In many countries, fermented foods are a dietary staple due to their health benefits.
For thousands of years, fermented foods have been a popular way to preserve foods because the refrigerator is a relatively modern invention.
Ancient cultures discovered that fermented foods were beneficial for the digestive system and that these foods last a long time without going rotten.
There is a wide variety of fermented foods, and each country has its specialties based on local food sources.
In this post, I’m going to share the top fermented foods in many countries, after which I’ll explain the benefits and list the best fermented foods for weight loss and keto.
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What is fermentation?
- 2 Top Fermented Foods By Country
- 2.1 Armenia
- 2.2 China
- 2.3 Croatia
- 2.4 El Salvador
- 2.5 Ethiopia/Eritrea
- 2.6 Finland
- 2.7 France:
- 2.8 Germany
- 2.9 Ghana
- 2.10 Iceland
- 2.11 India:
- 2.12 Indonesia
- 2.13 Iraq
- 2.14 Italy
- 2.15 Japan
- 2.16 Korea
- 2.17 Mexico
- 2.18 Nigeria
- 2.19 Polynesia
- 2.20 Philippines
- 2.21 Russia
- 2.22 Senegal
- 2.23 Sri Lanka
- 2.24 Syria
- 2.25 Taiwan
- 2.26 Thailand
- 2.27 Turkey
- 2.28 Ukraine
- 2.29 United States:
- 2.30 Vietnam
- 2.31 Zimbabwe (East Africa)
- 3 What are the health benefits of fermented food?
- 4 Top Fermented Foods for Gut Health
- 5 Best Fermented Foods for Keto
- 6 Best Fermented Foods for Weight loss
- 7 Are fermented foods safe during pregnancy?
- 8 Fermented Foods are Top for your Health
What is fermentation?
When you think of fermented foods, you probably imagine a tart-tasting savory flavor. But not all fermented foods taste similar.
Fermentation is when bacteria and yeast break down carbs like starch and sugar.
The carbs are converted into alcohol and acids that are natural preservatives.
Fermented foods are also known as cultured foods, which refers to the good bacteria and probiotics that actively decompose the sugars.
If you want to learn more about fermented foods and get some cooking inspiration, check out The Farmhouse Culture Guide to Fermenting: Crafting Live-Cultured Foods and Drinks with 100 Recipes from Kimchi to Kombucha [A Cookbook].
This cookbook gives you easy fermented food recipes and guides you through the fermentation process and teaches you all about cultivating active bacteria.
Another great resource is the International New York Times Bestseller The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz.
This book provides detailed instructions on how to make your own ferments, including lots of general information on fermentation.
From sauerkraut, beer, and yogurt to kombucha, kimchi, and kefir, this book has it all!
Top Fermented Foods By Country
Now, let’s dive in and see what different countries have to offer when it comes to fermented foods.
Tarhana: This is a dried mixture of fermented grains, yogurt, and milk. It is coarse and looks like dry crumbs. Water is added to make delicious soups or stocks. It is mildly acidic and has a sweet-sour flavor.
Douchi: A spicy cooking paste made with fermented black beans combined with soybeans, rice, salt, spices, and chili (in the Sichuan region). This paste is spicy and salty and adds lots of flavor to any dish.
Kombucha: A tea drink made from fermented black tea with sugar and bacteria and yeast cultures. Some varieties are made with sugar, while others require honey or cane sugar. The longer the drink ferments, the stronger the tart and tangy taste.
Kisela Repa: This is fermented turnip shreds in salty water. It is similar in texture to fermented cabbage, but it has a bit of sweeter flavor. This dish is eaten as a side dish, especially alongside meats.
Curtido: This dish is similar to sauerkraut. Cabbage, onion, carrots, and lime juice is lightly fermented. The veggies take on a relish-type texture, and they are sour and tart.
Injera: This national dish in both countries is a sour flatbread made of an ancient grain called Teff. The flour is fermented and has a spongy texture. This bread has a tangy flavor, and it’s naturally gluten-free.
