What Are Probiotic Foods?

Ever wondered about probiotic foods? What exactly are they? Well put very simply, probiotic foods are foodstuffs containing the health-promoting, live microorganisms, known as probiotics.

Whilst some foods that contain probiotics have simply had probiotics added to the finished product (i.e. probiotic cereal bars), most of these wonderful foods take on their probiotic properties through a process known as fermentation. This process occurs when the live probiotic organisms in the food, in their quest to obtain energy, alter the chemical properties of the original food. Fermentation not only changes the appearance of the original food, it also enhances the flavor, texture, vitamin content, and also preserves it!

Why Eat Probiotic Foods?

These probiotic or fermented foods, as they are also known, have another very special quality. When consumed regularly and in adequate quantities as part of a food, the tiny live probiotic organisms in these foods deliver health benefits to the host.1 So just by eating these foods, you can help your health!

Indeed consuming probiotics has been shown to improve the health of the intestinal tract, maintain urogenital function and enhance the immune system. Scientific evidence also shows that ingesting foods containing probiotics can also lessen symptoms of lactose intolerance and reduce the occurrence of allergy in susceptible people.2,3

Yoghurt is One of the Most Widely Recognized Probiotic Foods

You may have already come across the most familiar and widely recognized probiotic foods, which are yogurt and fermented cabbage, known as sauerkraut. In fact it is very likely that you are already eating some fermented food. However, there are many types of foods that contain probiotics. This site will allow you to discover the wide array of probiotic foods.

You can purchase some of these foods ready-made in the grocery or health food store and you can also make many of these quite easily at home. Probiotic yogurt for example can be made very simply from milk and a yogurt starter.

If you want to make these foods at home, you may want to kit yourself out with some specialist equipment. We have teamed up with Amazon.com to provide you with a well-stocked store. Click here to browse our store.


Good sources of home-fermenting recipes can be found in the books Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. You can buy both these books at our probiotic book store. Click here to enter our store.

History of Probiotic Foods

It’s not just recently that we humans have begun eating probiotic foods. Since ancient times, man has made and eaten probiotic food. The earliest types of probiotic foods were wine, beer and leavened bread, fermented by yeasts, as well as cheeses and milks, made by bacterial and fungal fermentation. Whilst for these very early societies the fermentation process was a welcome mystery, humans learned that fermentation not only enhanced the taste of these food products but also ultimately preserved the foodstuffs.

The health benefits of eating probiotic food appears not to have gone unnoticed either.

The wise Roman historian Plinius proposed using fermented milk products for treating gastroenteritis.

More recently, in the early 1900s, Nobel Prize winning microbiologist Ilya Ilyich Mechinikov attributed the health and longevity of a group of Bulgarian peoples to their consumption of probiotic foods.

He not only identified the health-giving bacteria used to ferment these foods (Lactobacillus bulgaricus), he also concluded that he believed beneficial "good" probiotic bacteria could have a far greater impact on human health than disease-causing bacteria. Indeed probiotic organisms are not thought to promote or cause disease but rather they enhance health.

Probiotic Foods around The World

Many different peoples around the world have long traditions of eating fermented foods. Each of these groups traditionally had its own specific types of food fermentation, which reflected their respective staple diets and raw food availability in the region. These probiotic foods were generally made from fruit, vegetables, meat or dairy products and later grains. Probiotic foods are popular around the world

For the Europeans for example, the traditional food fermentations were made from cabbage (known as sauerkraut to the Germans and choucroute to the French), beets, cucumber, as well as green tomatoes, peppers and lettuces (Russia and Poland)

The Asians also used sour preserved cabbages and vegetables as staples in their diets.

Koreans were famous for their

kimchi, a spiced fermented cabbage, and the Japanese for their traditional vegetable ferments known as tsukemono or pickles.

