By Christine Ruggeri
Yes, fermentation is everywhere and by now you've probably heard all about the benefits of fermented foods. But what exactly is fermentation and why is everyone making such a big deal out of it?
Fermentation is a process used to produce many of the foods you know and love, like cheese, bread, yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, wine and chocolate. It’s an easy process, done by anyone, anywhere and with the most basic tools. Cultures around the world have been fermenting longer than we’ve been cultivating soil or writing books — it’s been done for thousands of years.
Best of all, fermentation brings out some amazing health benefits in the foods, drinks and supplements we consume.
I connected with Ancient Nutrition co-founder and DrAxe.com founder Dr. Josh Axe and asked him to explain how the company uses fermentation to boost the benefits of its products. Here’s what he said:
“The process of fermentation can elevate superfoods, herbs and nutrients to a whole new level. When an ingredient is fermented, it creates new compounds that can have numerous benefits on the body. Also, fermentation is known to increase absorption and digestion. Remember, you aren't what you eat; you are what you digest.”
For that reason, we at Ancient Nutrition ferment many of our ingredients — some at our own farms — to make them more bioavailable, such the eggshell membrane collagen in our No. 1 product Multi Collagen Protein as well as our new Collagen Peptides supplement.
What Is Fermentation?
Fermentation is the process of using microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, to convert carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids under anaerobic conditions. There are two basic types of fermentation: alcoholic and lactic acid.
Alcoholic fermentation, or ethanol fermentation, is where pyruvate (from glucose metabolism) is broken down into carbon dioxide and ethanol by bacteria and yeast. Alcohol fermentation has been used to produce beer, bread and wine.
Pyruvate molecules from glucose glycolysis may be further fermented into lactic acid. Lactic acid fermentation converts lactose into lactic acid.
In the late 19th century, microbiologists realized that microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tract of healthy individuals had some interesting characteristics. These beneficial microflora were named probiotics, literally meaning “for life.” Probiotics are microorganisms that exert health-promoting influences in humans and animals.
The reasons why fermented foods and drinks are beneficial are because of the natural probiotics they contain and fermentation serves to enhance the digestion of food. Your body needs adequate digestive enzymes and beneficial bacteria to properly absorb, digest and utilize nutrients in food.
Fermented foods are filled with beneficial bacteria that work as reinforcement for the good bacteria in the digestive system. Since 70 percent to 80 percent of the immune system lies in the gut, having proper balance of gut flora is important.
What else is fermentation good for? It preserves food. How? During fermentation, organisms produce acetic acid, alcohol and lactic acid, which are all “bio-preservatives” that retain nutrients and help preserve food. Lactic acid acts as a natural preservative by reducing pH.
What is fermentation good for? Well, for starters, it helps support digestion and boost bioavailability of nutrients, support gut health and promote overall wellness.
That’s exactly why we focus on adding fermented herbs into our supplement formulations. Here’s a breakdown of the many benefits of fermentation:
1. Supports Healthy Digestion
In general, fermentation breaks down nutrients into more easily digested forms. When bacteria in fermented foods proliferate, their vitamin levels increase and digestibility is enhanced.
Some fermented foods serve to boost gut health. While more studies need to be conducted, one notable study found healthy gut benefits in participants who consumed probiotic yogurt more than once a week compared to those who did not.
By supporting digestive health, fermented foods, drinks and supplements are able to support normal elimination and the proper absorption of nutrients.
2. Enhances Bioavailability of Nutrients
Fermentation helps create new nutrients, like B vitamins, folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, thiamine and biotin, and may improve the availability, digestibility and quantity of some dietary nutrients.
The bioavailability of fat and protein are enhanced by these beneficial bacteria byproducts, like lactic acid. Lactic acid bacteria increase the production of free amino acids and short-chain fatty acids that may help support a healthy microbiome.
3. Helps Support A Healthy Microbial Balance
Fermentation helps to support the balance of “good guy” and “bad guy” bacteria. Consuming fermented foods or herbs helps to maintain a balanced, healthy internal environment, which is critical for overall health.
4. Supports Gut-Related Immune Health
Consuming fermented foods and supplements may support your body’s healthy inflammatory response. The fermentation process allows for the presence of healthy bacteria that can support a healthy response to inflammation.
