Fermented Foods: Health and History


Kimchi
Craig Nagy, via Flickr

Do you eat any fermented foods? Liz Waid and Ryan Geertsma look at the health benefits and cultural connections of these foods.

Transcript


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2 

And I’m Ryan Geertsma. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

A woman cuts up a leafy, round, green vegetable - a cabbage. She mixes the cabbage leaves with spices to give it a good taste. She also adds water and salt. She lets the cabbage mixture sit for a few days. Then the woman tastes it and her mouth waters. It is spicy and sour, like a yellow lemon fruit. The woman has made Kimchi. This is a very famous fermented food from Korea. It has a special taste because of the way it is prepared. People make similar food from fermented cabbage in many parts of the world. In Latin American it is called cortido. In Europe it is called sauerkraut. And there are many other foods that can be prepared in a similar way. Today’s Spotlight is on fermented food around the world.

Voice 2 

Fermentation is a process that changes food through bacteria. Bacteria are so small that people cannot see them. They change the food so that it ages, but does not decay. Instead, the taste of the food becomes stronger and often more sour.

Voice 1 

People began to ferment food thousands of years ago. There are different fermented foods in different parts of the world. For example, in China the earliest fermented foods were the grains rice and millet. But in the Middle East, people first fermented barley and wheat. Today, people still eat fermented foods. In fact, they may even eat fermented foods without knowing it. Bread, milk products, beer, wine, meat, beans, and grains can all be fermented.

Voice 2 

Milk is one of the most commonly fermented foods around the world. In southern Africa, people make a drink called amasi from milk. People leave milk out at room temperature. They add a little bit of old amasi to the milk. The old amasi is called a “starter.” It begins the process of fermentation. It contains bacteria that will make the milk ferment. After a few days the milk turns a bit sour and becomes thicker. Many other cultures have a food like Amasi. In English it is called yogurt.

Voice 1 

There are also many fermented drinks. Some of these are produced to make alcohol. But there are many that have no alcohol in them. One of these is a common drink in Russia and its surrounding countries. It is called kvass. This fresh-tasting drink is made from dry bread. People put the bread into large bottles. Then they mix in water, sugar and dried fruit. They also add a little bit of fermented liquid as a starter. After the kvass sits for a few days, people filter it to take out all the pieces. The result is a popular drink that is a bit carbonated, like a soft drink.

Voice 2 

Many people say that fermented foods are very healthy. These foods are good for the body in four main ways. First, bacteria breaks down fermented food before people eat it. This makes healthy substances from the food get into a person’s body faster and more easily.

Voice 1 

Fermented foods are healthy in a second way. During fermentation many foods increase their mineral and vitamin content. Fermentation can be a way to eat these healthy substances that other foods may not provide.

Voice 2 

Fermentation also makes it possible for humans to eat some foods that would otherwise be poisonous.  Without fermentation, these foods can make people very sick or even die. For example, many people eat bitter cassava, a light-coloured root that grows under the ground.  In its original form, bitter cassava has some poison in it. But after fermentation, people can eat it without getting sick.

Voice 1

Finally, fermentation is good for people because of the bacteria that it creates. Bacteria are small living organisms. There are millions of them in our bodies and in our food. Sandor Katz is an expert in fermentation. He explains to the news organization NPR why living bacteria are important for health:

Voice 3 

"We could not survive without bacteria. They help our bodies to process and use the healthy substances in our food. And they play a huge part in preventing us from getting sick and in many other processes in our bodies. Our bacteria perform all kinds of necessary jobs for us.”

Voice 2 

Another advantage of fermentation is that it is an easy way to keep food fresh longer. This is especially important in places where people do not have refrigeration. Fermenting food helps people store it over longer periods of time. For example, meat will go bad if it is not kept cold. But there are many traditional processes for fermenting or treating meat without refrigeration.

Voice 1 

Some people who have refrigeration still choose to ferment food. Fermentation is a good way to save energy, money and fuel or electricity. For example, many people prepare soybeans using fermentation. Usually, it takes six hours to boil soybeans. But using a fermentation process, the soybeans only need to be cooked for one hour.

