Fermented foods and beverages have been around for thousands of years and are enjoying new interest from consumers looking for a healthy lifestyle and natural products. We all recognize kimchi, sauerkraut and wine as fermented products; however, there are less obvious examples such as coffee and cocoa beans, miso or vinegar.
What is fermentation? How does food change?
The fermentation process is usually a biological change caused by the action of yeast or bacteria, which sometimes leads to bubbles or heat. The whole process can be controlled by salt and controlled by time and temperature. Through fermentation, milk can be turned into yogurt, as lactic acid-producing bacteria grow on sugar (in the case of lactose-based products) and other nutrients, altering its taste and structure. Only recently did a global team of scientists convened by the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) agree with the definition of fermented foods and beverages. It is “foods” made through the desired microbial growth and enzymatic transformations of nutrients.
What foods can we call fermented? What are their advantages?
According to the definition, the production of such foods requires both microbial growth and enzymatic processes. This means that if enzymes or fermented ingredients are simply added to the product, it cannot be considered fermented. Fermentation bacteria are also needed, although “their presence or viability” during consumption is not required. Yogurt, kefir, cheese or kimchi still contain live microbes when we eat them, which is not the case with bread, boiled sausages, vinegar, wine, most beers or coffee beans. The latter undergo further processing, such as pasteurization or roasting, which kills live bacteria, but they are still fermented foods.
Another important aspect of fermented food is that the controlled growth of microorganisms is desirable and intentional, not accidental or undesirable, as is the case with spoiled food. In addition to improving texture or taste, fermentation can increase vitamin and bioactive compounds in food, prevent the formation of toxic substances and prevent food spoilage. The beneficial effects of bioactive compounds on human health can help reduce the risk of some chronic diseases.
Fermented against probiotic food – what’s the difference?
Bacteria present in the product or by adding live bacteria. If fermented foods are subjected to additional processing such as pasteurization, baking, or filtration, which kill live bacteria, the product cannot be considered a probiotic. The reason for this is that if fermented foods do not meet the above criteria, it is not possible to determine the level of live bacteria consumed or to scientifically prove their health benefits. However, even if fermented foods are not probiotics, they can still be nutritious and contribute to a balanced diet.