Fermented by L A B


Are Fermented Foods, Probiotics? A Users Guide to Fermentation Jargon.

Fermentation InformationAlana Holloway

It’s been another busy week for us at LAB.  On Monday, Alana and I were busying away packing subscription boxes to send out to our lovely customers.  We hope those of you who received your boxes on Tuesday are enjoying the last of the Summer flavours.  We’re so excited to see what you think of the Autumn flavours.  I haven’t even tried them yet, Alana’s kept them under lock and key!  I’ve had some great feedback from you about last week’s post.  Thank you all for reading! 

This week, Alana and I thought it might be useful if I did a bit of a ‘de-jargoning’ post for you all.  The world of fermented food and drink certainly involves some strange sounding names.  These can be a little alienating!  The first time Alana used words like Kefir, Kvass, Kombucha and Kimchi I thought she sounded like she’d swallowed a pretentious dictionary.  Now, I love these words because I know they mean something delicious and good for me!  Hopefully, this post can serve as a point of reference to those of you who, like me, thought these words were a foreign language.  I’ve added in some of the other words you’ll find that we use, so that we’re all reading from the same hymn sheet.

Cultured Veggies
A recent magazine article which detailed the diet of a chef who ate ‘cultured veggies’ sparked some pretty funny comments on social media (‘‘My veggies read The Times’’ was a personal favourite).  So what are they?  Cultured vegetables are lacto-fermented, which is a method of food preservation which also increases the nutritional benefits of the vegetable.  It turns a healthy vegetable into a probiotic superfood!  Lacto-fermentation is a fairly basic process.  The food (vegetables in this case) is submerged into a salt brine, creating an environment which encourages good bacteria (probiotics) to grow and thrive, inhibiting the growth of pathogenic bacteria.  The good bacteria convert the naturally occurring sugars from the food into lactic acid (a natural preservative).  It’s an age-old method of preserving food!

Fermented Food
The art of fermenting food is something that dates as far back as 6000 B.C.  Fermentation was used to prevent the need for constant hunting and gathering by preserving food, and was also a method of converting potentially poisonous foods into something safe to eat.  Romans ate Sauerkraut and relied on the health benefits it contained to stave off scurvy and and other diseases.  It could be said that the health benefits of fermented food were discovered by happy accident, as fermentation was originally intended to preserve food .  See ‘Cultured Veggies’ for details.

Pronounced ‘Kuh-fear’.  There is more than one type of this gut loving drink.  Kefir is really just a mixture of yeasts and bacterias living happily together!  You may read about Kefir ‘grains’ (not actually grains), also called ‘SCOBY’.  Kefir can be added to various milks to create milk Kefir (tastes a little like natural yoghurt), or to a sugar-water solution to create water Kefir (the sugar is mostly consumed by the Kefir bacteria during the fermentation process).  We use raw organic cane sugar and add pure, cold pressed, organic fruit and vegetable juice (sometimes herbs/spices too) to our water Kefir to make our delicious sodas (pictured above)!

originates from Korea, and whilst it is best known as spicy fermented cabbage, it actually covers a variety of highly seasoned fermented vegetables such as cucumber or radishes.  It is considered to be one of the healthiest foods in the world, boasting high levels of B vitamins, vitamin C, minerals (including iron) and fibre.  Kimchi is also made using lacto-fermentation (see Cultured Veggies).

Pronounced ‘Kom-boo-cha’.  Kombucha is a fermented, probiotic ‘living’ tea drink.  Like many other ferments, it has been around for centuries.  It is made using SCOBY, but Kombucha SCOBY is rather different to Kefir SCOBY and is also known as the ‘Kombucha mushroom’.  It looks a bit like a jelly pancake, and is white or beige.  The SCOBY is added to a sugary tea, and ferments over 7-10 days.  It has many health benefits, which include improving digestion, fighting disease and stabilising mood.

Pronounced Kuh-vah-ss.  Kvass is another type of fermented drink.  It can be made in many ways, including the original method which involves using stale rye bread.  Kvass originates from Russia and is always water based, usually cloudy in appearance and often contains fruit juice or honey. 

The Mother’- This is the cloudy, cobweb like substance that occurs in ferments like Apple Cider Vinegar.  It is often strained out, but it’s the best bit for your gut!  It is the original ferment, and is a natural carbohydrate which is produced by the bacteria in the vinegar.

The concept of Prebiotics is relatively new, and was only introduced just over 20 years ago.  The definition of a prebiotic has been altered several times since then.  A prebiotic is currently said to be a specialised plant fibre which nourishes the existing bacteria in the gut.  Simply put, a prebiotic feeds the good bacteria in your gut.

The World Health Organisation defines probiotics as ‘’Live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host’’.  Essentially, good bacteria which do good things for your health when you eat them!  Probiotics are created during the fermentation process.  The word ‘Probiotic’ literally means ‘for life’.  


Pronounced ‘Sow-er-krowt’.  Also known as ‘Kraut’.  Sauerkraut is lacto-fermented shredded cabbage.  Thought to have originated in China, over 2,000 years ago, it was first made by pouring rice wine over finely shredded cabbage.  It is more commonly known as a German delicacy, but in the German preparation it was made by sprinkling salt over shredded cabbage to draw out the water which provided the ‘juice’ or brine which accompanied it.  It was discovered to be so nutritious that, in Northern Europe, it was made a requirement for Sauerkraut to be on board every ship to prevent disease.  Our Turmeric and Black Pepper Kraut (pictured above) was a big hit this summer, but we didn’t post it out to any boats!

This is actually an acronym for ‘Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeasts’.  Essentially, it is cellulose containing the live part of the yeasts and bacteria, which multiplies when fed.  It is the presence of SCOBY in fermented drinks such as Kefir and Kombucha which makes them such a good source of natural probiotics.

So now you know!