Ages ago, possibly dating back to as long ago as 6000 BC, before there was refrigeration, people resorted to fermentation to preserve food.
Fermentation is the process where bacteria or yeast metabolize ingredients and produce lactic acid inside the container to preserve the food, sometimes up to years, depending on the type of food.
Fermentation has led to the discovery of yoghurt, pickles, fermented cabbage, kefir, Kim chi, tofu, natto, miso, lassi and tempeh; and of course the many varieties of fruit vinegar made from apples, coconut and grains.
Many of these are made from simple and wholesome ingredients which include soybeans, vegetables, milk and grains. These are often affordably-priced like ordinary cooking ingredients. For example, the Chinese vinegar comes in black vinegar which is made from rice, and traditional mature vinegar which is made from barley, peas and bran.
Most fermented superfoods today come in handy jars and packaging which are great to stock at home. When you run out of fresh ingredients, pop opens a jar of miso to churn out a healthy, nutritious soup that’s full of flavour. Add on tasty preserved Chinese cabbage to plain rice porridge on a cold rainy day or when you feel under the weather. Add on a dash of smoky black Chinese vinegar to steamed vegetables. Cold Kim chi stored in the refrigerator tastes superb with steamed rice. The ways you can enjoy fermented dishes are amazing!
Looks simple and easy to prepare, right? Importantly, these folk-style creations are a real wholesome superfood. They are part of the clean eating revolution that is low in carbohydrates.
Importantly, fermented food provides a host of benefits, especially for gut health. According to the “What’s Trending in Nutrition” survey in Today’s Dietitian, where 2,050 registered dietitian nutritionists were surveyed, fermented food is often recommended to improve overall well-being and gut health as they help to prevent inflammation and promote good bacterial growth inside the digestive system. The bacteria in fermented food acts as probiotics to promote natural intestinal flora in the human body which are good for gut health. Fermented food also contains a variety of enzymes, B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
Often unique in flavour, fermented superfoods are now increasingly used not only by home chefs but in the culinary world due to a rapidly growing demand by generation Z youngsters and millennials who love the “new” flavours.
A great example is the influx of Korean cuisine in Asia and around the world. Popular with the young and old alike, you will surely love having a plate of spicy sour Kim chi vegetables (a combination of fermented cabbage, radish, cucumber, scallion, pepper powder and red chilli paste) as a side dish to accompany your meal or a steaming, hot Kim chi soup, perfect on its own or with noodles. Try Kim chi pancakes or Kim chi fried rice. The possibilities are glorious.
Kim chi is rich in probiotics, promotes digestion, boosts the immune system, contains fibre, is a rich source of Vitamin B, detoxifies the body system, helps diabetes suffers, relieves eczema, improves skin quality and supports heart and weight management.
The Indians love their lassi. This is a creamy yoghurt drink which is often freshly fermented at the premises of Indian restaurants or available in quality supermarkets. This superfood drink is thirst-quenching, creamy and rich in probiotics. It is quick to digest, restores gut-friendly bacteria and soothes colon irritation.
From the soy family, there are fermented products such as tempeh and miso. The fermentation process in miso promotes the bioavailability of certain nutrients and oligosaccharides, breaks down phytic acids while creating a strong, musky flavour that blends well with seaweed in the soup while tempeh is a great side dish in Indonesian cuisine.
We may be familiar with apple cider vinegar. In middle Asia, there are many types of healthy fruit vinegar and aromatic rice vinegar. In China, sorghum, rice, wheat and barley vinegar are savoury with smoky scent. The Japanese have a dark rice vinegar compared to the paler version from Taiwan. Many are brewed from brown or white rice.
The famous Chinese red vinegar made from rice or grains is popular as the garnish for noodles and dumplings or used as an appetising dip. In the Philippines, sugarcane vinegar is used for pickles and simply spices up the appetite with cider-like aroma and taste.
Korea and Taiwan are famous for their fruit vinegar drinks which may be made from strawberries, grapefruit, persimmon, blueberries, pomegranates and a variety of fruits. These are absolutely refreshing when mixed with mint leaves and honey as a drink. You can add a dash onto salads or as marinate for meat and pickles or added them to olive oil and used as a dip.
Lastly, pickles. There is a distinct difference between pickling and fermenting. Pickling is making pickles from fermented vinegar but may not have the enzymes and probiotics like fermented vegetables. Fermented vegetables, on the other hand, are brined pickles made from vegetables which are cured for weeks like the Sichuan fermented vegetables which are made from long beans, red chillies and cabbage.
Want to know more about these fermented superfoods? Look out for the exciting range of fermented food products at Superfood Asia 2019, coming your way from 24th to 26th April 2019 in Singapore. See you soon!