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Friday, 11 September 2015 16:40

Your Favorite Foods, Brought to You by Microbes

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Not only is the human body full of microbes, but so too are the foods we eat. Some of humanity's oldest and most beloved dishes are the result of fermentation. Microbes, specifically yeasts or bacteria, are essential players in the fermentation process. While external microbes are essential for the production of each of the foods below, our gut microbiome interacts in unique and fascinating ways with each item, leading to speculated, and sometimes proven health benefits. Where would we be without the following products?

chocolate-header chocolate img
Cacao trees originate from southern
Mexico and Guatemala.

Cocoa powder contains polyphenols, antioxidants known to help the heart and believed to prevent cancer.(1) The molecules are typically so large that they are unable to be absorbed into your blood. Thanks to gut microbes like Bifidobacterium and lactic acid bacteria, however, the molecules can be broken down into smaller molecules that are able to cross the gut into blood vessels, reducing inflammation.(2)

SOURCES
1. https://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/pressroom/newsreleases/2014/march/the-precise-reason-for-the-health-benefits-of-dark-chocolate-mystery-solved.html
2. http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/03/18/290922850/chocolate-turns-into-heart-helpers-by-gut-bacteria

                kimchi header
kimchi-img
Kimchi is served as banchan or "small dishes" in Korea.


Kimchi, a group of fermented Korean side dishes, has been around for over 1,500 years.(1) Kimchi fans believe that the dish has multiple health benefits, despite limited scientific studies on the matter. Some studies do however link the dominance of lactic acid bacteria with a host of health benefits, from cholesterol reduction to brain health promotion.(2) Today the popular dish can be found around the world.

SOURCES
1. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352618115000451
2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24456350

 

Pickling began 4,000 years ago in India and quickly became popular worldwide – Roman emperors fed their troops fermented cucumbers in the hopes that the salty fruit would give them courage and strength. The fermentation process depends on the naturally occurring Lactobacillus bacteria that cover the skin of a growing cucumber. Commercially harvested cucumbers are often scrubbed clean of important fermenting bacteria so if you want to make your own pickles, make sure to use freshly harvested cucumbers that have not lost their lactobacilli.(1)

SOURCES
1. http://faculty.weber.edu/coberg/class/3853/3853 Vegetable Fermentation.htm

 

pickles imgPickling began 4,000 years ago


Kefir gets its fermented goodness from communities of bacteria and yeast that form kefir "grains." Because a stable kefir SCOBY (Symbiotic Community of Bacteria and Yeasts) can't be made by simply mixing together the right microbial ingredients, it is believed that the bacteria and yeast in kefir have coevolved symbiotically over the millennias-long history of this fermented beverage.(1)

SOURCES
1. http://microbialfoods.org/science-digested-exploring-kefir/



Kefir can be made using cow, goat or sheep milk.

 

 

A recent study shows that coffee is associated with high gut microbe diversity.(1) "Gut-friendly" bacteria such as Bacteroides showed a 60 percent growth boost during the 24-hour period following an encounter with coffee fibers. Bacteroides play a key role in maintaining gut health, from helping to break down food to supplying the body vitamins and other nutrients.(2)

SOURCES
1. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/352/6285/565
2. https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/food-thought/gut-feeling-about-coffee



Sauerkraut translates to Sour Cabbage

 

The name "sauerkraut" translates to "sour cabbage". Cabbage is sealed in brine for several days in order for the fermentation process to take place. But the presence of oxygen can disrupt this important process. Lactobacillus plantarum, an important bacterium in the sauerkraut fermentation process, causes fermentation of cabbage via lactic acid in anaerobic conditions. But aerobically, the bacterium will produce acetic acid (vinegar) and will increase the chances of mold formation.(1)

SOURCES
1. http://www.nourishingtreasures.com/index.php/2012/05/15/the-science-behind-sauerkraut-fermentation/


Miso is a popular Japanese seasoning produced by fermenting soybeans with salt and the fungus Aspergillus oryzae. During the fermentation process, several soybean microbes play an important role. The yeast Zygosaccharomyces breaks down the proteins in the soybeans into peptides and amino acids. This process produces glutamic acid which gives miso its umami flavor!(1)

SOURCES
1. http://luckypeach.com/the-microbiology-of-miso/
2. http://www.cell.com/trends/genetics/abstract/S0168-9525(08)00312-0


Aspergillus oryzae, the fungus responsible for miso, is also used for the production of sake and rice vinegars.(2)

 

 

The earliest form of cheese making dates back to 7000 B.C. in Turkey. Cheese production begins with a starter culture of lactic acid bacteria, which break down the lactose, a sugar, into lactic acid. If the fresh cheese is set to ripen, a secondary microbiota composed of bacteria and fungi begin to grow within the cheese.(1) Research shows that the more cheese one eats, the more prevalent the bacterium Bilophila becomes in one's gut, proof that the microbiome can be modified through diet. The bile-loving bacterium helps the stomach digest fats but is also shown to cause inflammation and colitis in animal models.(2)

SOURCES
1. http://academy.asm.org/images/stories/documents/FAQ--cheese.pdf
2. http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/12/10/250007042/chowing-down-on-meat-and-dairy-alters-gut-bacteria-a-lot-and-quickly

 Check out the rest of the Cultures issue on the human microbiome coming out soon in October!”

 

Last modified on Friday, 09 September 2016 13:52

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