What’s So Great About Fermented Foods? 1000’s of Years of History to Start… : Special Cultured Book Excerpt

Monday Sep 19 | BY |
| Comments (16)

coconut yogurt fermented
Delicious coconut yogurt on top of an apple nut cereal!

This excerpt is from our new book “Cultured: Learn to Make Fermented Foods at Home” which contains over 70+ fermented food recipes. Click here to learn more!

In 1907, a pioneering Russian microbiologist named Elie Metchnikoff published a study that found that healthy bacteria in yogurt played a significant role in the long lives and good health of the elderly in Bulgaria. Metchnikoff was the deputy director of the renowned Pasteur Institute in Paris, and would go on to win a Nobel Prize in 1908 with its founder, the famed chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur. With that kind of acclaim, you would think that his study would have made a significant impact in the worlds of medicine and nutrition.

Instead, it just kind of sat there, receiving far less attention than the seemingly groundbreaking discovery of antibiotics – substances that limit or stop the growth of bacteria – would garner almost 40 years later.

This didn’t seem to bother Metchnikoff much. He continued with his studies, delving further into his idea that “friendly” bacteria in our intestines as well as lactic acid bacteria produced during fermentation could inhibit the growth of dangerous bacteria and illness. He drank sour milk for the rest of his life, bolstered by this belief, and essentially introduced us to what we know today as probiotics, the healthy, beneficial bacteria that are present in fermented foods and healthy, functioning digestive systems. The term, when translated from its Latin origins becomes the phrase “for life.”

Here’s the thing: although we owe Metchnikoff a tremendous debt for his enterprising studies, his findings were merely a confirmation of what many cultures throughout the world have known for centuries: that preserving foods through fermentation gives rise to restorative and health enhancing properties that weren’t present in the food before. Much like the venerable, healthy old Bulgarians whom Metchnikoff was so fascinated with, people from Africa to the Polynesian islands possessed this same understanding for centuries, passing down a tradition of fermented local dishes that were considered essential to good health and a good life. They may not have had scientific studies to support this understanding, but generations upon generations of reliable experience told them all they needed to know.

Lost Origins of Fermented Foods

It’s hard to say just when or where the process and benefits of fermentation were first discovered, but some theories point as far back as the Neolithic age, about 7000 years ago. This thinking holds that Neolithic people discovered fermented milk shortly after learning how to milk animals by observing how it curdled a few hours after milking. Over time, they would come to add different vegetables juices and other ingredients to the milk, or store it using leather pouches made from calf stomachs. By experimenting with these methods, they were able to preserve the milk in new and varied forms and delight in the bold, rich flavors that came with their discoveries.

Another theory puts forth the idea that human understanding of fermentation began thousands and thousands of years earlier with the brewing of mead in the Paleolithic age, almost 12,000 years ago! Mead is a wine made from the fermentation of honey, and cave paintings from Spain to South Africa have been unearthed which depict people gathering honey, further lending weight to this claim.

Regardless of how exactly humans discovered fermentation, this much is undeniable: it simply is one of the oldest practical food sciences in existence. In his book, Permaculture Book of Ferment and Human Nutrition, founder of the Permaculture movement Bill Mollison posits the theory that the evolution of humanity is inextricably linked to the evolution of microbacteria, and that we would not have been able to survive this many millennia without them – a perfectly symbiotic relationship in the truest sense.

Diving even deeper into this line of thinking, author Stephen Harrod Buhner writes in his book, Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers, that although knowledge of fermentation emerged independently in different cultures at different times, each culture attributed this new science to divine, otherworldly sources. For these cultures, the work of bacteria was nothing less than holy. It’s a theory that may seem out of alignment with our modern perspective, but when you consider that cutting-edge science is still poking around in bacterial history to determine the exact origins of life on this planet, the concept of bacteria as an almost omnipresent substance that we owe our existence to does not sound that far-fetched, even if you strip away the religious and spiritual overtones.

However you choose to look at it, it’s hard not to marvel at just how powerful a role fermentation has played in human history. And this was just the beginning.

From Healing Foods to Forgotten Foods to…

With the march of time, fermented foods became ubiquitous around the planet. Gradually, different tribes, cultures and societies began to take note of the many healing properties they possessed. 2000 years ago in China, kombucha was praised for it’s health benefits and regarded as the “tea of immortality.” In ancient Egypt, apple cider vinegar was used as an internal and external antiseptic and is said to have been favored by no less than Cleopatra. Togwa, an indigenous fermented cereal in Tanzania, would be eaten to prevent diarrhea, an effect that would be confirmed recently by a Swedish study conducted in 1999. [1]

Later in history, there’s the famous story about the legendary English explorer Captain James Cook taking sauerkraut on his expeditions around the world. In those days, scurvy nearly decimated the ranks of British sailors who took to sea, but sauerkraut would become one of Cook’s favored methods to protect his crew from the dreaded disease. On every continent and in every era to come, people were fermenting foods for reasons far beyond flavor; because fermented foods could be transported for long distances, these foods encouraged the exchange of both microbial and national cultures. On a more immediate level however, fermenting food was a matter of life and death.

