Ancient civilisations already had the heads up – that eating fermented food is exceptionally good for your health, in particular your immune system. Now, modern research is proving the science behind this tradition. Dietitian Kim Wilson explains why we should be eating, and making, more of our own fermented foods
If you think that the Raspberry Kombucha Cocktail you sip over a girls’ brunch is cutting edge or innovative, the Chinese actually have a 9 000-year head start on you. Fermentation as a practice may not be ground-breaking, but the research around it certainly is.
Fermented foods for the modern world
Fermented foods have been linked to many health benefits, not the least of which is the activation of our immune system. This is fantastic for the modern world where we are not only encountering more toxins and stress than ever, but we’re also more likely to be exposed to the dreaded ‘superbugs’.
It’s all good and well knowing that a helping of sauerkraut on your salad will activate your immune system, but it’s even better knowing why this happens. This ‘why’ provides new targets for therapeutic intervention.
Waking up your immune system
New research from the University of Leipzig in Germany has identified just how fermented foods stimulate our immune cells. Consuming Lactic Acid Bacteria – the kind that turns your salted cabbage and spices into kimchi, and your sugary-black-tea into kombucha – leads to the production of a metabolite that binds strongly to our immune cells and ‘wakes them up’.
This metabolite may be the answer to managing inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, autoimmune diseases and allergies. Future research will certainly explore this. For now, we no longer have to rely on anecdotal Instagram stories of how ‘WellnessInstaGirl’s’ inflamed gut was healed through daily Kombucha shots. We know just how this works and can sip our Raspberry Kombucha Cocktail with newfound wisdom.
But wait, there’s more!
The immune system plays an enormous role in managing our day-to-day health, but it certainly isn’t the only system improved by fermented foods. The other major system fermented foods impact is our digestion.
Fermented foods provide enzymes and probiotics that colonize our gut with the right stuff. A healthy balance of gut flora leads to:
- Improved digestion and breakdown of our food
- Improved absorption of nutrients from our food
- Improved elimination of dietary toxins from the gut (through our daily bathroom breaks)
Fermented foods should be included as part of a healthy, balanced diet. They can also play an important role in regulating your immune system. With so many available options on the market, even if you cannot stand sauerkraut or kimchi, you will find a fermented food you enjoy.
We’ve included one lesser known fermented food recipe for you to enjoy below.
MAKE YOUR OWN FERMENTED TOMATO SALSA
- 5kgs tomatoes of choice (a variety of regular, cherry, heirloom etc. may make your salsa even more flavourful)
- 1 large onion
- 2 red or green chilies (add fewer or more depending on how spicy you like your salsa, or replace with a bell pepper if you prefer a mild salsa)
- 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1 bunch of coriander, finely chopped
- Juice of 2 limes (or replace with lemons)
- 1 ½ tbsp. salt
- ½ tsp cumin
- ½ tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- Add the tomatoes to your blender/food processer and blend until smooth (or leave it slightly chunky if you prefer)
- Place the tomatoes in a large bowl to one side.
- Finely chop the onion and add to the large bowl with the herbs and spices.
- Add the lime/lemon juice and salt to the vegetables. Mix until everything is well combined.
- Pour the mixture into large mason jars and fill just more than ¾ of the jar, leaving a gap at the top. Leave these on your counter for 2 – 3 days to ferment.
- Transfer to the fridge and use as you need. They will keep for a few months in the fridge, and the flavors will continue to intensify.