RECIPE: “Take one fish and press it under a heavy stone for 24 hours. Remove the fish and pound it until soft and add two cups of salt. Lay the fish in the open sun for another day. Pack fish into straw and put into an open jar. Set jar with fish out in the sun for another month. Smash month-old salted fish into a paste and use it as a soup or spread. Delicious!”
This is a recipe for probably the first fermented food ever eaten by man. Today he eats many more types of foods that have undergone some fermenting processes. Cheese, yogurt, pickles, sauerkraut, soy sauce, vinegar, beer and buttermilk are some of the more common fermented foods eaten today.
None of them are necessary in the diet.
1.1 What Is A Fermented Food?
A fermented food is basically a food that has been very carefully spoiled. Fermentation occurs when certain microorganisms (bacteria) break down a food into various waste products. If the “wrong” types of microorganisms decompose the food, then putrefaction, or rotting, occurs.
Fermented foods, then, are the result of active bacteria and contain their waste products (lactic acid and acetic acid are two examples). Putrefied or rotten foods also contain bacteria and certain waste products (usually a nitrogenous substance like ammonia).
Why do people want to eat rotting or decayed foods? Can these foods be beneficial in any way, as some people have claimed? What happens when you eat fermented foods?
1.2 How Fermented Foods Began
Fermented foods like yogurt, pickles, beer and so on were originally used as a substance for fresh foods. Fermentation became a way of preserving foods for the time when there was no supply of fresh food. In effect, man found a way to “spoil” his food by choice so that he could eat it at a later date.
Cheese, for example, was one way that milk could be preserved without refrigeration. Excess cucumbers and cabbage were turned into pickles and sauerkraut for the winter. Fermented foods were actually some of the first preserved foods.
And, like all preserved foods, they cannot supply the ingredients of good nutrition. Still, man has eaten them for hundreds of years, and over that time he has developed some good reasons (or excuses) for eating foods that are full of bacteria, decay and waste products. Let’s look at the reasons given for including fermented foods in the diet.