Fermentation is a key process in every culinary style, and it is truly unique. Fermentation relies on cultures of bacteria and yeast to digest sugars found in foods and drink, and through their digestive process, converts the sugars into acids, gasses, or alcohol. Here at Dr. Foodle, we’re going to rank our top five fermented foods not off of health and nutrition, but off of how popular these foods are. So, take a look at our list; some of our entries might even surprise you.
Soy sauce is a favorite around the world and is used in recipes or poured straight onto food. The dark, rich and salty sauce might have originated in China, but it’s adored the world over. While we explored soy sauce manufacturing in another article (insert link), traditional soy sauce is made up of only four ingredients: soybeans, wheat, salt, and water. These humble ingredients on their own taste nothing like soy sauce, but when mixed together and left to ferment for several months, bacteria cultures transform the mixture into soy sauce.
Miso and soy sauce share many similarities, but miso is a solid, dark brown paste that is used in countless sauces and a cornerstone of Japanese cooking. Like soy sauce, the key ingredient is once again soybeans, wheat, salt, and water. Unlike soy sauce, rice is also added into the mix and the fermentation process takes a little longer. There are many varieties of miso, with some other ingredients added into the fermentation process, but most varieties are separated by how long they are fermented for, with longer fermentation processes creating darker pastes.
In the Western diet, cheese is extremely important and much-loved food. It’s also a prime example of how people found clever ways to preserve food. Milk has been consumed for thousands of years because of it’s dense nutritional value, but milk, especially before the advent of refrigeration, spoils very quickly. Cheese was invented as a way to preserve milk and harnessed the power of bacteria not to rot milk, but turn it into a delicious substance with a long shelf life. In modern cheese making, milk is first pasteurized (insert link to pasteurization article), and various bacteria cultures are then added to the milk. The bacteria break down the milk sugars, and their byproducts cause the milk to curdle and form curds and whey. Depending on the mix of microflora added to the milk, different type of cheese will be formed.
We explored the crazy creation process of chocolate before (insert link to previous article), but it’s too good to leave off this list. Chocolate is made by first harvesting cocoa pods – bright yellow pods that are filled with a thick, gelatinous pulp and sickly beige seeds – and emptying the contents of the pods into vats in the jungle. The vats are then covered, and naturally occurring bacteria start to consume the sugars found in the cocoa pulp. The seeds in the pulp are fermented for several weeks, and then are dried, grounded, and turned into cocoa powder. Cocoa powder is then refined, and for milk chocolates, dairy is added, and the end result is delicious chocolate.
Bread is a food of utmost historical importance. It’s an essential staple the world over and has provided countless individuals with valuable calories each and every day. The characteristics of great bread, being light, fluffy, and utterly delicious are direct results of the fermentation process. Bread is thought to be discovered by the ancient Egyptians after they cooked some dough that had been sitting out for several weeks. When the bread was baked, it was lighter, fluffier, and better tasting that the unrisen bread they were accustomed to. While they might not have known it, what occurred was naturally occurring bacteria consuming the sugars in the dough and producing CO2. The fermentation not only makes the bread better tasting, but it also helps to break down the gluten and starches in the bread making it easier to digest.
The use of bacteria in food preparation is fascinating and widely used. The benefits of fermentation, most notably the increased shelf life of many fermented foods, has helped people to survive harsh periods of time and provide essential nutrients when they were hard to come by. Let us know what you think of our list in the comments below, and be sure to let us know what your favorite fermented foods are.