Cooking with Fermented Foods: Here's What You Should Know ...

If you equate fermentation with things that have gone bad, it’s time to change that. There are plenty of foods that are fermented before being shipped for sale in stores. The truth is that fermented foods have a host of health benefits, the biggest one being that the fermentation helps digestion and boosts immunity. Some of the most common fermented foods are pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, leavened bread, beer and cider. Using them in cooking helps jazz things up in the kitchen and gives you a health boost at the same time. Here’s how to do it.

1. Remember That a Little Goes a Long Way

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The great thing about fermented foods is that they have a pretty intense flavor, so you only need a little bit to enhance your foods. For example, Greek yogurt makes a wonderful base for a creamy sauce to pour over cucumber salad or to serve on salmon with dill. But you only need a small amount to get the benefits. Same when you use beer to marinate steak or add sauerkraut to a hot dog.

2. Look in the Refrigerated Section of Your Grocery Store

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In most cases, fermented foods are best stored cold, which means you’ll likely find them in the cold section of your local supermarket. Sometimes pickles and sauerkraut are sold in cans and jars, but I think the cold version tastes much fresher. If you’re new to cooking with fermented foods, hunt around your grocery store to figure out where they are shelved. You’ll be so glad you did!

3. Combine Them with Meat for a Great Tasting Meal

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There’s just something about fermented foods that makes them pair really well with meats. Try sauerkraut on pork chops in the slow cooker or combine yogurt with vinegar and herbs to marinate white fish. Cider is also a great marinade ingredient for chicken or beef. Fermented chutney is perfect for adding flavor to meats.

4. Stop Calling for Takeout and Cook Your Own Dinner

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Fermented foods are often used in ethnic dishes like miso soup. Learn to make these items at home and you can chuck those takeout menus in the trash. Kimchi, an ethnic fermented condiment, is used in many dishes as well. Look online for recipes that get your mouth watering and experiment with yummy meals you’ll want to eat all the time.

5. Make Sure the Probiotics Are in Tip Top Shape

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The reason why fermented foods are so good for your digestion and immunity is because they are chock full of probiotics, a healthy type of bacteria. To make sure you’re getting the most out them, look for fermented foods that are well chilled, are not pasteurized and are fermented rather than pickled. Some experts say that organic products are better, but that’s up to you and how much you’re willing to spend.

6. Salt Content is Something You Should Pay Attention to

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There are several ways in which foods are fermented, but some of them rely on salt as a starter. If you’re watching your sodium intake, be sure you evaluate your options so that you can choose something that aligns with your health goals. Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, a contributor to heart disease.

7. Learn How to Make Your Own Fermented Foods

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It turns out that fermenting foods isn’t too hard. If you have a garden and would like to try your hand at the process, you can benefit from fermentation while also being able to control what goes into your foods so they are as healthy for you as possible. The local library and the Internet are great places to find fermentation recipes.

What’s your favorite fermented food? I love sauerkraut and would really like to learn how to make it myself. Do you have any other tips for making or cooking with fermented foods?

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