Viili: A type of yogurt made with mesophilic fermented milk. It is full of bacterial and yeast cultures that form a think velvet-textured layer on top of the yogurt. It looks dense and has a sticky texture. This drink is usually eaten for breakfast in Nordic countries.
Crème fraîche: This is a creamy dairy product with a taste and flavor similar to sour cream. The cream ferments together with lactic acid bacteria and becomes sour. It’s used as a topping in desserts, soups, sauces, or as a salad dressing.
Sauerkraut: This is similar to Kimchi because it’s also a sliced fermented cabbage dish. The cabbage ferments in its brine and juices and lactic acid bacteria. It’s rich in fiber and vitamins and very sour. It’s usually served as a side dish in Europe.
Kenkey: It’s a type of sourdough dumpling made from fermented corn or maize. Once the flour ferments for a few days, it’s wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Sometimes the dumpling is filled with cassava, potato, or dried fish. It is dense and sour flavored.
Hakarl: This is a fermented shark meat dish. The shark meat is left to ferment, then hung up and left to dry for a while. When serving the meat, they cut it into cubes. The texture is similar to chewy cheese, and it has a fishy and blue-cheese-like flavor.
Cahgem Pombla: This is a healthy type of curry made with fermented soybeans mixed with spinach, mustard, dill, fenugreek, and cilantro. It has a savory and sour flavor and a creamy texture.
Dhokla: A breakfast food made with steamed and fermented chickpea flour. The flour is mixed with salt, rock salt, and a variety of spices. Then, the batter is shaped into small cakes and served with chutney. It has a spongy texture and tastes savory and spicy with a hint of sweetness.
Jalebi: This is a dessert made from fermented wheat batter. It is a popular dessert in Asia and the Middle East. The jalebi coils are translucent and full of bacteria cultures, which impart a sweet and sour flavor.
Tempeh: A dish made with soybeans fermented with living mold cultures for about a day or two. It can be used as a meat substitute with high protein content. Tempeh has a compact cake-like texture and a strong nutty flavor.
Kushuk: A common middle-eastern dish made with parboiled wheat and turnip as well as lots of herbs and spices like tarhana. It is fermented with lactic acid bacteria for about 4 to 10 days. It is often used as a stock for soup, and it has a sour taste.
Giardiniera: It refers to pickled vegetables, but the traditional dish requires fermentation. It’s added to sandwiches or served as an antipasto. Vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, and cauliflower are fermented with salt for about a week. The result is a sour and slightly spicy pickled veggie mix.
Miso: This is a popular seasoning paste made with koji fungus and fermented soybeans or brown rice & barley. It’s commonly used in soups because it has a savory umami flavor. There are three common types of miso: white, yellow, and red/brown, and some are lighter in taste, while others are very salty.
Natto: A popular breakfast dish made with fermented soybean and Bacillus subtilis (culture) with high fiber content. It has a strong, pungent blue cheese-like smell and a rather slippery and gooey texture.
Kimchi: A fermented cabbage dish (or radish) with spices cultured in its own brine and juice for about 4 to 14 days. This food is a national side dish in Korea and tastes sour, and a bit spicy, but the most prominent flavor is umami (savory).
Cheonggukjang/Doenjang: This is a fermented soybean paste. The first is thinner while the latter is thicker. The paste acts as a condiment and adds flavor to different kinds of dishes. It takes anywhere from a few days to a few months to prepare, and it has a nutty and salty flavor.
Atole Agrio: This is a type of porridge. First, a black maize dough is fermented for about five days. Then, some regions turn the dough into a sourdough type bread. Others like to eat it as a thick sour porridge for breakfast.
Ogiri: This dish has a texture similar to miso or tofu. It is a popular food from West Africa. It is made from fermented sesame seeds mixed with salt and water and shaped into small cakes. It has a bit of a stinky pungent smell like blue cheese.
