What do mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, and olives have in common? These food items may be the toppings on a pizza, but they share another characteristic; they are all fermented foods. Sauerkraut is usually what comes to mind when people think of fermented foods. Many other treasured foods like yogurt, wine, beer, sourdough bread, kimchi, salami, sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, and tempeh are also fermented foods. Humans have been fermenting foods for thousands of years as a method of food preparation and preservation, but more recently we discovered the important role that these foods play in human health.
Fermentation can be traced back 13,000 years as researchers have found beer residues in a cave in Haifa, Israel. (Liu 2018) Archeologists have also discovered pottery vessels in China from the Neolithic Period, dated around 7000–6600 BCE, that contained traces of ‘Mixed Fermented Beverages’ made from rice, honey, and fruit. (McGovern 2004) Besides wine and beer, virtually every culture has a history of its favorite fermented foods. From Kimchi and Chutneys in the East to Sauerkraut and Yogurt in the West, fermented foods offer an array of mouthwatering deliciousness. Fermentation is a great way to prepare foods for consumption due to the complex flavors that emerge in the fermentation process.
Fermentation is used to preserve foods or beverages. The process of fermentation uses microorganisms. Anaerobic microorganisms (those that can live without utilizing molecular oxygen) produce enzymes that break down and extract energy from carbohydrate molecules, and then leave behind: ethyl alcohol, lactic acid, and acetic acid. Pathogenic organisms that cause sickness in humans cannot survive in the salt used for preserving food, or in the alcohol or acid environment produced by anaerobic microorganisms. In addition to keeping harmful bacteria away, the fermentation process is void of oxygen. Oxygen and oxidating enzymes are what causes foods to break down. An environment void of oxygen that is either acidic and salty; or alcohol, are what keeps food from degrading and keeps our food preserved via fermentation.
Our ancestors used other preservation methods for foods. Drying was one method used which worked well for fruits and some vegetables. Meats were also salted and dried or smoked; but sometimes…