The art of fermenting foods to preserve their storage ability goes back as far as records take us. Typical foods with poor storage qualities include milk from camels, sheep, buffalo, goats and cows, fresh vegetables such as cabbages, and fresh coconut milk. Food was also fermented to produce new tastes for example coffee beans, sourdough bread and cheeses.
Some of the first yoghurts were produced in goat bags and hung over the backs of camels in the hot deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. Temperatures of 40 C or 110F proved to be ideal for the lactic acid bacteria naturally present in the milk to go to work and produce an acid tasting food drink that had better-holding qualities than the fresh milk.
The Health benefits of fermented foods were first researched at the turn of the last century when a Russian Nobel prize-winning Bacteriologist Ilya Metchnikoff first documented that people who had a large consumption of fermented foods tended to live a long time. He noted that Bulgarians had an average life span of 87 years, which was unusual in the early 1900s, and that four out of every thousand people lived past 100 years of age.
More recently it was observed that the Hunza people of Kashmir and the Georgians (formerly the Soviet Union) also have a remarkable history of longevity. It was not unusual for men of over 100 years to continue to play polo, and women of over 100 years to continue to work in farm fields. Both communities remain active throughout their lives and eat wholesome basic diets containing plenty of fermented milk. A famous Georgian saying is “If you want to live long, drink more sour milk”
Research has shown that there are several ways in which regular intake of naturally fermented foods benefits our health. All the benefits stem from an improvement in the health of the digestive system.
Intestinal pH Balance
A healthy large intestine (or colon) has a slightly acidic pH, that tends to inhibit or destroy putrefactive bacteria. Putrefactive bacteria produce foul-smelling wind and are damaging to health when present in large numbers in the intestine.
Naturally fermented foods contain active lactobacilli bacteria that produce lactic acid and many other beneficial bacteria and yeasts that also produce acids, which help to keep the large intestine pH at a healthy level. An acid pH and a healthy population of friendly bacteria will inhibit the growth of undesirable bacteria, moulds, mould spores and yeasts, particularly Candida.
Improvement of Digestion and the Digestibility of Foods.
Healthy bacteria found in naturally fermented foods produce enzymes that can break down foods present in the intestines, making the nutrients easier to absorb. In addition, healthy bacteria also produce vitamins such as the B group, making the fermented food richer in nutrients. Yoghurt is a prime example. It is easier to digest than the milk it is made from, and richer in vitamins such as B and C.
Reduction in Intestinal Infections/Improved Recovery After Antibiotic Treatment
The Lactobacilli family all seem to produce natural agents that have the ability to reduce or destroy bacteria eaten in contaminated food. Acidophilus bacteria produce Acidophillin and Bulgaricus bacteria produce Bulgaricus, which act as a defence army against unfriendly bacteria. This means less damage from food poisoning and better recovery from antibiotic treatment.
Antibiotics kill a large number of intestinal bacteria, good and bad, and unless steps are taken to make sure the good bacteria are replaced, the result can be ongoing digestive symptoms resulting from overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria.