Fermented foods are commonly used around the world in varying amounts. Different areas of the world have developed fermented foods that improve their diets, especially during times of hardship. Consuming these foods can provide nutritional benefits beyond those of unfermented foods, which is particularly important in areas of the world where malnutrition is prevalent.
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Types of Fermented Foods
A variety of foods can be fermented. This includes beverages, fruits, vegetables, grains and even things that are normally considered waste products, such as bones. Once fermented, these foods can be used as condiments, sauces, seasonings, side dishes or ingredients in main dishes. Beverages can be alcoholic or not, depending on the preparation. Some of the better-known fermented products include yogurt, kimchi, buttermilk, soy sauce, miso, cassava, pickles and sauerkraut.
Fermenting foods can preserve them so they last longer, make them easier to digest, make unsafe foods or inedible things edible and make foods more nutritious. During time of food shortage, things that are not normally eaten can be fermented to make them more palatable. Probiotics are also found in many fermented foods, so these foods can lower the risk for diarrhea. The strong taste of fermented foods is useful in adding flavor to diets that might otherwise be bland.
Eating fermented foods can help prevent malnutrition in three ways. First, fermenting makes more food available overall. Second, the process of fermenting foods increases the amounts of certain vitamins and minerals in foods, including biotin, nicotinic acid, riboflavin, thiamine and vitamin B12. Finally, fermenting some foods makes them easier to digest, breaking down fiber that you wouldn't normally be able to digest and turning it into sugars that you can digest. This increases the amount of calories you get from the food. Lactose is also partially broken down during fermentation, making yogurt easier to consume for those who are lactose intolerant.
Preventing Food-Borne Illness
Foods contaminated with certain types of bacteria can cause diarrhea, which can lead to malnutrition. Fermenting foods creates conditions that are unfriendly for these types of bacteria, killing off some types and keeping others from contaminating these foods, making fermented foods less likely to cause food-borne illnesses. These foods also tend to have friendly bacteria, or probiotics, which help to prevent these types of infections. These nutrients help to bolster the immune system against other illnesses as well.