People across the world have been using fermentation to preserve food for thousands of years. It is only recently that scientists have started to learn about the associated health benefits. Fermentation of fruits and vegetables is mainly lactic acid fermentation. If conditions are ideal, lactic acid bacteria present on the vegetables and fruits breaks down carbohydrates into carbon dioxide, organic acids and alcohol. The process enhances the digestibility of proteins and carbohydrates, and the bioavailability of vitamins and minerals. Bioavailability is the ability of a nutrient to be absorbed by the body. So when you eat fermented carrot, it is more easily digested and the nutrients are absorbed better, as compared to raw carrot.
With fermentation, the levels of many vitamins such as vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B9 (folate), vitamin B12, and vitamin K in foods are increased. Melatonin (hormone responsible for sleep) is synthesized. Exopolysaccharides, which have cholesterol-lowering, immunomodulator, antioxidant and anti-cancer properties are also generated.
According to the book ‘Fermented foods and beverages of the world’, fermented foods exhibit beneficial effects on health by reducing blood cholesterol levels, increasing immunity, protecting against pathogens, fighting carcinogenesis, osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity, allergies, and atherosclerosis, and alleviating the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Fermented foods are a source of probiotics and antioxidants. According to a study by Swain et al, the probiotics can help against certain diseases such as diarrhea and the antioxidants, responsible for removal of free radicals can help protect against degenerative diseases.
Different types of fermented foods- Sauerkraut in Germany, Kimchi in Korea, Kombucha in Asia, Tempeh in Mexico and so on have been used since thousands of years and testimonials about their health benefits are plenty. Due to the research done in the past decade, there is now enough evidence to support these claims. The world is seeing an inclination towards healthier lifestyle choices and consumption of fermented foods and beverages is increasing. With more scientific research pouring in everyday, it is only a matter of time that fermented foods and beverages will become a staple diet.