Top Fermented Supplements
Unlike fermenting foods at home, Ancient Nutrition's fermentation process for supplements is held to a strict and high Quality Assurance standard per current Good Manufacturing Practices (or cGMP).
Here are some Ancient Nutrition products that use fermented ingredients:
This most popular product provides support for your healthy hair, skin, nails, joints and gut. Ancient Nutrition implemented a groundbreaking concept of using a unique pair of microorganisms (bacteria and yeast) that results in easier-to-digest collagen peptides that aren’t altered by heat or chemical processing.
Like Multi Collagen Protein, the new Collagen Peptides products uses fermented eggshell membrane that offers many benefits, including reducing joint discomfort and helping joints recover faster. This product suite also includes Vegetarian Collagen Peptides.
This product can improve the appearance of crow's feet after 28 days and reduce knee stiffness in a week. It's the rare collagen capsule supplement that use the powder of fermentation instead of heat, acid, chemicals and industrial enzymes to create beneficial peptides. This allows for a greater impact, even when taking smaller amounts.
Supporting healthy digestive and immune system function and reducing occasional constipation and bloating, this soil-based probiotic supplement includes an organic fermented botanical blend. Full of superfoods and fermented for overall absorption support, this blend acts as a prebiotic and a postbiotic.
Our Herbal Cider Vinegar is packed with 10+ organic superfoods, most of which are grown and fermented on our own organic, regenerative farmland. It supports healthy microbial balance, healthy antioxidant levels, healthy body composition
and cognitive health. It comes in capsules, a tincture and our popular herbal cider vinegar gummies.
Made with organic turmeric root extract and fermented turmeric root, these tablets help reduce joint tenderness and improve joint mobility. They also support a healthy response to inflammation.
How to Ferment Food
Fermenting your own food seems like a daunting adventure, but it can be done at home with the help of easy-to-follow instructions. Fermented foods are made by a process called lacto-fermentation, which is feeding starch and sugars to natural beneficial bacteria in the food, creating lactic acid. This process is used to create beneficial B vitamins, enzymes, omega-3 fatty acids and certain strains of probiotics.
Almost any fruit or vegetable can be fermented, and you can include different herbs and spices to add variety to your ferments. Here's how to get started:
The basic pieces of equipment required for most fermentation are containers to keep them in. Glass containers are a great option because they don't contain chemicals like BPA and don't scratch easily.
Cloth or coffee paper filters are used to secure the small jars with a right rubber band. A butter muslin and a tight-weave towel with a rubber band can also be used to secure the fermented food. Canning lids should have airlocks to reduce the chances of unwanted mold and yeast formation.
2. Prepare Vegetables
Chopping, slicing, grating or shredding are several ways to prepare the vegetables for fermentation. Cutting the vegetables into smaller pieces speeds up the fermentation process.
3. Salt, Whey or Starter Culture
Depending on what you want to ferment, the recipe may call specifically for salt, starter culture, sugar or whey.
It is important to keep the fermented vegetables under the brine to prevent spoilage. You can also use heavy parts of a vegetable to add some weight to the fermented vegetables below the brine.
You can also use clean river rocks to securely hold the vegetables under the brine. Be sure to boil them for 15-20 minutes after scrubbing them with soap to ensure that they are clean.
When vegetables are done fermenting, move them to a cold environment. You'll know when your vegetables are ready for storage if you notice bubbling and a sour aroma. If you notice a rotting or spoiled smell, discard, clean the container thoroughly and try again.
Top Fermented Foods
You can ferment a number of vegetables at home, but if you are looking for the top fermented foods to purchase at your local grocery store, try these:
- Fermentation is the process of using microorganisms, such as bacteria or yeast, to convert carbohydrates to alcohol or organic acids.
- Fermented foods, herbs and drinks help to support a healthy microbiome, promote regularity and support nutrient absorption.
- Consuming fermented foods and supplements amplifies their effects, allowing you to reap the benefits even when taking smaller amounts.
Christine is a writer and nutrition counselor based in New York. She's worked for Ancient Nutrition and the Dr. Axe team for five years. She has a degree in Education with a concentration in English from Iona College, and received her health coach certification from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.