I still remember when my father told me yoghurt is made by germs, I wondered how. I slowly came to know about it when I pursued a career as a food technologist. The process is called fermentation, where beneficial bacteria, yeast and mould convert food into something more nutritious, palatable and healthy by enhancing its quality, texture and shelf life. Examples of fermented food are khalpi (cucumber pickle), gundruk, tama (bamboo shoots) and cheese.
Our gastronomic culture is rich and diversified, from the Himalayas to the hills and plains of the Tarai. Different altitude, climate and weather conditions have helped us to create many dishes. Similarly we keep a pantry of ethnic fermented foods, like gundruk, mesu, sinki, khalpi, liquor, sidra, sukuti, selroti, churpi, dahi and masyaura. These dishes represent different types of fermentation – lactic acid fermentation, acetic acid fermentation, alcoholic fermentation and alkaline fermentation.
Potential health benefits of fermented foods are a reduction in hypertension, low cholesterol level, obesity control, thrombosis and lowered diabetes risk. Why fermented food contributes to good health is the availability of active bio compounds and vitamins like B2, B9, B12 while potassium is high in fermented food.
Fermented food may contain live beneficial bacteria too, which are equally beneficial for health. With more research going on in human microbiome, it has been already proved that the health of an individual also depends on gut health, and fermented foods play an important role in maintaining the ecosystem of the beneficial gut bacteria, which in turn helps to maintain the health of person.
As science comes up with more interesting facts about fermentation and fermented foods, they have started becoming popular items on the menu in high-end restaurant. People have started taking it as a rare food hard to find while the real story is that twenty years back, foods such as gundruk, mesu, kinema, tama, mula ko achar, khalpi, curd and masyaura were the regular foodstuffs in every house. While fermented foods are getting more attention in the western world, we seem to be indulging more in processed foods. We might have forgotten that our gastronomic culture and fermented ethnic foods could be the solution to many health issues. Therefore, fermentation is a magical touch that uplifts the overall quality of food.
A version of this article appears in print on January 03, 2020 of The Himalayan Times.