You hear more and more these days about probiotics – friendly bacteria that promote good health. One of the more important things they do is help keep harmful bacteria from taking over, essentially by crowding them out.
In the mouth, this helps prevent gum disease and tooth decay.
We’ve briefly looked at some of the things you can do to maintain a healthy oral microbiome, from maintaining good oral hygiene to supplementation. A good many prefer to support helpful bacteria through food. Probiotic foods are typically those that have been fermented, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and beverages such as kefir.
Fermentation has benefits beyond the probiotics, too. For instance, many of the microorganisms used are the same as those that live in the human digestive tract, where they aid in digestion. In fact, some foods they digest even better than your digestive system can.
Fermented foods are thus easier to absorb and more nutrition. Many of the microorganisms also make trace nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable.
While you’ll likely find an array of fermented foods at your local supermarket, there are benefits to making your own. It can be fun, and you can make products not otherwise available.
Recently, we received a new book that provides a good starting point for those who want to try fermenting on their own: Kombucha, Kefir, and Beyond: A Fun and Flavorful Guide to Fermenting Your Own Probiotic Beverages at Home by Alex Lewin and Raquel Guajardo.
Beverages, the authors believe, are the best way to reap the benefits of fermentation. Among other things, they’re quicker, more convenient, and easier to transport and consume.
Fermenting your own drinks means more microbial diversity in the final product, compared to store-bought products. Those often contain only a few types of microbes, due to the need to churn out consistent product. Since we don’t yet fully know which specific microorganisms and trace products are beneficial for health, the more variety, the better.
While home fermentation might seem a little intimidating at first, it’s easier and less problem-prone than other home food processing, such as canning. And as the authors note, you don’t necessarily need a lot of special equipment to get started. Sometimes, a Mason jar and suitable cover are all that you need besides your ingredients.
The book starts off providing recipes for milk fermentation products such as yogurt, kefir, and whey. The authors also share multiple ways of making fermented tea beverages such as kombucha and jun.
Other chapters show just how vast the range of possibilities is when it comes to fermented beverages. For instance, did you know you can make naturally fermented “sodas”? These end up being much healthier than the chemical concoctions sold in stores. In fact, drinks such as root beer and ginger ale were originally healthy fermentation products. The mass produced are the result of efforts to make them cheaper, but at a great cost in nutritional value and healthfulness.
One of the authors draws on her Mexican heritage growing up in Monterrey to include some traditional pre-Hispanic drinks such as pulque, cactus wine, and a masa-based beer.
Another chapter looks at making alcoholic drinks, generally using wild fermentation processes. The resulting products are much less potent than their commercial counterparts, as the latter use yeasts bred to grow at high alcohol levels. The high alcohol content, in turn, kills off most of the microbes used to make such products. What’s left is often destroyed by pasteurization or removed by filtration.
With this book in hand, you may never get bored in keeping your microbiome diverse and healthy!