Lutefisk: Now considered a common food in some parts of the U.S, this is a pungent-smelling Viking dish made from fermented codfish. The fish is dehydrated until it becomes thin and has a cardboard texture. Then, they rehydrate the cod with lye. It is squishy and mildly flavored.
Poi: Although Polynesia is not a country, the region is known for its poi. It is a fermented batter-like food made from taro stems. The stems are fermented and mashed, then steamed and cooked until they become liquidy. Poi has a thick consistency and tastes sour.
Bagoong: This is a fish sauce made with fermented fish, anchovies, or shrimp. Philipinos use fish sauce or paste as a condiment in many traditional dishes. The flavor is complex because it’s a combination of salty, umami, and sweet.
Puto: A dessert dish that consists of fermented and steamed glutinous rice. The rice is soaked in water for a couple of days; then, it’s ground into a batter. Puto is usually served with coconut. It has a soft texture and tastes like steamed rice.
Burong Mangga: This mango pickle is a popular side dish and a great way to keep excess mangoes good longer. It is made with salt brine and unripe or half-ripe mangoes. Chilies can be added to the mixture for a kick.
Kefir: Originally from the Caucasian mountain region, kefir is fermented cow’s milk obtained by fermenting kefir grain for 12 hours. The grains are clumpy bacteria and yeast cultures. This drink has a tangy taste and thicker yogurt consistency.
Dawadawa: This is a dish made from fermented locust beans, which are then pressed into small balls. In some other African countries, the beans are pressed into discs. This food is added to soup as a condiment. It has an umami flavor with a note of cocoa.
Idli: A popular breakfast dish made with rice and black beans, which are ground into a batter-like texture. The batter must be fermented for at least 12 hours or overnight. It is then steamed. It has a sour and savory flavor.
Shanklish: This dish is popular all over the Middle East. It’s a type of fermented cheese made with either cow or sheep’s milk. The cheese is molded into balls and covered in herbs and spices, like pepper, chili, aniseed. It is then aged until it becomes hard. It tastes similar to blue cheese.
Stinky tofu: A fermented tofu with a stinky pungent odor that’s very overpowering. This dish is popular at night markets and food stalls around Asia. The tofu is submerged in milk, vegetables, or milk until it gets dark and develops an odor. It tastes like blue cheese.
Chin Som Mok: Consider this the Thai version of pork sausage. This unique dish is made with pork meat (skin on) and fermented with rice. Then, the pork is wrapped in banana leaves and grilled. It has a meaty and sour flavor, and in some households, people also add spicy herbs.
Ayran: This is a yogurt type fermented milk drink. It is made by fermenting yogurt with water and salt herbs. It is refreshing but has a salty taste. It also comes in a carbonated version, and it’s a common drink to have alongside large meals.
Kvass: This drink is very popular in Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. The drink is made from fermented rye bread. The stale bread is placed in a container and fermented for 2-3 weeks with salt, water, yeast, sugar, and beets. It’s a digestive tonic with a sweet flavor and beer-like consistency.
Sourdough bread: Americans love their sourdough bread. It’s made by fermenting dough with naturally occurring lactobacilli and yeast. These bacteria make the bread taste sour. This type of bread is flatter but still has a spongy texture.
Nem Chua: It’s a pork roll, made of ground pork meat, wrapped and covered in banana leaves and left to ferment. The meat is mixed with powdered rice, some salt, and a mixture of herbs & spices and covered in banana leaves. This food is a popular snack and tastes salty, sweet, sour, and spicy at the same time, making it very unique.
Zimbabwe (East Africa)
Togwa: This is a fermented drink made from gruel, mixed with water, chimera, millet, maize, and cooked cornmeal. Once the ingredients are mixed into a porridge-like consistency, they are left to ferment in the sun for a couple of days. To enhance the taste, people sweeten this drink with sugar.
What are the health benefits of fermented food?
