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6 fermented food terms you should know for 2016

Know the new buzzwords on restaurant menus.

by: Tessa Purdon | 11 Jan 2016

Before we get started, let me just say that fermented food is nothing new. In fact – humans have been using this process in the production of food and drink for centuries. The most obvious fermented drink we all know (and love) is of course wine – where, in the most basic explanation, yeast converts sugars to alcohol.

Why is this even relevant?

Well right now any respected health café or restaurant in your city has some sort of fermented food/drink on its menu. Seen the words, “kimchi”, “kombucha”or “tempeh” recently? I’ll go through each one of these terms a bit later but here’s what you need to know about why these items are popping up on menus all over….

What is fermentation?

Fermentation is a chemical reaction and the significance of this is that when food is fermented, the chemical structure changes. Lacto-fermentation takes place in which natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in the food creating lactic acid. This creates healthy enzymes and the hallowed P-word that has the entire health world in a flurry – probiotics.

According to Health24, “during periods of stress and ill health, the negative bacteria in the intestines tend to multiply prolifically and it is essential to try and keep the levels of ‘healthy’ bacteria as high as possible.” And it is these precious healthy probiotics that keep the bacteria in our gut in tip top shape. The spin-off leads to:
better digestion, a stronger immune system and less inflammation in the body.

It’s no secret that we’ve all become acutely more aware of diet and nutrition in the last 2 years and establishments are either adapting menus to suit their customers’ dietary needs or even opening a restaurant with items on the menu that already have the fermented stamp of approval. In Cape Town you can find fermented items on the menu at Clarkes, Culture Club Cheese, Sexy Food, Blue Café and Luke Dale Roberts’ new baby – Naturalis. If you're in Franschhoek, you can stop in and visit Chef Chris Erasmus at Foliage. Joburgers can find kimchi at Che Gourmet in Randburg.

Here is a short explanation of a few fermented terms you’re likely to come up against when eating out:

1. Komucha
Kombucha (kom-boo-chah) is a fermented tea drink. It’s effervescent and refreshing when served chilled and comes in a variety of delicious flavours. Some people avoid giving it to children because it contains slight traces of alcohol from the fermentation process.

2. Kimchi
Kimchi (kim-chee) is a fermented cabbage that is widely popular in Korea. It has a tangy flavour and is great with just about anything! I love having it as an accompaniment to scrambled eggs for breakfast! Learn how to make your own kimchi at home by clicking here.

3. Kefir
(kee-fur) is an extremely sour, tart drink that is made by fermenting cow’s milk with certain bacteria called “kefir grains”. You can also make it with sheep’s milk, goat’s milk and even coconut milk – although the results will be quite different. Kefir is great in smoothies or as a base for a zesty salad dressing. I sometimes go to Blue Café in my neighbourhood and get a simple ‘kefir gut shot’ that you just down in one go.

4. Tempeh
(Tem-pay) is the term for fermented soy beans that have been packed into a solid ‘cake’. It comes from Indonesia and is extremely popular among the vegan community. Here are 6 ways to enjoy it. Tempeh ‘bacon’ is also available although I haven’t seen it in South Africa yet.

5. Saurkraut
(Sour-kr-out) is probably not new to you but if you aren’t familiar with the term – it’s simply a German version of kimchi made with cabbage. A great addition to any German wurst!

6. Miso
(Me-so) is a Japanese paste made from fermented soybeans and is used in a flavourful umami broth or as a seasoning element in dishes. Many describe the flavour of miso to be very nutty, slightly fishy and savoury.

We are keen to hear about any restaurants in your area that serve fermented products with probiotic properties. Let us know in the comments section!

- Tessa Purdon


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