A Brief History of Fermentation and Cultured Foods

History of fermentation

Written by Jordan

August 23, 2016

Have you ever wondered how people used to preserve food before refrigerators and freezers?

The most common way was by fermenting food which was used to prevent the food from spoiling. The earliest history of fermentation dates back as far as 6000 B.C. The fermentation process probably first happened by accident and adapted through generations of culture and tradition.

What does fermenting or culturing mean?

The terms fermenting and culturing can be used inter changeably. Fermentation is a method of pre-digestion that takes place when there are beneficial bacteria (lactobacillus or biffidus strains) naturally present, or even a yeast strain which breaks down the starch and sugars in the food.


As these bacteria divide, the process forms lactic acid which is described as lacto-fermentation. This lactic acid halts the growth of bad bacteria and is also responsible for giving fermented foods that ‘tangy’ or ‘acidic’ taste. As long as the foods are kept under the liquid brine and stored in a cool, dark place, the product will last for months and up to years.


Different fermented foods from around the world

Fermented foods have been used for improving the shelf life, food properties and food safety reasons for thousands of years. Nearly every civilisation has included at least one fermented food in its culinary heritage. For instance:

  • Tanzanian’s ferment gruel called Togwa which has been found to protect against foodborne illness
  • In West African countries Garri is made from cassava, a root vegetable which contains natural cyanides and if it’s not prepared and fermented properly it can be poisonous
  • East Asian countries use the koji making process ie steamed rice that has mould spores cultivated onto it. It is used in the preparation of fermented foods such as miso, soy sauce, sake, shochu (spirits), and rice vinegar (yonezu)
  • Japanese people enjoy natto (a sticky dish which is high in protein, vitamin K2 and antioxidants) as well as many different types of pickled vegetables, fish and plums
  • European countries make sauerkraut (soured cabbage), many different cultured dairy products such as crème fraiche, sour cream, cultured butter and an assortment of cheeses
  • Chinese people love douchi (black beans) and thousand-year eggs (a nearly black, preserved egg)
  • Nepalese eat Gundruk (dried vegetables)
  • Koreans are famous for Kimchi (fermented cabbage, garlic, chilli and other spices)
  • Russian’s love Kvass and Koumiss (fermented dairy drinkable yoghurt)
  • South Africans make Kaffir beer
  • Bulgarians love yoghurt
  • Kefir (yeast fermented drinkable yoghurt) is found in Russia and Turkey
  • The Finnish enjoy Piima
  • Hawaiians eat Poi (a fermented taro porridge)
  • Indians drink Lassi (a yoghurt drink) and torshi (mixed vegetables)
  • Kombucha is a sweet black fermented tea which has been adopted by many cultures all over the world
  • Many nomadic herders found that raw, unpasteurised milk from camels, buffalo, goat, sheep or cows would ferment naturally and quickly produce an acidic-tasting food that separated into curds and whey. This made the milk easier to store, and it also contains the naturally present lactobacillus (a beneficial bacteria)
  • Fermented, leavened bread was produced in ancient Egypt
  • Roman soldiers often survived by eating long-fermented sourdough bread
  • The Inuit traditionally wrapped seabirds and seal pelts before burying them underground which allowed them to ferment for many months.


Nowadays we don’t eat many fermented foods within the traditional western diet, however it would be important for us to remember the techniques our ancestors left for us.

The most common fermented foods we eat now are cheese, beer, wine and the occasional sourdough bread. However these foods have been produced quickly for mass consumption.

Many store bought fermented foods like sauerkraut or pickles, are preserved in vinegar instead of the traditional and naturally occurring beneficial bacteria added it, as well as being pasteurised which robs the food of nutrients and minerals.


The benefits of fermented foods

If you want to understand more about the importance of fermented foods, you can read more here, but we’re going to remind you of it again.

  • Fermentation increases the digestibility of the foods by neutralising plant toxins
  • Fermentation can render previously inedible or dangerous foods edible making them more nutritious
  • Fermenting nuts, seeds and/or grains greatly reduces anti-nutrients, lectins, gluten and phytates
  • It creates B Vitamins and K2
  • Increases the overall vitamin and mineral levels
  • Boosts immunity
  • Aids to curb carbohydrate and sugar cravings
  • Incredibly rich in beneficial bacteria and it encourages the growth of good bacteria in the intestinal tract
  • Fights candida, bad pathogens and harmful bacteria
  • Helps remove toxins from the body
  • Aids the body’s natural detoxification process
  • Improves bowel health
  • Aids digestion so you can absorb food better
  • Helps balance the production of stomach acid
  • Helps the body produce acetylcholine (which acts as a potent digestive aid, reduces constipation, improves the release of digestive juices and enzymes from the stomach, the pancreas and gallbladder)
  • A serving of fermented food can contain trillions of probiotics, which is the equivalent to an entire jar of expensive probiotic capsules.


Adding fermented foods to your diet is really, really easy and if you begin to make it yourself, it is very affordable too.

If you’re new to fermentation, you can read how to get started here. 

However, if you don’t have the time, Changing Habits has created a food based fermented probiotic called “Changing Habits All Natural Probiotics”. This product contains the best organic ingredients that have been fermented, dried and then made into a powder, providing you with probiotics that comes from real food. If you would like more information then read this blog ‘Is Your Probiotic Working For You?.


Happy changing habits.

Jordan Pie
Changing Habits Nutritionist



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  • Quigley L, et al. Molecular approaches to analysing the microbial composition of raw milk and raw milk cheese. International Journal of Food Microbiology. 150(2-3):81-94.
  • Parvez S, Malik KA, Ah Kang S, & Kim HY. 2006. Probiotics and their fermented food products are beneficial for health. Journal of Applied Microbiology. 100(6):1171-1185.
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  • http://www.marksdailyapple.com/the-definitive-guide-to-traditional-food-preparation-and-preservation/
  • http://nourishedkitchen.com/ferments-cultured-food/

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  1. Jill Lewis

    My 16 year old poodle is straining to poo, however the small amounts are runny. I took her to the vet this morning who said the is no obstruction. She was given an anti-inflammatory injection, given a diet of cooked chicken, and I was advised to sprinkle probiotic powder on the food. At this stage I am unable to buy the probiotic powder. DO YOU KNOW IF I CAN USE YOUR POWDER WHICH I USE ON OUR FOOD??
    Many thanks,
    Jill Lewis

    • Jordan-Changing Habits Nutritionist

      Hi Jill,
      Yes you can try ours as it is just made from real foods and fermented. We actually have a few people in our office that sprinkle it onto their pets food too 🙂

  2. jody

    How much fermented food should one be adding to their diet daily to benefit from the good bacteria?

    • Kayla-Changing Habits

      Hi Jody,
      It can be pretty individual for each person. We recommend starting with a small amount, if you have no reactions then you can begin to increase, do this for a few days at the same amount. Then if you continue feeling great, continue to slightly increase the amount and so on. It’s best to start small and build your way up, otherwise if you have too much too soon, it can cause some uncomfortable detox or ‘die-off’ symptoms.


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