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Fermented foods a gateway to better health, new adventures

— The surge in popularity of fermented foods in recent years — eating them, creating them at home, exploring different cultures and cuisines — is based largely on the idea that this stuff can be really good for you.

In today’s filtered, purified, sanitized, antibacterial world, you might think avoiding bacteria of any kind is a good thing. Turns out, plenty of bacteria, invisible to the naked eye, are plastered all over our food and working on our behalf.

Yes, that food you forgot was in the back of your fridge is fermenting, but not in a good way. Healthy fermentation requires a lot of care and control, but it’s very doable.

Here’s how it generally works. Through a process called lacto-fermentation, bacteria found in our natural environment feed on sugars and starches in a process that creates health-promoting enzymes, an array of probiotics and much more.

Fermented food is anything but drudgery or sacrifice. While picky eaters might find some dishes challenging at first, fermented foods include chocolate, coffee and sourdough bread made with a starter teeming with lactobacillus. It’s all kinds of things you already love.

“With chocolate, many people don’t even realize that it’s a fermented food,” said Ramon Perez, owner of the highly regarded Puur Chocolat based in Sacramento. “It’s basically the cacao fruit that goes through a fermentation process. It has this beautiful high water and sugar content that make a beautiful environment for these micro-organisms to grow and culture.”

Many Californians who get into eating fermented foods on a regular basis eventually find their way to Koreana Plaza in Rancho Cordova. There, you’ll soon encounter the region’s largest selection of fermented foods. Byong Joo Yu, the upbeat owner, said fermented foods are a major part of Korean cuisine and a key reason why Asian people tend to be slimmer and live longer than Americans.

But he said non-Asian Americans have begun buying fermented foods at Koreana in far greater numbers.

“They are really interested in food for good health,” Yu said as he walked the aisles of his store. “They eventually found out that a lot of those fermented foods are good for the health.”

Yu added, “The scientists started to study different cultures that live longer and look younger. The biggest difference is fermented foods. Also, Americans eat more meat.”

Koreana devotees Randy and Christina Kautz began fermenting their own food early in 2016 and have seen significant health improvements since.

“We kept hearing about healing your gut. One of the ways to do that is fermented food,” said Christina Kautz. “I dove in and I did it.”

Referring to kimchi made with napa cabbage, she said, “You chop everything up, you massage a little salt into it, and I just cover the bowl and let it sit for a few days.”

Bacteria grows. The aroma becomes pungent. For the uninitiated, things start to get a little weird.

Yes, the couple admit to being a little apprehensive to taste the first batch. “Now we don’t like to go a day without it,” she said.

“It’s a staple for breakfast,” added Randy, who likes to have eggs, avocado, tomatoes and either kimchi or sauerkraut to start his day.

Along with eating fermented foods, he has cut back on sugar and flour, and has lost 30 pounds since February.

“I don’t know if I have a healthier gut, but I feel a hundred percent better than I used to,” he said. “I have a ton more energy and I’m a lot more alert.”

Though they have limited their fermentation efforts to kimchi and sauerkraut, they eventually hope to expand their repertoire.

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