Yes, fermentation. It’s everywhere and happening every day with no escaping it, and you’ve heard all about the benefits of fermented foods. But just what is fermentation, and why is it so important?
Fermentation is a process used to produce the finest wine; many of our basic staples, such as bread and cheese; and pleasurable delights, including beer, chocolate, coffee and yogurt. Fermentation is an easy process, enjoyed and done by anyone and anywhere with the most basic tools. Cultures around the world have been fermenting longer than we’ve been cultivating soil or writing books, benefiting from the countless delicacies as a result.
Best of all, fermentation brings out some amazing health benefits in the foods we eat. What is fermentation good for? Well, fermentation helps increase digestion and bioavailability of nutrients, as well manage and prevent disease, including H. pylori infection, cancer, liver disease, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and lactose intolerance. Furthermore, it’s been shown that fermented foods can reduce social anxiety.
What Is Fermentation?
What is fermentation? It’s the process of using microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, to convert carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids under anaerobic conditions.
There are two types of fermentation: alcoholic and lactic acid. Alcoholic fermentation, or ethanol fermentation, is where pyruvate (from glucose metabolism) is broken down into carbon dioxide and ethanol by bacteria and yeast. Alcohol fermentation has been used to produce beer, bread and wine.
Pyruvate molecules from glucose glycolysis may be further fermented into lactic acid. Lactic acid fermentation converts lactose into lactic acid.
There are several benefits to fermenting food. First, fermentation serves to enhance the digestion of food. Your body needs adequate digestive enzymes to properly absorb, digest, and utilize nutrients in food. When vegetables like cabbage and cucumbers are left to steep and sit until the sugars are broken down to promote the growth of bacteria, this is when the vegetables are fermented.
Fermented foods are also filled with beneficial bacteria that work as reinforcement for the good bacteria in the digestive system. Since 70 percent to 80 percent of the immune system lies in the gut, having proper balance of gut flora is important.
What else is fermentation good for? It preserves food. How? During fermentation, organisms produce acetic acid, alcohol and lactic acid, which are all “bio-preservatives” that retain nutrients and prevent spoilage. Lactic acid acts as a preservative by reducing pH, which inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. It also influences physical properties of casein to induce a finer suspension, which appears to help promote digestibility.