Quick! Name a fermented food.
What did you pick? Sourkraut? Kimchi? Chutney? Did you even think of cheese, sour cream, yogurt, sourdough bread or buttermilk pancakes?
Now, try your hand at naming a popular raw meat.
Don’t get all squeamish on me. Think.
How about pastrami? Corned beef? Ceviche? Sushi?
Every culture has a long tradition of fermented and raw foods — foods that provide for healthy intestinal flora and decrease the load on your pancreas and liver.
Sadly, because of today’s industrial food model, these traditional foods have morphed into something unrecognizable. Corned beef is no longer raw and preserved with salt and spices. Cheese is made from devitalized pasteurized milk. Bread makers rarely use real fermented sourdough starters in their so-called sourdough loafs. And homemakers hardly ever soak their freshly ground whole wheat flour overnight in buttermilk to create the light and fluffy pancakes and biscuits we love to love kefir grains.
The modern equivalents of age-old fermented foods are nutritionally empty when compared to their historical counterparts.
Take grains, for example. Did you know that traditional societies either soaked, sprouted, or fermented their grains prior to consuming them? While the reasons our ancestors practiced this level of grain preparation are debatable, we do know that sprouting, fermenting, and soaking grains can increase vitamin and mineral content availability by 300-500%.
That’s quite the nutritional kick!
And whatever happened to preserving food using lacto-fermentation? Before the modern era of hot water bath canning and vinegar brines, people used to preserve vegetables and fruits in cans and other air tight containers using lactic-acid fermentation. The lactic-acid caused the food to pleasantly sour (think: pickles), increased the vitamin & mineral content of the food, provided a rich source of valuable digestive enzymes, and preserved the food for months at a time.
We need to get over our prejudices. Cooked and over-processed to the extreme, the average American diet lacks the vitamins, minerals and enzymes natural to fermented and raw foods. Compare this to traditional diets around the world where raw and fermented foods make up 60-80% of their food intake.
While science debates the ins and outs of exactly why raw and fermented foods are so much healthier for us (living enzyme content? more available nutrients?), anecdotal evidence makes the benefits clear.