i.e., made with actual kefir grains) could contain a small amount of alcohol, but the kefirs available in U.S. grocery stores contain little to no measurable amounts. Vinegar, in contrast, does contain alcohol, with some products containing as much as 1%. Another fermented food that contains alcohol is soy sauce. Alcohol is produced naturally during fermentation, and alcohol may also be added as a preservative. Still the levels are low.

“Finally, kombucha is a yeast-fermented product that often contains alcohol. Indeed, there have been several recalls because the amount exceeded the 0.5% limit.”

What should consumers keep in mind when incorporating fermented foods into their diet?

Dr. Hutkins: “Yogurt has become one of the most popular fermented foods and is a great way to get beneficial probiotic organisms into the diet. However, many brands contain a boat-load of sugar. Try plain, or lightly sweetened versions and add your own fresh fruit. Greek yogurts, by virtue of their naturally thick body, are great on top of a baked potato or in guacamole.

“If you grew up as I did, with canned sauerkraut, try one of the many brands that are not heat-treated. They have a fresh flavor and crispy texture, plus they can contain live organisms, just like yogurt. Or for a bit more pizazz, try one of the fresh kimchi products – they are terrific.

“Or consider miso, a product many of us have become familiar with only recently since it’s often served as miso soup at sushi restaurants. It’s got a great “umami” flavor and works great in a lot of recipes, like low calorie salad dressing or over Asian noodles.

“Of course, calories and salt content do count, so some of these fermented foods should be enjoyed in moderation.”

Dr. Hutkins’ work also found a correlation between fermented foods and “lower rates of diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, heart disease and other ailments.” It is easy to incorporate fermented foods into your diet. Here are some common fermented foods:

  • Beer
  • Bread
  • Cheese
  • Coffee
  • Kombucha
  • Pickles (certain methods)
  • Salami
  • Sauerkraut
  • Sour cream
  • Soy sauce
  • Vinegar
  • Wine
  • Yogurt

Fermented foods also contain bacteria that are good for your health as well as food for those existing bacteria. Probiotics are the good bacteria in certain foods that help regulate bacteria that occurs naturally in your gut. Prebiotics are carbohydrates that your body cannot digest, but are consumed by the good bacteria (probiotics) to help them grow in the gut.

It is easy to incorporate fermented foods into your diet. In fact, you probably eat and drink a few on our list already! Talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about adding new foods into your routine.

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  • tags:
  • health,
  • food safety,
  • healthy eating,
  • fermented food,
  • health benefits


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