Grilled tempeh, a food produced by fermentation
Fermentation is a natural process of preservation that creates unique flavors and texture: like for tempeh

What Is Food Fermentation?

6 minutes

Ever wondered how foods like yogurt or sourdough bread are made? The answer is fermentation, a natural process of preserving food. More, food fermentation offers several benefits, especially in terms of taste and unique textures.

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What Are the Benefits of Fermentation?

Did you know that sourdough bread is made using a fermentation process? That slightly sour, but utterly delicious tangy taste is the result of fermentation. It's a natural process that uses microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria to turn carbohydrates like starch and sugar into alcohol or acids.

Sliced bread on a wire rack: one of the stars of a fermented foods list
Sourdough bread is made using a fermentation process.

The alcohol or acids used in fermented food serve a dual purpose:

  • They act as a natural preservative, meaning food keeps for longer; fermentation has been used to this precise end by many cultures for thousands of years.
  • The fermentation process also gives food a unique flavour that you can’t get any other way. It’s a sharp, zesty taste that no other process or additives can replicate.

Though the main benefit of fermented foods―that most people are aware ofis the distinctively tangy flavour, there are some important wellness advantages too.

The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

A modern, Western diet can upset the balance of good bacteriathe microbiotain our intestines. This can cause gastrointestinal symptoms like bloating, constipation, or diarrhoea. However, eating a diet rich in fermented foods enhances the diversity of gut microbes and reduces inflammation at a molecular level.

Fermented foods can also reduce the risk of diseases like Type 2 diabetes by helping to lower blood sugars. What’s more, the fermentation process produces compounds called peptides that can help to lower blood pressure

Bowl with a serving of kimchi, a well-known fermented food
Fermented food like kimchi can increase “good” bacteria in the gut.

Recent studies have also examined the connection between good gut health and mood. It’s thought that some probiotic bacteria found in fermented foods might help to reduce anxiety and depression

Who Should Not Eat Fermented Food?

Although there are many health benefits to eating fermented foodnot to mention the fact that they taste amazingthey’re not right for everyone. Certain groups of people should avoid food made using fermentation

  • People who suffer from bloating. Fermented foods contain living bacteria that can be beneficial to our health (probiotics). The “good” bacteria work against “bad” bacteria in the gut. When the bacteria die, they produce gas, which gives the common side effect of feeling bloated. If you’re already suffering from bloating, fermented foods may make it worse.
  • People who have an intolerance to histamines. Histamine is a compound found in fermented food. A build-up of histamine can cause abdominal pain, itching and diarrhoea.

If you’re not sure, ask your doctor or dietitian for advice, and always listen to your body.

 Smiling woman eating yogurt, enjoying the taste resulting from food fermentation
Eating fermented foods like yogurt may help in digestion

Our Top 7 Fermented Foods You Should Taste

Here’s a list of fermented foods, all of them iconic for their unique taste.

1. Kefir

Kefir is a fermented-milk drink thought to have originated thousands of years ago in the Caucasus region. Similar to yogurt, kefir is packed with calcium and probiotics. The fermentation process gives it a tart, sour flavour and a slight carbonation. 
Drink kefir on its own or as a delicious substitute ingredient for milk or water to add a pleasant sour kick to your dishes.

2. Kimchi

Kimchi is a spicy Korean dish made from fermented cabbage and other vegetables. The most common ingredients are cabbage, radish, onion, garlic, and red pepper. The vegetables are salted and spices are added before it's left to ferment. 
Eat kimchi on its own or serve it with fried rice, tofu, as dumplings or in stews.

3. Kombucha

Kombucha is a fermented tea. The fermentation creates a tangy flavour and slight fizz. It’s produced by adding a kombucha symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) to sweetened tea and leaving it to ferment for two weeks.
It’s often flavoured with herbs or with stone fruits like peaches, cherries and plums producing delicious, tangy flavours.

Why not taste a cocktail kombucha in The Old Stocks Inn in Cheltenham?

Serving a glass of kombucha flavoured with pineapple
Kombucha, a fermented drink made of a SCOBY and fruits

4. Sauerkraut 

Sauerkraut is thought to have originated in China almost 2,000 years ago. It's made by simply adding salt to cabbage and leaving it to ferment. The result is crunchy and slightly salty with a touch of sourness. 
You can add it to sandwiches or meat or eat it on its own as a side dish. 

BOOK A german restaurants in London

Sauerkraut on a plate and fork: fermented food ready to be enjoyed
Fermentation gives sauerkraut a delicious, tangy taste.

5. Sourdough bread

It is naturally leavened bread. Instead of commercial yeast, it relies on the natural yeast and bacteria in flour. A basic sourdough recipe is just flour, water and salt. The flour contains wild yeast and good bacteria which ferments with the water causing the bread to rise and producing its characteristic tangy taste. 
It's great with both savoury and sweet foods. Try it toasted and topped with avocado or buttered and spread with honey.

6. Miso

Miso is often found in soups, but can be a salad dressing and marinade. It's a fermented paste made from rice, barley, or soybeans. Miso adds an umami flavour to dishes. Umami is one of the five taste sensationsthe others are sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. 
It's a savoury taste, with a complex, meaty flavour. Use miso in ramen broth or to add flavour to vegetarian soups and stews.

Discover dishes with miso in Ginza St. James's in London
or in a Japanese restaurants!

Miso soup on a table: a fermented food appreciated in Japan
Miso is one of the foods produced by fermentation

7. Tempeh

This is a plant-based protein made from naturally fermented soybeans that people often compare to tofu. It has a firmer texture than tofu and the flavour is often described as strongly nutty. Tempeh also absorbs the flavour of other food, which makes it hugely versatile. 
You can use it in chilies, sandwiches, stews and much more. 

Fermented foods are gaining in popularity, with more people falling for the unique, tangy flavour―first and foremostand then being impressed by the health benefits. Many fermented foods are also suitable for those on a flexitarian or plant-based diet. For instance, tempeh provides all the essential amino acids our bodies need and is a great option for vegetarians. 

If you're interested in fermented foods, London has plenty of Korean restaurants where you can try dishes like tempeh or kimchi. Why not give this delicious style of cuisine a try?

 Book a Korean restaurant in London

Fermented food in a nutshell

Fermentation is used to preserve food. It’s a natural metabolic process where enzymes turn a carbohydrate, like a starch or sugar, into an alcohol or acid.

Fermentation is a method of preserving food and is also used to create a variety of flavours and textures in food.

There are three types of fermentation: lactic acid, alcohol, and alkaline fermentations. Kimchi and sauerkraut are made through lactic-acid fermentation.

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