The Power of Sour: 5 Delicious Recipes Starring Fermented Foods

published Apr 10, 2016
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(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

Fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, and kombucha are zooming up the popularity charts — why? Health and taste. Many eat fermented foods for the probiotic benefits, but beyond those, these foods are powerhouses of flavor — spicy, sour, tangy, bright and energizing.

Today we have five recipes that take fermented foods beyond the condiment bottle and that show you how to cook with them in ways that sing with flavor.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

Whole fresh foods are desired today more than ever for their nutrient density, lack of processing, and authentic, farm-to-table sourcing. Fermented foods, on the other hand, are nutrient-dense in a different way; they’re not just cooked; they’re broken down, soaked, soured, and brined for weeks, months, and even years.

But their popularity mirrors the rise of farm-to-table fresh whole foods, because they have their own health benefits to offer.

Fermented Foods for Your Microbiome

Your digestive tract — and your stomach and small intestine, in particular — is home to something scientists refer to as your microbiome, trillions of tiny bugs in the form of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. The most recent research on the topic revealed that each of us has a unique microbiome that changes often and is heavily influenced by what we eat, not just over time, but even meal to meal.

This research is also leading many of us to eat more probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria found in foods that balance, build, and protect the good parts of the microbiome already living in your gut. Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha, contain probiotics because of the way they are produced and preserved. The breaking down of sugar, the addition of acid, and the use of lactobacillus are all pathways to probiotics.

Fermented Foods for Flavor

But beyond the health benefits, fermentation is also one of the best ways to make foods that taste sour, tangy, vinegary, or acidic — each of which is a desirable trait when seeking an ingredient to balance and help brighten the flavor of a dish that would otherwise lack depth or taste too bland, sweet, or rich.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

5 Recipes That Preserve the Best in Fermented Foods

Delicate in nature, probiotics can’t survive prolonged exposure to heat, so it’s convenient that they present themselves often as a condiment — think sauerkraut, cortido, kimchi, and even some salsas and chutneys — or as a dairy or beverage that’s often served chilled, such as kombucha, kefir, and yogurt.

In these recipes, the fermented ingredient is either never exposed to heat or it is stirred into the dish at the last moment. In the case of the kefir pancakes, additional kefir is used as a flavorful topping so you can reap both benefits of cooking with ferments — they’re rich sources of probiotics and they make food taste good.