“The proliferation of [microorganisms] in fermented vegetables enhances their digestibility and increases vitamin levels. These beneficial organisms produce numerous helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. [They] not only keep vegetables and fruits in a state of perfect preservation but also promotes the growth of healthy flora throughout the intestine.” – Sally Fallon, Nourishing Traditions
The fermentation of food is a practice that has been found and revered in every traditional and indigenous culture in the world. The fermentation of food provides numerous cost and health benefits, including:
- Fermented foods improve digestion by introducing beneficial microflora to our digestive systems. These microbes replacing old ones that have been killed off by the consumption of antibiotics and chlorinated water while introducing new genetics that are better adapted to environmental pathogens than those trapped in the gut.
- Raw, fermented foods are rich in enzymes that help the body properly digest, absorb, and make full use of your food. As you age, your body’s supply of enzymes decreases. This has caused many scientists to hypothesize that if you could guard against enzyme depletion, you could live a longer, healthier life.
- Fermenting food increases the vitamin content in foods. Levels of folic acid, pyroxidine, B vitamins, riboflavin, biotin, and other nutients can be greatly enhanced though fermentation.
- Eating fermented food helps us to absorb the nutrients we’re consuming.
- Fermenting increases the shelf life of food.
- Fermenting food is inexpensive.
- Fermenting food increases the flavor. All our gourmet foods (alcoholic drinks, stinky cheese, breads, cured meats, coffee, tea, chocolate, and more) are all created by various fermentation processes. This is because fermentation changes and enhances the taste of foods, creating complex flavors not found otherwise.
- Fermented foods are claimed to increase longevity. Many traditional cultures claim that their fermented foods contribute to their health. For example, in in post-WWII Japan, villages that consumed large quantities of miso soup (a double fermented broth) has significantly lower rates of cancer and radiation sickness.
The Fermenting Fungi
Many fermented foods are fermented predominantly by bacteria. Some are fermented largely by fungi. And a few are fermented by both (a double ferment). The following is a list of commonly fermented foods that utilize fungi along with the fungi that are involved in the process:
- Beer, Mead, Wine – Saccharomyces cerevisiae
- Alcoholic cider – Saccharomyces uvarum
- Sake – Saccharomyces sake & Aspergillus oryzae
- Leavened Bread – Saccharomyces cerevisiae
- Tempeh – Rhizopus oligosporus
- Miso – Aspergillus oryzae
- Camembert Cheese – Penicillium camemberti
- Roquefort Cheese – Penicillium roquefortii
- Soy Sauce & Tamari – Aspergillus oryzae & Saccharomyces rouxii
- Citric Acid & Vitamin C – Aspergillus niger
- Kombucha – made by a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY)
Cultivating The Fermenting Fungi
Small scale production of the above foods often requires the importation of fungal cultures (however, some foods can be “wild fermented” by utilizing microbes found on the surface of the foodstuffs). This practice is not only wasteful due to the resources required to transport these cultures, it is also unsustainable in that the cultures, if not properly maintained, must be eventually reordered.
However, it is possible, and quite inexpensive, to perpetuate these cultures using the same aseptic techniques used for mushroom cultivation. Maintaining one’s own collection of fermenting fungal cultures thus enables a person to derive all the above benefits of fermented foods at a fraction of their normal cost in a gourmet food store. Home brewers commonly keep a collection of various strains of yeasts for different types of alcoholic drinks and Indonesians keep stock of their tempeh cultures. Hopefully, as the skills of fungal cultivation become more popular in the West, these fermented foods and others like them will also rise in popularity.