36 Fermented Foods From Around the World

If you love pizza with cheese, you have fermentation to thank for that. If you love beer, fermentation makes that possible, too. The sauerkraut on your hot dog is the work of tiny microorganisms fermenting the sugars of cabbage leaves into lactic acid, giving it that distinctive sour taste. Humans have been harnessing the power of microbes for food production and preservation for thousands of years around the globe. Some of the earliest evidence of fermentation dates back to 7000 B.C., when an ancient Chinese civilization fermented a beer-type beverage from rice, honey, grape, and hawthorn plants. Since then, civilizations around the world have discovered ways to use fermentation to enhance the shelf-life, flavor, and nutritional value of their cuisine. This infographic list from How To Cook Recipes explores common fermented foods around the world, showcasing the incredible variety that fermentation provides.

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36 Fermented Foods From Around the World

How Does Fermentation Work?

Fermentation is a metabolic process in which an organism (such as yeast or bacteria) breaks down a carbohydrate, such as a sugar or a starch, into an alcohol or an acid. For example, bacteria convert carbs into lactic acid, and yeast converts sugar into alcohol. The microorganisms feed on the carbohydrates, and the byproduct of that consumption is essentially what makes fermented foods and beverages possible.

There are three types of fermentation:

  1. Lactic Acid Fermentation: Yeasts and bacteria process starches or sugars into lactic acid. Kimchi, pickles, yogurt, and sourdough bread are examples.
  2. Ethyl Alcohol Fermentation: The pyruvate molecules in sugars or starches are broken down by yeasts into carbon dioxide and alcohol. This is how wine and beer are made.
  3. Acetic Acid Fermentation: Starches and sugars from grains or fruits are fermented into sour substances such as apple cider vinegar. Acetic acid fermentation requires oxygenation.

What Are Some Fermented Food Benefits?

The benefits of fermented food have been embraced around the world for thousands of years. Here are several reasons why fermented foods are good for you:

  1. The bacteria that develop during the fermentation process are known as probiotics, which are crucial for digestive health. These “good” bacteria help balance out the “bad” bacteria that are fed by the refined sugar in modern diets.
  2. Every day, humans swallow pathogenic (or disease-causing) bacteria. The good bacteria in fermented foods help create an acidic environment with a lower pH, decreasing the likelihood of bad bacteria’s survival.
  3. Good bacteria play a crucial role in the creation of essential vitamins such as B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, and K.
  4. Research shows that a lack of diversity in gut microbiota is associated with chronic diseases such as obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and asthma.
  5. The good bacteria in fermented foods can help restore gut health after taking antibiotics. High-fiber and plant-based foods can complement the bacteria by providing a source of nourishment for them.

To maximize the benefits of consuming fermented foods, consume a rich variety of things like kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and kefir.

What Is Kimchi?

Kimchi is a traditional Korean dish with origins that date back more than 3,000 years. Despite the ancient history of this food, most Koreans continue to eat at least one serving of kimchi each day. The standard ingredients of kimchi involve napa cabbage, radish, garlic, carrot, salt, fish sauce, chili powder, and scallions. Is kimchi good for you? Yes: The benefits of kimchi are plentiful. It’s nutrient-dense, low in calories, and full of probiotics and may reduce inflammation and strengthen immunity. In fact, it’s projected that South Koreans will have the longest average life spans in the world (90.8 years) by 2030. Is it the kimchi? It probably helps!

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This page was last updated by Megan Miller