Siberian gold

I have fairy-tale memories about my childhood in Siberia Far East. My father caught wild salmon by buckets and then smoked it himself. We went on family picnicks, berries and mushroom harvest to majestic dark forests. We had a barrel of sauerkraut, a barrel of pickles, a barrel of pickled mushrooms, which my father prepared in the fall.

He was a Russian Siberian, his ancestors were sent there from Poland by Tsar. Not only they learned how to survive in the harsh climate, where winter starts in October and lasts till the end of May. They were healthy and lived long, some of my ancestors died at 111 and 114 years old.

Fermenting vegetables was one of the tricks they used to add vitamins to their everyday diet. And now scientists are confirming that our ancestors used fermentation not only for preserving food longer but also to improve gut health and help our digestive system to release the toxins.

“For many years, humans have known that bacteria and other microorganisms are capable of transforming food substrates, making them both tasty and nutritious. More and more, chefs and other food-makers are putting bacteria to work to produce fermented foods. With delicious results.

Besides flavour, though, are there other reasons to seek out fermented foods? Scientists around the world are trying to answer this question by studying the possible health benefits of consuming live cultures.

Robert (Bob) Hutkins, Professor of Food Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (USA), studies bacteria in fermented foods and factors that affect their survival in the gastrointestinal tract. In untangling the health benefits we can attribute to fermented foods, he says, it’s important to address the common misconception that fermented foods are the same thing as “probiotics”—the latter being live bacteria that confer health benefits when consumed in adequate numbers, according to the definition set by an international panel of experts in both 2001 and 2014.

Not all fermented foods contain live organisms,” Hutkins tells GMFH editors. “Beer and wine, for example, undergo steps that remove the organisms [like yeasts that allow fermentation]. Other fermented foods are heat-treated and the organisms are inactivated. Bread is baked and sauerkraut is often canned. So while these foods may be nutritious, they do not have probiotic activity.”

He continues, “That being said, there are still lots of fermented foods that do contain live organisms, including yogurt and other [fermented] dairy foods, most cheeses, non-heated sauerkraut and kimchi, even many of the European-style dry fermented sausages.”

An ongoing area of investigation for food scientists is whether the method of delivering live microorganisms, otherwise known as the ‘food matrix’, matters for how the bacteria survive—and for how they contribute to health.
“The matrix can affect viability and survival of the organism, such that some foods may be more-or-less hospitable than others,” explains Hutkins.

“Probiotics have long been added to dairy products, but now they are incorporated into fruit and vegetable smoothies, nutrition bars, even chocolates,” he continues. “At this point it is not possible to generalize about how well the organism will manage in each of these; they have to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. Still, dairy foods have long been the main delivery vehicle, and most probiotics do just fine in this matrix.”

Not only that, he says, “The scientific community is all over the diet/gut microbiota/human health connection. Fermented foods contribute a diverse array of microorganisms to the existing gut microbiota and thus have the potential to affect health.”(

Fermented foods are a better solution to inferior and ineffective probiotics for many reasons.

  1. Fermented does not use heat – thus, they retain their amino acids that are typically destroyed by heat.
  2. Fermented foods naturally supply a variety of live cultures. Probiotic supplements pale in comparison because they usually contain a single strain of bacteria (ex. Lactobacillus acidophilus)… not to mention the bacteria is usually inactive.
  3. Fermented foods and drinks contain active bacteria as well as “food” for the microflora to promote growth in your digestive tract. Probiotic supplements, on the other hand, only contain bacteria. The “food” that is in fermented foods and drinks is necessary because once they get to your intestines, they need additional time (up to 6 hours) to colonize – and the active bacteria and “food” are so powerful they begin working at once.
    Fermented foods are a better solution to inferior and ineffective probiotics for many reasons.
  4. Fermented foods and drinks are so powerful that they work immediately – once the drink or food hits your mouth, they begin working at once – all the way down to your gut.
  5. Fermented foods and drinks are packed with B vitamins, minerals,and enzymes in addition to active bacteria and “food”. Probiotic supplements, on the other hand, do not contain minerals, enzymes, and B-vitamins that are so valuable to your body. The nutrients you obtain in fermented foods increase the bioavailability in ALL of the foods you eat two fold. For ex. The bioavailability of vitamin C in sauerkraut is 20 times more than the same helping of fresh cabbage (source).
  6. Fermented foods and drink have a higher quantity of good bacteria that make it to the gut. As you consume fermented foods and drinks, your food throws up a wall that protects the good bacteria from the acid in the tummy, and speeds the trip the bacteria take to the intestines to do their work. When you take a probiotic in pill form, it’s trapped by the acid in the tummy which can kill the bacteria before they can even do any work.
  7. Fermented foods and drinks are cheaper than vitamins or probiotic supplements. Fermented foods can be made yourself at home. Or, if you are in a state that permits the sale of raw milk, your farmer may have live kefir grains that you can pick up for a nominal fee, and you can soak those grains in raw milk each day.
  8. If you are incorporating fermented foods regularly, there isn’t any need to take any supplements or vitamins because fermented foods usually contain most if not all of the nutrients your body needs. Not to mention that these foods are more bioavailable, and are absorbed into every cell in your body.

According to Dr. Mercola, of “Fermented foods not only give you a wider variety of beneficial bacteria, they also give you far more of them, so it’s a cost effective alternative.”

Are you considering incorporating fermented food in your diet?

Have two table spoons of sauerkraut or fresh dill pickles with your meal or a cup of fresh yogurt or kefir a day, add sour cream to your soup.

1. Kristina Camplbell
3. Bodyecology, “Probiotic Foods vs. Supplements,”.
4. Condor, Bob, “Living Well: “Friendly probiotics have some cons, too,” Seattle P-1, 18 Dec, 2006.
5. Mercola, Dr., “Fermented foods contain 100 times more probiotics than a supplement,” 12 May, 2012.
6. Schwenk, Donna, “Cultured food stronger than supplements,” 1 Feb, 2016.



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