As people are becoming increasingly health conscious and moving towards clean eating, fermentation is said to have many health benefits, making this new trend the one to watch.
It is thanks to fermentation that we have bread and cheese, amasi and yoghurt, as well as vinegar, beer and wine.
Fermentation produces powerful probiotics which aids digestion and it is also nutrient rich. It also produces enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances.
Furthermore, the drive towards real food rather than synthetic supplementation as well as the resurgence of the slow food and the craft food market, make the process of eating and creating fermented foods that much more appealing.
But what exactly is fermented food and how how can we make our own?
Robyn Smith, founder of Faithful to Nature, an online organic shop, explains: “Sandor Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation, said fermented foods are ‘the flavourful space between fresh and rotten’.
"Fermented foods are foods that have been through a process of lacto fermentation in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid.
“This process preserves the food, and creates beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics.
“Micro-organisms like yeast and bacteria usually play a role in the fermentation process, creating beer, wine, bread, kimchi, yogurt and other foods.”
Smith said fermentation allows food to be preserved for long periods of time without refrigeration and it usually creates very strong flavours.
Registered dietitian and Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) spokesperson Cath Day, said the health benefits associated with fermented food are related to their ability to act as probiotics.
“Probiotics are live micro-organisms (healthy bacteria) that live in the gut. Probiotics have been used therapeutically to possibly reduce and improve the symptoms of various gut diseases and disorders.
Among these are inflammatory bowel diseases and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),” Day said.
“Other benefits include possible weight maintenance as large cohort studies have shown strong associations between the consumption of fermented dairy food and weight maintenance.”
She said foods that have been produced by fermentation have a reduced risk of contamination as fermentation itself is a biological method of food preservation.
Day added: “An example of a food fitting this description is sour milk (amasi) which is the product of fermented milk.
“Amasi is a good source of calcium, protein and naturally contains probiotics.
“There are also reports that fermented foods are of benefit due to their acetate content (by-product of bacterial fermentation).
“Acetate is a short chain fatty acid (SCFA) which is responsible for the sour taste of many fermented foods.
"SCFA’s play important regulatory roles within our immune system, such as reducing inflammation and allergic responses.”
Foods that naturally contain probiotics include unpasteurised yoghurt, kefir, aged cheeses, sauerkraut or kimchi, miso, kombucha, pickles, tempeh and soy beverages.
Smith said: “There are many different kinds of fermented foods from fermented vegetable dishes like Kimchi to yoghurt, beer and kombucha.
“Each type of fermentation requires a specific fermentation agent like yeast or bacteria.
“Often, a fairly sterilised environment is required to ferment foods and there are tools available to help one manage this.”
The best thing about this new trend is that it could easily be made in the comfort of your home, which is a big part of the appeal.
“As we move away from processed foods to better stocking our kitchens with food we have made ourselves from scratch, so do we empower ourselves with greater health,” Smith said.