By now we’ve all heard that probiotic are a must to keep our guts happy, healthy and balanced. That is, keeping our digestive systems full of plenty of “friendly” bacteria.
A happy gut doesn’t just mean a happy tummy. There is enough research today to link the microflora in our guts to everything from immune health to mental health. Which means that looking after your digestive health just got a whole lot more important.
One of the easiest ways to get more probiotics is to take a supplement, but there are also a wide variety of probiotic foods that are naturally high in probiotic bacteria.
What makes food a natural probiotic?
Natural probiotics are obtained by the fermentation of certain foods like dairy and vegetables. As these foods ferment they become rich in lactic acid-producing bacteria and these little microbes are not only able to preserve foods and add flavor, but also promote the growth of healthy bacteria in our digestive tract.
While we’re most familiar with the probiotic advantages of yoghurt, there are many more (delicious!) fermented probiotic foods on the market that you should definitely get to know better.
Let’s take a look at six of the most powerful:
Tempeh is a traditional Indonesian soy product which is now widely available in most supermarkets. Similar to tofu, tempeh can be easily flavored (and tastes much better flavored). Unlike tofu, tempeh is fermented and so it provides a myriad more health benefits than tofu.
You can use tempeh like any protein. Try frying it like bacon, crumbling into a scramble or marinating and baking for about 25 minutes.
2. Miso Soup
Most people are familiar with miso soup as an accompaniment to their sushi. A traditional Japanese delicacy, Miso soup is made from miso paste – a fermented, salty mix of soybeans and sometimes rice or barley. Miso soup is an incredibly easy and healthy snack that packs a probiotic punch in minutes. Just boil some water, add a teaspoon of miso paste and stir until dissolved. Chop up some green onions and sprinkle over top for an added flavor boost. Miso soup is however rather high in sodium if you’re trying to watch your intake.
The Europeans were onto something when they started fermenting cabbage as far back as the 4th Century BC!  Sauerkraut is one of the healthiest, most probiotic-rich foods there is and has a very long shelf life. It has a famously sour flavor which occurs from the formation of lactic acid when bacteria ferments the sugars in cabbage. It may be an acquired taste at first but try throwing some sauerkraut on your sausages (or hot dog) as the Germans do for an instantly delicious condiment. Or add some to a salad for a tangy flavor boost.
Kombucha is a fermented drink made from tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast. It’s an incredible process to watch kombucha come to life as during the brewing process the bacteria and yeast grow into a large mushroom-like mass. Originating in Asia, Kombucha is best made at home as pasteurized kombucha sold in stores has unfortunately lost most of its probiotic powers. But you do need to ferment with care so as not to contaminate your supply and make yourself sick.
While many European cultures were fermenting cabbage, the Koreans were also unwittingly creating a probiotic delicacy. Kimchi, a major staple in Korean cuisine that’s served at almost every meal, is made from fermented vegetables – most commonly cabbage and radishes. It’s generally seasoned with chili powder, scallions, garlic, ginger, and jeotgal (salted, fermented seafood). You can eat kimchi as is, use it as a filling for dumplings, flip it into a kimchijeon (a kimchi pancake) or use it as a topping for tacos.
Kefir is a sour-tasting fermented milk drink that originated in the north Caucasus Mountains. The lactic-acid fermentation creates a sour, carbonated beverage with a texture similar to yoghurt. It contains both beneficial yeast as well as friendly probiotic bacteria. Kefir is also great for the lactose-intolerant as the process creates lactase, an enzyme which consumes most of the lactose left in the milk. As far as probiotic foods go, Kefir has more strains of bacteria than yogurt which tends to makes it a more favorable choice.
If you’re suffering from digestive upsets like irritable bowel, leaky gut, diarrhea or constipation, fermented probiotic foods are an easily accessible way to start putting more friendly bacteria back into your digestive system. They are also a wonderfully delicious, and healthy, choice for a quick snack.
On a side note, you can also impress your friends with your new-found knowledge of some rather iconic international delicacies.