That is, until recently…

The 20th century and the emergence of America as the world’s leading superpower have brought a marked change to the widespread use of this time-honored tradition. Although there have been fantastic advancements in medicine and technology, we now live in an age of easy and instant gratification, and because of this, the tradition of fermenting foods has become more and more arcane. In her book Nourishing Traditions, food activist and historian Sally Fallon argues that the United States has no true culture because of a lack of cultured, probiotic foods. Of course, this is far from scientific, but it says enough about the value of these foods, plus it’s a frightening assertion, because American “pop culture” is slowly taking over the world! If you take a moment to consider the great, storied history of fermented foods, you’ll see that human development would be in a much different place without them. Although gourmet foods and microwaveable “treats” may make up the more popular cuisine of the day, there’s no good argument for relegating fermented foods to our past; the benefits are too numerous.

Can Fermented Foods Save the World?

The term “holistic health” is a muddy one – much like alternative medicine – conjuring up ideas and sensibilities without many people being able to pin down a firm definition. In it’s most basic sense, holistic health adheres to the principle that true health is a product of social and psychological elements as well as physical ones. It’s a result of everything that a person has to deal with. The resurgence of interest in holistic health is largely a reaction to a society full of sick people. Fermented foods can play a part in setting this right again, even without a consideration of their many health benefits.

The food industry is an energy-intensive one, requiring mammoth factories for processing and packaging, fleets of vehicles for transportation, and supermarkets where food can be purchased. In an age where we’re faced with the likelihood of energy shortages in our lifetime unless renewable energies can properly be utilized, this system is increasingly burdensome on our society. Fermenting foods at home is a small-scale operation, reducing your family’s reliance on this industry. Furthermore, fermenting your own foods significantly reduces food wastage. This, along with the fact that they’re ridiculously affordable to prepare and store is a seemingly small but tremendous benefit in a worsening economy that is putting a stranglehold on more families every day.

If this line of reasoning sounds like a reach, then consider this: according to a study done in 2004 by Timothy Jones at the University of Arizona, nearly 50% of edible food in the U.S.A. is wasted each year. On top of that, the study states that each year, the average American family tosses 14% of the food they buy. And if all that awful news isn’t enough, the Environmental Protection Agency has reported that it costs the U.S. $1 Billion a year to dispose of all of its food wastage. Scary, scary stuff.

Thinking about these shocking statistics and reflecting upon our history, in addition to considering the small, but increasing number of people who are looking to fermented foods as a mode of self-healing (you being one of them), there’s a realization that hopefully shines through: fermented foods aren’t just a part of our past, they can also play an integral, positive role in our future.

“Cultured” our new fermented foods recipe book has over 70 recipes contributed by experts from around the globe. If you’d like to get a copy of this book (e-book or printed), you can read more here… www.renegadehealth.com/cultured/

I want to know your thoughts: What did you think of this excerpt?

Live Awesome!

[1] “Enteropathogenic bacteria in faecal swabs of young children fed on lactic acid-fermented cereal gruels.” Kingamkono, R., Sjörgren E., Svanberg U. February 1999. Department of Food Science and Nutrition, Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog RenegadeHealth.com — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.


Comments are closed for this post.

  1. just sit there says:

    Fantastic Kevin! Way to go. Home made fermented foods recipes and info from ancient times. The beginnings of fermented foods research – groovy. New delicious ways to get probiotics a healthy gut flora, your B vitamins, energy, and boost the immune system along with digestive enzymes for literally every cell in your bodies function as well as digestability of food. Brilliant! Thanks for keeping it coming on creative ways to a healthier you! Thank you for this collaborative creative offer for fermented food recipes bravo!

    I did not know about herbal healing beers and mead a wine made from honey… cool.

    I don’t know if your book includes the use of kefir grains? And making Water, or coconut kefir from kefir grains? if you take freshly juiced Organic apple juice + kefir grains and let that sit on the covered on the counter for a few days there is a delicious fermented drink. I like the idea of cheaper sources of home made fermented food preparation – a great new market niche for optimizing your health.

    Now, for those who are lazy and don’t have the gumption (is gumption a real word?) to make your own fermented foods. I think the best on the market are Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar $3 for a bottle, organic sauerkraut in a glass, cocobiotics a little more expensive but very convenient to drink and Dr. Bisci’s Probiotics with enzymes. But making your own fermented foods could be a sacred ritual infused with love from start to finish.

