Lately, fermentation has become a buzz word in the world of food and nutrition. When you hear the term “fermented foods” you may think of sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, some pickles, or sourdough bread and kombucha. But what does “fermented” even mean when it comes to food?
Fermentation occurs when enzymes or bacteria convert sugar in food to either alcohol or acid.  In simple terms, food is broken down or converted into a new food product with brand new flavors, textures, and colors!
Some foods naturally contain organisms needed to undergo fermentation (think sauerkraut) while others need a starter culture to begin the process (think kombucha).  Conditions such as temperature and light affect this process as well. However, optimal conditions vary depending on the food that is being fermented.  
Fun fact: Did you know that sauerkraut is cabbage that has undergone fermentation? And kimchi, a traditional Korean side dish, is a mix of fermented vegetables and spices! Click here to learn more about kimchi.
One of the reasons fermented foods have become so popular is their proposed health benefits. Evidence suggests that certain compounds found in fermented foods may:
Fermented foods contain probiotics.  Probiotics are live bacteria that improve gut health. Some fermented foods that commonly contain probiotics are sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir and kombucha.
However, not all fermented foods contain probiotics as processing techniques like canning may make them inactive.  If you want to ensure that the fermented foods that you buy contain probiotics, look for the phrase “contains live and active cultures” on the container.
Fermented foods are not just a specialty item that can be found at the grocery store. Fermentation is a relatively cheap process that you can master yourself using research-based methods. The result will be tasty, colorful, shelf-stable produce that you will enjoy for months to come.
Use the links below to check out a few recipes from the National Center for Home Food Preservation:
Dill Pickles: https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_06/dill_pickles.html
Written by Darci Bell, RDN, LD, Ph.D. Student | Edited by Laurel Sanville, MS, RDN, LD