Many types of fermented milk products were also first produced and consumed in Asia, Europe, South America and Africa by nomadic herders. The Bulgarians ate yogurt, whilst further east, the central Asians drank cultured mare’s milk known as kumis as well as a cultured effervescent drink, known as kefir.


Foods that Contain Probiotics

Today foods which contain probiotics are still an important part of eating habits around the world. These foods play a significant role in Asian and European food systems and today the health-giving properties of these foods are highly valued.

The Koreans continue to enjoy their daily helping of kimchi (also spelled gimchi, kimchee and kim chee), a spiced fermented vegetable mixture based upon cabbage, eaten with meals to aid digestion.

The Japanese also use fermented food as a digestive aid, eating their fermented soya bean soup, known as miso, with practically every meal – breakfast not excluded!!!

The Europeans also still enjoy many types of foods that contain probiotics including milk products as well as vegetable ferments. Fermented cabbage (sauerkraut) is eaten with main meals, again to ease digestion. Kombucha, a fermented drink, is also popular.

In America rather sadly though, people have become distanced from their fermented food traditions. Where people would once have eaten home fermented food such as cultured vegetables, they now eat canned and processed foods. They have largely come to rely on pills as opposed to food in order keep healthy and with a fear of all things microbial, with the exception of yogurt, are slow on the uptake of foods containing probiotics. This is a great oversight, given the wonderful health properties of these foods as well as the diverse, fantastic tastes of the many different probiotic foods.



Which Foods Contain Probiotics?

Let us introduce to a few of the wonderful foods that contain probiotics out there. Whether you prefer vegetables, fruit, beans, dairy or grains, there is a fermented food for you!

Dairy

  • Milk Kefir: a thick, slightly fizzy milk drink. See our dedicated page on how to make kefir if you want to learn how to make your own at home.

    Have a look too at our page on kefir grains and powdered kefir starter for a discussion on the pros and cons of each type of starter.

  • Yogurt: the thickened (usually) milk-based product, we know so well. Often mixed with fruit or other flavorings.

  • Buttermilk: a sour tasting thickened liquid milk.
  • Crème fraiche: rich cream with a mildly nutty, sour flavor.
  • Acidophilus milk: thickened tangy milk drink.
  • Fermented dairy milks such as Danactive, Activia and Yakult.

  • Aged cheeses such as Gouda, Emmental and Edam and Cheddar.

Fruit and Vegetables

Beans

  • Miso4 : fermented soya bean paste traditionally used in Japan for making soups, adding flavor to sauces and as a spread for crackers. There are many different types of miso and the flavor of each variety is determined by additional ingredients and exact process of fermentation.

  • Tempeh: Indonesian fermented whole soya bean product with a cake-like form. Has a nutty taste and firm texture many consider it a substitute for meat. It is very versatile and can be used in soups, spreads, salads and sandwiches.
  • Natto: Fermented soybeans, traditionally from Japan, with a strong savory nutty taste and aged cheese-like smell.

Grains

  • Traditional sourdough breads.

  • Granola and snack bars fortified with probiotics (Attune Wellness Bars).
  • Cereal with added probiotics (e.g. Kashi Vive Probiotic Digestive Wellness Cereal).
  • Rejuvelac5: a refreshing drink based on wheat and water.


References

1.Joint FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on Evaluation of Health and Nutritional properties of Probiotics in Food including Powder Milk and Live Lactic Acid Bacteria, Córdoba, Argentina, 2001, p. 5

2.Gill HS, Guarner F. Probiotics and human health: a clinical perspective. Postgraduate Medical Journal. 2004;80(947):516–526

3.Parvez, S. et al, Probiotics and Their Fermented Foods and Beneficial for Health, Journal of Applied Microbiology 2006:100: 1171-1185

4.Miso is traditionally made with soybeans though it can also be made using other beans, rice, barley or wheat.

5. Rejuvelac is the name given to this drink by the late Anne Wigmore.

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Making Probiotic Foods:











Making Yogurt:













Making Fermented Cabbage: