Any food made by fermentation can be called Fermented Food. However, not all fermented foods are probiotic. To be called probiotic, food must contain live micro-organisms that support the functions of the gut flora.
Here are some examples of fermented products that do not count as probiotic food.
Alcoholic drinks – produced by ethanol fermentation, i.e. conversion of glucose into ethanol and carbon dioxide; even if the production involves a certain amount of lacto-bacteria, they are all killed by the ethanol, being the main product;
update: unfiltered and unpasteurized beer contains brewer yeasts and some people claim that these yeast are probiotic; looks like they are right; however, remember what alcohol does to your gut, so don’t use its probiotic content as an excuse to drink bottles of beer;
Chocolate – cocoa beans, the main ingredient of chocolate, are lacto- fermented but subsequently roasted and processed; roasting kills lacto-bacteria;
Tea – we all heard that black tea is the product of the fermentation of tea leaves; however, what the industry calls ‘fermentation’ is, in fact, enzymatic oxidation;
Coffee – lacto-fermentation is used to remove the mucus on the surface of beans, but all the remaining bacteria are washed out during the further processing;
Cheese – product of coagulation of the milk protein (casein); coagulation can be caused by an acid and in the past it was lactic acid produced by lacto-bacteria in the natural process of fermentation; simply speaking, milk was left to get sauered and then the curds (cheese) were separated from the whey; therefore, this kind of cheese could be qualified as probiotic food, if unpasteurised; nowadays, casein is coagulated primarily with rennet (stomach enzyme); some brands of high-quality unpasteurised cheese may contain lacto-bacteria, though;
Soy sauce – traditionally made by fermentation of soybeans, but most of the brands available currently in Europe are products of the acid hydrolysis of the soy protein;
Sourdough bread – the raw dough is rich in lacto-bacteria and friendly yeast, but they all die during baking, obviously;
In the original version of the post I wrote: “Sausages, like chorizo, salami, pepperoni – produced by lacto-fermentation of meat; but usually contain quite a lot of sodium nitrate and other chemicals that effectively kill the bacteria; scientists work towards developing a technology to produce probiotic meat, though”
However, I had a discussion with Karen from swisshillsferments.com (see comments below) and have to admit that nitrates don’t affect lacto-bacteria very much. So, it implies that fermented sausages are indeed probiotic. Happy days!
Condiments, like Tabasco sauce or Worcestershire sauce – they contain lacto-fermented ingredients, but are usually pasteurised; anyway, a normal person eats only a bit of them in one go;
What Fermented Foods are healthy then?
I believe the following products to be definitely probiotic:
- Unpasteurised raw lacto-fermented fruit and vegetables, e.g. sauerkraut
- Water kefir
- Unpasteurized fermented milk products – kefir, buttermilk, sour milk, crème fraîche, cottage cheese, yoghurt
- Kombucha – fermented tea drink (however, see the comments section for some controversies)
- Unpasteurised apple cider vinegar;
- Soaked grains eaten raw, e.g. as muesli
- Unpasteurised fermented soya products – natto, tempeh, miso, tofu, soy sauce (not if produced by hydrolysis as I mentioned before);
- Unpasteurised fish sauce.