Voice 2 

Fermentation is also an important part of human history. Traditional foods such as kimchi, cortido, kvass and amasi are very important in many cultures. In English, the word ‘culture’ can mean different things. Katz explains in his book “The Art of Fermentation”:

Voice 3 

“We call the starters that we add to milk to make yogurt or to start fermentation, cultures. At the same time, culture includes all that humans seek to pass from generation to generation. This includes language, music, art, literature, scientific knowledge, and belief systems as well as ways of farming and cooking.”

Voice 1 

Traditional ways of fermenting are not only good for health and cheaper to prepare. They are often an important part of cultural and family traditions. People are proud of their traditional foods. A family may have a special way to prepare kimchi or kvass that they enjoy together. The food becomes a way for people of all ages to connect with each other.

Voice 2 

Fermented foods have a long tradition. They are easy to make and have many healthy effects on a person’s body. But there is one more simple thing that people know about fermented foods - they taste very good!

Voice 1 

What about you? Do you like fermented foods or drinks? How are fermented foods part of your cultural traditions? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on Facebook at Facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 2 

The writer of this program was Rena Dam. The producer was Mark Drenth. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, ‘Fermented Foods: Health and History’.

Voice 1 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Do you eat any fermented foods, like yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut or kvass? What is your favorite fermented food?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
Mss Flamboyant
said on August 24, 2014

I love fermented foods. It is not only good for our health but also is cultural of each countries. Vietnam has many fermented food such as pickle, alcohol, beer,milk and kohlrabi. It brings us many advantages. Food is kept longer, fresher and more nutritious. Moreover, it help people connect together and also keep distinguish feature. I love this taste which is so special with the main taste of sour, spicy and salt. Even the colour of this food is so beautiful.

natasoul's avatar
natasoul
said on September 03, 2014

I love fermented food very much. Ecspecialy sauerkraut and Amasi. it is so tasty. and i know that when i am eating this   meal i am feeling myself better. it is seems to me it is very usefull for our stomach. Our family always leavene a cabbage. My mother also adds carrot and solt.She left the cabbage mixture sit for a 3 weeks. Then we taste it and wow it is very sour but is not as lemon fruit. i think we must eat many fermented food to save our healty.

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nguyenthuy
said on December 17, 2014

Fermented food is a traditional foods in my country . Every new year , the families will prepare fermented food it was called pickle food . It used to eat with “Chung” cake which is traditional food of Vietnam every Lunar new year. All the member of family will be together and eat . They chat , laugh , tell about their stories after 1 year through . And they talk about plan in new year . I think spotlight should have a topic about new year of the countries. Its so manything to say and so interesting topic for people all around the world . My country had name country of the food . Because of food in here , its so amazing . If you have free time and afford , you should go to visit my country . Im sure you are not disappointed about your desicison . Thanks !

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thanhdung07121985@gmail.com
said on January 27, 2015

I like yogurt best.It help my degestion better after meal and smooth my skin.Beside that,I also like pickle,milk,fruit wine.Every thing brings me specific flavour.Please don’t miss fermented food!

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Makhnyuk
said on December 01, 2015

When I was a child I remember how my grandmother made kvass. It was very tasty and I couldn’t feel the same taste of kvass anywhere.
In Russia kvass is common drink. We like to drink it more than Coca-Cola or Pepsi.

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Giant
said on March 04, 2016

I adore the fermentation and its products, especially apple cider vinegar !

                  My best regards !

Kaleb Kolaibi's avatar
Kaleb Kolaibi
said on February 15, 2017

The foods of fermented, especially bread, part of the culture of my community.
God bless you

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Rachel Dang
said on February 17, 2017

I love fermented food such as kimchi, yoghurt and fruit wine . It tastes so good, healthy and prevent to waste food. I think the fermented food plays an important role in life.

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Dela
said on February 18, 2017

Personally, I love eating yoghurt, sour fermented cabbage or drinking a milky beverage called kephir. All these products are containing the ‘‘friendly’’ bacteria having considerably beneficial influence on our health especially on good, correct digestion. I suppose people should consume the fermented foods so often as it is possible when they want to keep themselves healthy!