We have very often heard that fermented foods are very healthy, without really knowing what is real behind this assumption.
Fermentation processes exist everywhere in nature and since ancient times, through observation and experience, the human being has learned to master them and take advantage of them.
Today we know that some animals also prefer to eat foods that have passed through natural fermentation processes.
When a food ferments, it becomes more nutritious, digestible and assimilable. Because?
> Fermentation allows the degradation of metabolites present to varying degrees in all plants as a defense tool, which make digestion difficult (saponins, lactic acid, etc.) and therefore discourage animals from eating them.
> Substances such as proteins, complex carbohydrates and starches are somehow predigetite and made easily assimilable by the human body.
> It happens the production by the microorganisms involved in the fermentation (bacteria, molds, yeasts) of vitamins from scratch, that is not present in the starting foods used as raw material.
Some mechanisms of fermentation
All this is true in many cases: we mention fermented soy-based products such as tempeh and tofu, in which the toxic action of saponins disappears; or cucumbers that once fermented no longer present the famous digestive problems that make them indigestible to many individuals; or finally cereals, which without fermentation (present for example in bread) have substances that inhibit the digestive power of gastric juices.
But as mentioned previously, in many tubers or other vegetables there are substances with a toxic action and antinutrients such as saponins, cyanogenic glycosides and phytic acid, just to name a few, which are broken down by the microorganisms responsible for fermentation.
Fermentation against toxic metabolites
As we all know, the plants tend to protect the seeds, often covering them with cuticles containing substances that are badly tolerated by herbivores, including human. If in the seeds of legumes we find saponins, in those of cereals we find phytic acid, present in the bran of whole grains.
So if on the one hand eating whole grains is important to assimilate all the nutritional elements contained in them, on the other hand the excess of phytic acid is fixed with the minerals contained in the seeds, creating insoluble substances capable of causing a strong demineralization effect.
Here the fermentation of cereals comes to meet us, especially in bread: in fact, during its slow fermentation processes due to yeasts, phytic acid almost completely disappears.
We mention others two highly carcinogenic substances that are degraded during the fermentation processes of wine and legumes: the first is patulin, present in fruits attacked by mold, the others are aflatoxins, produced in legumes attacked by fungi, this occurs in all cases of products made from bruised or badly preserved fruit, as can happen for fruit juices or fruit compotes.
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The nutritional aspects of fermentation
In particular, legumes and cereals are rich in starches, very complex elements to digest, especially on a daily basis, and precisely these complex nutrients are partially transformed by proper fermentation.
Starch changes into maltose and lactic acid. Proteins also suffer a similar fate and are broken down into their constituent amino acids.
The same thing goes for lipids, which break down into various fatty acids. As regards the Vitamins, we know that the two best methods to generate them are fermentation and sprouting, especially as regards an enrichment of B vitamins, the easiest to synthesize by the microorganisms responsible for fermentation.
Furthermore, fermentation guarantees a conservation of the Vitamin C, which, as is known, is difficult to store under normal conditions as it is volatile, thermolabile, easily oxidizable and photosensitive.
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