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What are Fermented Foods & How Can They Help Your Gut?

Posted 6 years ago by Guest Author

What are they?

Fermented foods are foods which have been exposed to bacteria and/or yeasts (the microorganisms can be added, or naturally come from exposure to the air over time).  Before you turn around saying 'yuck!', consider that fermented foods are traditional in many cultures, including our own, where we have been eating and drinking pickles, fermented dairy products, and brewed substances like beer and wine for centuries. 

Fermented foods are naturally high in live cultures - microorganisms which are natural to your gut, which is home to trillions of bad, good, and neutral bacteria. (Find out more about live cultures here.)


Fermented foods are naturally high in live microorganisms which can support healthy digestion.

How can fermented foods help the gut?

Bloating normally accompanies other gastrointestinal discomfort like inconsistent bowel movements, occasionally fluctuating between constipation and diarrhoea (this may be Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and there will usually be a pattern surrounding particular food groups (normally wheat and gluten).

Human cells do not produce gas, it is bacterial cells through the process of fermentation that produce gas which causes bloating and discomfort.  If you have bloating it is clear to say you have an imbalance of gut flora.  You will most likely also experience excessive flatulence as well.

Things to assist in the rebalance of good versus bad bacteria are as follows:

  • Eliminate foods that trigger bloating
  • If you cannot immediately identify particular foods, eliminate the foods (for a short period of time) that feed bad bacteria; such as starches, dairy and sugar.
  • Feed and repopulate your good bacteria.  You can do this by starting to increase fermented foods in your diet, and by taking a good probiotic.
sugar cubes
Sugar feeds bad bacteria in the gut. If you want to heal your gut, best reduce your sugar intake, and increase your intake of foods which heal the gut. 

Increasing fermented foods in your diet is a natural and easy way to support good bowel health.  By making foods such as kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut and yoghurts you will be increasing those good bacteria levels to decrease bloating and discomfort usually associated with a gut over-populated with bad bacteria (known as dysbiosis.)

Certain populations have used fermented foods in their diets for years. You may be familiar with the Korean dish, Kim Chee; a traditionally fermented cabbage dish which is a staple in almost all korean households. Eskimos used to ferment fish by burying it in the ground for months before consumption, and worldwide, dairy products have been fermented into cheeses and cultured milks like kefir and yoghurt.

Fermenting and culturing foods not only enhances their digestibility, but it can also improve nutritional content and decrease toxicity. These foods contain natural probiotics, these are defined as living organisms, that when consumed in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host.  

Some of the most probiotic rich foods are:

    •      Sauerkraut

    •       Kefir

    •       Cultured yoghurt

    •       Kim chee

    •       Miso

    •       Natto

    •       Tempeh

    •       Poi

As well as eating foods high in live cultures, it is important to consider taking a probiotic supplement, one with detailed research and clinical trials behind it.  You can use probiotic capsules to help with fermentation process of making these foods as well.  Find out more about probiotic supplements here.  

Recipes for Fermented Foods

See these basic sauerkraut and fermented salsa recipes to get you started.  If you feel like learning more about how to ferment foods and support your gut health, come to one of my fermentation classes in London! 

Basic Sauerkraut Recipe

There are many different ways of making sauerkraut and many different pieces of equipment that you may read are a “necessity”... this is not the case. It’s simple and inexpensive to make sauerkraut; all you need is a bowl and a sterilized jar or several small sterilized jars. If you are going to buy jars for sauerkraut making, then I would recommend purchasing jars with clip top lids rather that screwing lids. Clip top jars last much longer and you do not risk the same long term rusting issues as you do with screw tops.


1 large white or red cabbage (or half each of red and white cabbage)

1 tbsp sea salt

make your own sauerkraut


- Remove the outer leaves and core from the cabbage and set aside, do not discard.

- Grate the cabbage using a food processor, hand grater or finely slice it by hand (chopping or slicing is how we recommend you cut it as it creates a crunchy sauerkraut)

- Put the cut cabbage into a bowl big enough to leave a third of the space free for mixing, sprinkle with salt and mix well with your hands using a massaging motion.

- This could take 5 –10 mins depending on the strength of your hands. If you’d like, you can gently mix the salt into the cabbage and allow it to sit for 20 mins. This will help to soften the cabbage before you start to massage it. Add 1 tbsp of salt at first, then add another if you find it hard to get the juices to release – add any other spices or seeds at this stage.

- Once you start to see some juices in the bottom of the bowl and the cabbage seems like a more “steamed or cooked” consistency, you can stop massaging.

- Pack your massaged cabbage into your sterile 1 litre jar. Pack the cabbage in tight, leaving a 5 cm gap at the top of the jar to allow for the juices to rise. Place one or two of the outer leaves on top of the cabbage, then place the core of the cabbage on top of the leaf. It needs to be at a higher level than the cabbage, so that when you clamp down the jar, the juices rise up above the cabbage.

- Place the jar on top of a towel (in case it leaks) and somewhere not too cold. It doesn’t need to be as warm as an airing cupboard, but cold rooms will make your kraut ferment very slowly.

- Taste it after 4 days; it should taste mildly tangy. If so, you can eat it then, or carry on fermenting it for a week or two, depending on how strong you like it to taste. Once you are happy with it, transfer to the fridge to stop the fermenting process. It will keep for many months in the fridge.

Fermented Tomato Salsa Recipe

Preserve those perfectly vine ripened tomatoes from summer to enjoy in the depths of winter!


750g or 3 cups ripe tomatoes, diced

1⁄2 medium red onion, medium dice

1⁄4 cups coriander, roughly chopped

2 spring onions, thinly sliced

1 garlic cloves, finely grated

1 tsp cumin seeds, ground

1⁄2 red chili (more if you like fiery hot salsa)

2 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar

1 probiotic capsule (such as OptiBac For every day)

1 tbsp salt, Himalayan or sea salt

Make your own fermented salsa


-  Combine the tomatoes, onion, coriander, spring onion, garlic, cumin, chilli and vinegar in a mixing bowl.

- Puree ½ of the mixture (or less if you prefer a chunkier salsa) in a blender and then return the puree back to the mixing bowl

-  Stir in the probiotics and salt.

-  Pour the mixture into a glass jar, leaving at least a 1’’ gap at the top.

- Seal the jar and store at room temperature for 2 – 3 days. You will notice that the tomatoes start to float to the top of the mixture, leaving a watery liquid at the bottom.

- After a day taste, and continue to do so every day until you have a slightly tangy, sour salsa. The salsa is then ready to store in the fridge for up to 1 year.


Try adding other spices, such as mustard seeds, fennel seeds, ginger and turmeric.

You can use green tomatoes for this recipe too, tomatoes which fail to ripen on the plant or gluts of tomatoes for a firmer, less acidic chutney.


This piece was written by holistic health counsellor, raw chocolatier, and fermented foods expert Amy Levin, and naturopath Emma Mihill.  Amy owns a company called Ooosha, and regularly runs fermentation classes to give you a delicious start to begin making your own medicinal fermented foods.  Visit to find out more. 


Images of sauerkraut & salsa provided by Amy. 

Sugar cubes:

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