Probiotics are everywhere these days, as food manufacturers rush to capitalize on public interest in these functional foods. Probiotics are live microorganisms that can be consumed by humans to achieve certain health benefits. Most probiotics are bacteria, though some species of yeast have also been identified to have probiotic qualities. Once ingested, these friendly microbes take up residence in your gastrointestinal tract, where they help in the management of disorders such as diarrhea, lactose intolerance and colitis, according to the California Dairy Research Foundation.
Pickles that are created using traditional methods, and without the use of vinegar may contain probiotics. According to the University of Missouri, these pickles must be brine cured in order to ensure the survival of probiotic bacteria. Pickling isn’t just for cucumbers. Look for probiotic pickled ginger, beans and carrots, available from natural foods distributors.
Sauerkraut doesn’t need added bacteria in order to undergo fermentation. Bacteria already present within the cabbage can do the job all on its own. Lactobacillus plantarum is the probiotic most common associated with kraut. Look for refrigerated brands to ensure that your kraut contains live cultures.
If you’ve got a taste for spicy foods and want to increase your probiotic intake, try kimchi. This Korean dish is a fiery mix of salted cabbage spiced with garlic, chili peppers and jalapenos and fermented in its own liquids, allowing the natural probiotic bacteria to do their thing. Kimchi is eaten daily by thousands of Koreans, even with breakfast.
Soybeans, those ubiquitous staples of vegetarian foods, are crushed into a paste to make miso, a salty flavoring that is the basis of a popular soup served with sushi. Thought the paste is definitely fermented by bacteria, precisely which strains of bacteria remains unclear, according to Dr. Alegandro Rooney of the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research.
Most probiotics are found in dairy products, though the vegetable options discussed above also exist. Read the labels and be selective when purchasing vegetable products for their probiotic qualities. Some pickled or fermented vegetable products undergo pasteurization, a heating process that kills off probiotic bacteria, thus nullifying their health enhancing effects. Preservatives such as sodium benzoate can also kill off probiotic bacteria.
- The Nibble: Probiotic Foods: 2008 Update Part VI: Foods Containing Probiotics, Prebiotics Or Both ~ Fermented Vegetables & Miso
- The Nibble: What Is Probiotic Food? Part III: Which Foods Contain Probiotics?
- The Accidental Scientist: Science of Cooking: Korea's Kimchi Passion
- University of Missouri Extension: Understanding Probiotics
- California Dairy Research Foundation: Probiotic Basics