    Health is just as an emotional journey as a food / physical journey. Getting mind, body, and soul aligned, making fermented foods should be easy, delicious and fun and I think you have hit that nail on the head Kevin! Superb! Thank you. PEACE

  2. rob says:

    …great excerpt! I didn’t realize what a truly eloquent and gifted writer you are. Thank you, and I’ll be buying the ebook soon…

  3. Velda says:

    You said it, Kevin …. this is exciting. I agree – fermented foods aren’t just a part of our past, they can also play an integral, positive role in our future. As food becomes less healthy to eat and more regulated and altered, this could very well be a very important part of our future. I will be getting the book soon. I’m also going to send your email to a friend of mine who has suffered with lyme disease for many years now. I may even get this book for a friend who is struggling with her weight and health and loves to cook.

    Thank you, Kevin. You are an incredible man!!

  4. LynnCS says:

    Amazing Kevin. When you said you had a lot of things going on, I never imagined all this research and writing a book of this magnitude. Bravo. You’ll never guess the synchronicity of this article and my day. I have been trying to find out where to find information on making fermented foods that will give me K2. I understand I need that for the rebuilding of bone lost to osteoporosis. It seems to be the one thing to put together a complete plan toward restoration of my poor bone health. In spite of what I have done in the past, I am no better off after years of advise and medicine from standard medicine. Recently they decided that I might be right to go with diet and exercise. That is my mantra now…diet and exercise. Do you have any ideas about fermented foods and Vit. K2?

  5. Irina says:

    Awesome! It really is a topic that often does not get much needed attention. I love fermenting, especially the do-it-yourself, long-forgotten recipes; things we no longer do because they take too long and no one remembers how to do them anymore. Much needed information and very timely. Well done!

  6. Kuru says:

    Great topic for a much needed book, great cover, and great you made a hard copy. i just ordered and bit the bullet of $13+ for priority shipping which couldn’t possibly be more than $5.95. It’s surprising too since you’ve always been reasonable in the past. I knew that centralized warehouse was going to bite us in the behind. Butt, it is a lifetime investment, and I’m sure I’ll forget about that little detail once I’m into the book (although I do tell people who charge exorbitant shipping that I’d rather they raise the price of the item and avoid deception). Thanks for doing the work for us!

  7. LynnCS says:

    Kevin, Do you have 2 styles of the printed book. I’d prefer not to have the spiral binding. Is there an option?

  8. Susan says:

    Thank you Kevin for all the wonderful, healing info each week. I have learned so much. And I will be buying your fermentation book if you could address the issue on acidity.

    While it’s healing to the gut, isn’t it detrimental to the rest of the body for disease prevention and especially for cancer prevention to keep the body alkaline? I’m taking a bit of Apple Cider Vinegar once a day very causiously and have read the book by Donna Gates, trying to eat healthy and reversing my diabetes now! But this issue on acidity and fermented foods is still hanging over my head unresolved. If you could please address this issue it would be of great help.

  9. Karen says:

    I’ve been wanting to make fermented foods for awhile now and have never tried it. I already ordered the book. I’m so excited!

  10. bob says:

    Great Kevin. I’m not that into the history of it allthough appreciate your work here. I think that even animals ate/eat fermented foods before we ever came on the scene (e.g. fermenting apples/ fruits on the ground!)!

    I am enthusiastic about probiotics and regularly make water kefir, kombucha and kimchi and have one or more (usually all three) of these every day. Needless to say these are simple foods and there are less than 5 ingredients in each (unless you count the microbes :). Back to basics…


  11. QC says:

    I love the taste of fermented foods but my body doesn’t agree with them. Could be too acidic for my auto-immune disease 🙁

  12. nilsholgerson says:

    THis is woderful and fantastic? i make coconut kefir know. i just use normol dreid kefir starter.

  13. Skai says:

    How cool! I was just looking up information on culturing. Pretty divine!

  14. Dave says:

    Great Post! I’ve been trying to add more fermented foods to my diet for a few months now. This post has really opened my eyes to the mess we’re in now (health-wise) as opposed to 100 years ago.

    Thanks! 🙂

  15. Julia says:

    I think fermented foods are great, and it’s great to see you’ve written a new book on the subject. I also follow the “Nourishing Traditions” book. However, I’m now in the process of getting a diagnosis of Tourette’s Syndrome and in doing a bit of research for natural treatments I came across Dr. Bruce Semon’s book “Feast Without Yeast”. Haven’t read it yet, but in his article describing his program at http://www.nutritioninstitute.com/tourettesdisorder.html he states the treatment involves removing all fermented foods. He says,”The diet for Candida problems consists of removing fermented foods from the diet. The worst offenders are alcoholic beverages and non-alcoholic beer, vinegar, barley malt, chocolate, pickles, and aged cheese.” He states that yeasts produce toxic by-products that act as a sedative to the brain.

    I’ve been drinking water kefir every day and I think it’s really helped my immune system and think I need it to help repair my gut. So we’ll see…. but just wanted to make you aware of this, Kevin, in case you weren’t already.

  16. I was going to make some homemade Kombucha! Now I will be more diligent to do so! I do make fermented pineapple, though. I am sure that different fermented foods possess different types of bacteria. I fermented wheatberries before and quinoa. Not very tastey but good for you! Yeehaw!

    Comments are closed for this post.