Would you eat sauerkraut if it meant a happier belly? How about fermented tea for clearer skin or spicy hot kimchi for immune support? Though these foods may be far outside the comfort zones of many people who stick to a standard American diet (quite literally abbreviated to S.A.D.), there’s growing research that suggests ferments like sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi deserve a place at everyone’s table. 

If you’ve ever tried sauerkraut and wrinkled your nose at the smell or briny flavor, you’re not alone. The flavor of fermented foods is often what turns people away from them. Why? For anyone eating a sweet-heavy diet, your palate may not be accustomed to the unique, often acidic or bitter flavors of fermented foods. But there’s a good reason to conquer the fear of fermented cabbage and start eating these unique foods. For starters, getting yourself accustomed to the unique tastes of fermented foods can actually help curb cravings. How? Research has shown that our microbiome can actually influence how we eat—including making us crave sweets and junk food when it’s out of whack. But by eating fermented foods as part of a gut-health focused balanced diet, you may be able to cut the out-of-control sugar cravings so many of us are used to.

But the benefits of fermented foods don’t stop at halting sugar cravings. Turns out, our gut—or microbiome—controls a lot more than we initially thought. The healthy bacteria in ferments may even help clear up your skin. If you’ve ever suffered from acne or skin irritation of any kind, you know how frustrating it can be to find the source—turns out, the source may have been in our guts all along. By adding plenty of fermented foods, which contain a wide range of bacteria, you may see your skin clear up as your gut heals and begins functioning properly. These same fermented foods can also support a healthy immune system in the same way—that’s right, a little cabbage and salt can do the same thing as those expensive over-the-counter probiotics.

So, you’re sold on the concept of fermented foods… but what exactly are they? Why would anyone eat fermented cabbage or drink old tea? Turns out, these foods go back thousands of years and span a variety of cultures. Kombucha hails from Manchuria—although its actual country of origin is up for debate—and sauerkraut and other preserved foods were popular with European countries prior to the advent of refrigeration as nourishment during the cold winter months. While we’re lucky to have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables nowadays, fermented foods have earned their place on the table for their laundry list of benefits. If you’re new to fermented foods, try adding a serving or two each day for maximum benefits, below are five of our favorite fermented foods.

Our Top 5 Fermented Foods:

#1 – Sauerkraut

We’re not talking about the kind of sauerkraut sitting atop your summer ballpark hot dog—nope! There’s a major difference between that sauerkraut, often found in shelf-stable cans or jars on the inside aisles of the grocery store, and the gut-loving sauerkraut famed for its probiotic-rich nutrients, typically sold refrigerated or made by you in the comfort of your home: shelf-stable sauerkraut has usually been pasteurized and stabilized, killing off any good-for-you bacteria. Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage, sometimes mixed with other vegetables. Tart, acidic, and crunchy, sauerkraut makes a great addition to sandwiches, salads, and even omelettes. Once you’ve gained a taste for it, try making your own with salt, cabbage and any other add-ins, a quick internet search will bring up a host of recipes and techniques.

#2 – Kimchi

Sauerkraut’s Korean counterpart, this spicy dish is also made with cabbage, usually Napa, and the addition of other ingredients, like ginger, garlic, scallions and gochugaru, a coarsely-ground red pepper. Available in a range of spiciness, kimchi is at once an amazing side dish and the condiment you didn’t know you needed—until now. Try it with rice dishes, traditional Korean fare—or right out of the jar.

#3 – Kefir

What sauerkraut is to kimchi, kefir is to yogurt. A close cousin to yogurt, kefir—if bought in the store—usually comes in a jug or carton instead of a tub. More liquid than yogurt, kefir is easily drinkable and makes a great addition to smoothies and chia puddings. Kefir and yogurt both have the added benefit of protein, making them easy to incorporate as a base for a meal. Try kefir topped with chopped fruit, or swirl it into your smoothie after blending. For a summery dessert, add pureed fruit to kefir and freeze to make a better-for-you icey treat.

#4 – Yogurt

Likely the most widely-available and widely-popular fermented food, yogurt is protein-rich and packed with probiotics, which also help to break down the lactose in milk, making yogurt often better tolerated by those with lactose intolerance. Highly versatile yogurt can be made sweet or savory, however mixed yogurts that contain sugar should be avoided for maximum benefit. Instead, purchase plain yogurt and add your own mix-ins.

#5 -Kombucha

Kombucha has exploded in popularity in recent years, and for good reason: this fermented, fizzy tea is as delicious as it is—usually—good for you. Made by fermenting black or green tea with sugar (the bacteria feeds off the sugar), quality kombucha typically has a bit of sediment at the bottom of the bottle—this is a good thing! Part of the “mother”, or colony of bacteria or yeast, these strands show the particular kombucha you’re enjoying is unfiltered, with the maximum amount of probiotics and healthy yeasts.

What’s your favorite fermented food? Do you make your own? Share with us on social at @AvocadoMattress and #AvocadoGreenMagazine!

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