Fermented foods are no fad


Human body cells are beat out 10 to one by bacterial cells, with the average person housing 100 trillion bacterial cells in the gut and mouth and on the skin. These bacterial cells are also called microbes, and the enormous community of microbes that cohabit our bodies are termed the microbiome.

A person’s microbiome is as individualized as a fingerprint. The microbes in our gut help us digest our food, and they help train our immune system cells.

The microbiome needs to be fed daily with a diet rich with fibrous plant-based foods like fruits, beans, and whole grains. To work properly, the bacterial population needs to be diverse. Incorporating probiotic-rich foods also helps to keep the microbiome varied and replenished, especially against assaults like antibiotics, which wipe out all bacteria—good and bad.

Research on the microbiome is growing, moving the discussion from scientific journals to social circles. Last October, The Nature of Things even aired an episode titled “It Takes Guts, which is a perfect primer for consumers.

Consumer demand is growing for a number of key fermented products. Consider lining these probiotic-rich fermented foods in coolers together, establishing a fermented foods section.


Kombucha (pronounced kom-boo-cha) is an effervescent drink made from green, white, or black tea, a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (or SCOBY), and sugar. The caffeine from the tea and added sugar feed the starter culture during fermentation, which results in a slightly sweet beverage with minimal sugar and caffeine. Various brands have also taken to adding other flavours like ginger, blueberry, guava, or lemongrass.

Consumers commonly ask if kombucha is an alcoholic drink. It can have trace amounts, but most brands contain less than 0.1% alcohol if kept refrigerated. For those with alcohol dependence, kombucha may not be appropriate.


A fermented milk drink, kefir (pronounced keh-fear) is like a drinkable yogurt made with milk and bacterial cultures. More traditional recipes also use yeast, which produces an effervescent version with a more sour taste. The big difference between kefir and yogurt is the concentration of probiotic bacteria. Some kefirs dish up as many as 5 billion bacteria per tablespoon, whereas probiotic yogurt contains an average of only 1 billion bacteria per ¾ cup.


Probiotic pickled vegetables include any refrigerated unpasteurized pickle product made using salt brine—not vinegar. Unpasteurized is also key, as the high heat of the pasteurization kills all bacterial cultures.

One of the most popular fermented vegetable products is sauerkraut, which has seen much growth through 2015. Traditional sauerkraut (and all probiotic pickled vegetables, for that matter), contain simply salt and cabbage. Modern sauerkraut producers have expanded to SKUs that contain cabbage along with other herbs or fruits and vegetables, creating a variety of flavours.

Kimchi (pronounced kim-chee) is a spicy version of sauerkraut. Kimchi originates from Korea and is fermented nappa cabbage combined with scallions, garlic, ginger, radish, and seasonings. Like sauerkraut, it can be eaten as a condiment or side dish for sandwiches or entrees.

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