- Probiotics – Fermented foods contain probiotics, known as ‘good’ bacteria for the digestive system. As well, fermented foods improve the immune system. Unfermented food is not as healthy or nutritious as its fermented version.
- Balance gut bacteria – According to a study about probiotics’ efficacy, fermented foods balance the good bacteria in your digestive system. Thus fermented food helps reduce symptoms of bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
- Boosts immune system – Another benefit of fermented food is that it boosts your immune system, which in turn reduces the chances of catching colds and infections.
- Easy Digestion – Fermented food is easier to digest because the fermentation process breaks down many of the nutrients; thus, the stomach and gut don’t have to work as hard.
- Nutritious – Finally, fermented foods are nutritious because they contain vitamin C, iron, and zinc, contributing to a healthier immune system.
Top Fermented Foods for Gut Health
Did you know that over 100 trillion bacteria and microorganisms live inside your gut?
To help balance good and bad bacteria, you need to eat fermented foods with natural probiotics.
Most naturally fermented foods will contain healthy gut bacteria, which keeps your digestive system functioning properly.
Here is a list of the top foods for a healthy digestive system because they contain lots of probiotics.
- Cheese with active cultures
- Kvass drink
- Apple cider
- Fermented vegetables
- Miso soup
- Pickled food
- Fermented cabbage (Sauerkraut)
Best Fermented Foods for Keto
The keto diet can help with weight loss, but it can also help improve your digestion and overall gut health.
To follow the keto diet, you have to eat high fat, moderate protein, and a low-carb diet.
To ensure your digestive system stays healthy while dieting, don’t forget to eat fermented foods too!
Try these healthy keto fermented foods:
- Yogurt – it helps boost your digestion, and it’s especially recommended in the summer.
- Kombucha – This fermented black or green tea keeps the liver and gut healthy. Since it’s low in calories, when fermented long enough, you can drink it if you’re doing the keto diet.
- Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) – This food is low in carbs but very rich in fiber. Cabbage is full of beneficial enzymes that help the body absorb the nutrients you eat.
- Pickles – they are low in calories and fat-free, so you can eat lots of them while doing keto. Pickles are a source of probiotics and help your gut flora.
- Kimchi – another cabbage dish that sometimes includes other fermented vegetables. It eases digestion and prevents yeast infections.
Best Fermented Foods for Weight loss
An imbalance in your gut microbiome can cause weight gain. It can also prevent you from losing weight, even if you go on a diet.
Fermented foods help reduce the inflammation on your body, which also aids with weight loss.
Inflammation causes leptin and insulin resistance, which makes it hard to lose weight.
Here are the most beneficial fermented foods for healthy weight loss:
- Fermented soy products like tempeh and miso made with organic non-GMO soy are beneficial for weight loss.
Pickled vegetables are full of probiotics, and you can eat them as healthy side-dishes because they are low in calories and fat.
- Kefir, the cultured dairy drink helps maintain a healthy microbiome and regulate insulin levels, which helps you lose weight faster.
- Raw cheese contains a lot of healthy bacteria and reduces bodily inflammation.
Any food with a high fiber content like sauerkraut can helps you lose that belly fat because fiber keeps you feeling full, so you eat fewer calories.
Are fermented foods safe during pregnancy?
You may be curious to know if you can eat fermented foods while pregnant.
In moderate quantities, fermented foods are healthy for your body and the baby.
These foods have an essential role in regulating the microbiome in your digestive system. A healthy gut is a key part of prenatal health.
Thus you can consume some fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi. They can also prevent yeast infections, which tend to appear during pregnancy.
Fermented Foods are Top for your Health
As you’ve read, fermented foods have two major health benefits:
- they keep the digestive system healthy
- they improve your immune system
Thus, even if you are following a weight loss diet or keto, you can consume fermented foods.
Since they keep the gut healthy and happy, these foods can eliminate many of the painful digestive symptoms.
It’s no wonder most countries worldwide have at least a few fermented dishes in their culinary culture.
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