Mara and Willow King are probiotic alchemists. They started making live raw krauts and kim chi in their home kitchen and have built their passion into Ozuké, a raw fermented foods and beverages company based in Boulder Colorado and a member of FoodFutureCo’s Cohort 2. 

Along with author Sandor Katz, Mara recently launched a video series called The People’s Republic of Fermentation, in which Sandor and Mara travel through southwest China to learn more about the art of fermentation. In the first episode, they discover how to ferment vegetables the Chinese way (pao-cai) from Mrs. Ding in Chengdu. Follow their fermentation journey in future episodes throughout the summer.   

The Market for Microbes

The microbial population in our bodies exceeds our human cell count ten to one. If it’s a numbers game, the microorganisms have us beat. The good news is that most of these microorganism are on our team. In fact, many bacteria are vitally important to our health and well being. In a sense, our microbes are our bodies—and taking good care of these microorganisms is taking good care of ourselves. 

One of the best ways to nourish our microbial populations is by eating fermented foods. Though kombucha and kimchi are only now coming back in vogue, fermented foods are nothing new. In fact many of the foods we love best are naturally fermented.  Foods like bread, wine, beer, chocolate, coffee, cured meats, fish sauce, soy sauce and sauerkraut are still crafted with care all over the world.  Many foods that were once fermented are now a far cry from what they once were. Foods like ketchup, sushi, and sodapop were all originally fermented creations and have now evolved to something very different from what they would have been before industrialized pasteurization. 

These foods were a regular part of our ancestors’ diets when fermentation was an essential technique for preserving food. With the invention of pasteurization, refrigeration, and other food preparation technology, however, many fermentation processes were all but lost to most of society. And unfortunately, as these foods receded from our plates, there came a decline in the amount of probiotics, organic acids and complex enzymes available in the average diet.

Fermented foods help balance the microbes in our gut (i.e. our microbiome) by increasing the biological complexity of our inner eco systems. They can even help increase nutrient absorption and strengthen immunity. Now, more so than ever, we are beginning to realize that maintaining a healthy microbiome is crucial to physical and even mental health. The market is taking note too. 

According to SPINS market insights, the global probiotic market is on target to hit $65 billion by 2023. Over the last five years the fermented vegetable category has grown 50 percent year over year and the kombucha market alone will reach $1.8 billion by 2020.  At Ozuké, we are excited to be introducing our brand new line of sugar-free sparkling probiotic beverages soon. While many consumers have chosen to get their probiotics through supplements in the past, there is now a turn towards eating and drinking probiotic-rich foods as people find more compelling than ever Hippocrates’s mandate: Let food be thy medicine. 

Five Benefits of Fermented Foods and Beverages

1. Fermented Foods Improve Digestion

Fermenting foods before eating them is like digesting part of the food in advance. The process involves natural bacteria feeding on the sugar and starch in food, creating lactic acid—which our stomach uses for digestion. A good example is the fact that many people who are intolerant to milk can still eat yogurt without any trouble. This is because the lactose (which is the real source of the intolerance) is broken down during the fermentation process. Additionally, the enzymes provided in fermented foods help our guts digest, absorb, and utilize the nutrients in what we eat. As we age, our supply of enzymes goes down—and fermented foods are a good way to restore what our bodies can no longer provide. 

2. Fermented Foods are Teeming with Probiotics

Probiotics are what’s known as beneficial bacteria and they naturally occur in certain fermented foods. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines probiotics as “living microorganisms that provide a health benefit to the host when ingested in adequate amounts.” But those little bugs deserve much more credit. Their benefits are too great to ignore. When beneficial bacterial and beneficial enzymes thrive in the gut, it is easier to absorb more nutrients. The need for supplements and vitamins decreases, as the body is able to absorb live nutrients present in food instead. 

3. Fermented Foods Restore Proper Bacterial Balance

Recent studies show that our microbiomes are made up of millions of bacteria—the friendly and the not so friendly, alike. Maintaining a healthy microbial balance has tremendous influence on our overall health, and it’s easy to get off balance given how pervasive antibacterial products are in modern society. From chlorinated water and processed foods to antibiotics and high stress levels, the good bacteria in our guts are under constant attack! Bacterial imbalance often results in constipation, excessive gas, bloating, and a lowered ability to absorb nutrients in the body. More disruptive problems can develop over time, including allergies and autoimmune diseases.

4. Fermented Foods Increase Immunity

The gut is much more than our waste processing plant. It actually houses 70 percent of the immune system. Studies from as far back as 1948 report that the gut uses acid to kill disease-causing bacteria, worms, viruses, and fungi. All the while, the gut allows beneficial microbes to pass through. Without a balanced gut, fighting pathogens would be impossible. We need beneficial bacteria to be in tip-top shape in order to wage war against disease and illness.

5. Fermented Foods Taste Delicious

There is one more, tiny little benefit to fermented foods: they taste amazing! 

In short, it takes guts to be healthy.