(Hopefully my Simpsons reference wasn’t wasted in the title). My boyfriend has many redeeming qualities: his ability to bring a Friends quote into any conversation or the way he greets anyone he passes on his morning walk. But his up-to-date nutrition knowledge and interest in related topics definitely isn’t one of them. Ask him about carbs after 5 or Acai bowls and his knowledge extends to what he’s absorbed on one of my rants.
Little does he know, he’s into one of the most popular of the latest “superfood” fads going around in a big way- fermented foods. Being of Indian background there is often yoghurt on the dinner table to cool the spicy curries. But for Josh, the yoghurt forms a good half of the meal. For Josh, the yoghurt will also go on lasagne. Or pie. He’s addicted. Lucky for him, this means he will avoid most illnesses under the sun – according to the internet.
So what are fermented foods, how good are they, and should I be stopping Josh when he’s wanting to add yoghurt to his stirfry, or joining him?
Fermented foods have been around for thousands of years and their use extends across most continents. The Koreans have their kimchi, Germans love a dollop of sauerkraut with their bratwurst, and a Lebanese feast isn’t really a Lebanese feast without some Labneh. Fermented foods are those which have used microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast or fungi to convert organic compounds – usually carbohydrates such as sugars and starch – into alcohol or acids, making foods pleasantly sour or tangy. For example, yeast converts sugars into carbon dioxide, making our bread rise, lactobacilli bacteria turn sugars and starch into lactic acid giving yoghurt it’s tang, and acetobacter bacteria turn alcohol into acetic acid, making vinegar. Why has the world been such a fan of this process? Sure it sounds kind of gross, but these microroganisms are doing us massive favours beyond fizzing our beer. The biggest selling point of fermentation back in the horse and cart days was that it preserved the food- having these “good” bacteria creating an acidic environment prevents the harmful “bad” bacteria that usually cause food to go off from setting up shop and making things rot. Cheers, little guys.
But wait, there’s more! These “good” bacteria are also good for us- they’re the organisms that keep on giving. AKA probiotics, these good bacteria found in fermented food have a huge range of proven health benefits. They are naturally part of a healthy gastrointestinal tract, and taking more of them via food or supplements has very few adverse side effects. But their benefits are quite strong. There is strong evidence that they can prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhoea and clostridium difficile infections (good bacteria usually prevent these nasty guys inhabiting our gastro intestinal tract, but a dose of antibiotics that wipes out the good guys can often lead to the nasty guys invading and putting us in hospital). The evidence looks promising for their use in viral diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, and for preventing respiratory infections. Plus, they can do funky things like break down lactose in dairy foods, which is why people with lactose intolerance may be able to tolerate some yoghurt or cheese. Seriously cool little guys.
So now we know why smart people all over the world have been having fermented foods for years, what are some more exciting ways to have yoghurt, if it’s not out of a tub at 3pm? Well, if you ask Josh, theres not much you CAN’T do with it- use it as a condiment to most dishes, sweet or savoury. But let’s be a little less creative. The first dish pays homage to my Italian roots, with the most simple pizza dough recipe you will ever come across. Two ingredients. You couldn’t get any simpler if you tried (well, technically a one ingredient recipe would be simpler, so let’s say the almost-most-simple recipe). Super Easy Pizza Twist- you'll wonder why you've ever bothered with any other dough recipe. The other pays homage to breakfast, of which I am a big fan. The combination of fruit with yoghurt and oats in a bowl can be found across cafes all across the world. But that’s not very portable, and it doesn’t help if you have minimal time or only feel like a small snack. For times like this, I present to you Yoghurt, Apple and Oat Slice. Take note though, after all this talk of the benefits of probiotics, the two recipes I’ve given you will actually kill off the bacteria in the heating process. Other redeeming qualities of yoghurt will still remain- the protein, the calcium, the phosphorus, the riboflavin, the magnesium - they will all still be there. I guess it comes back to balance. Spoon yoghurt onto your cereal. Put it in a smoothie. But use the last bit in the container that you just can’t seem to get through by trying something a little different. The good little guys would be proud.