Fermented foods are yet another example of what's old becoming new again. Traditionally, almost every civilization regularly produced and consumed at least one cultured food. While our generation had all but forgotten traditional fermentation practices, now that scientific research is investigating the effect of active bacterial cultures from fermented foods on health, foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, chutneys, kefir, and yogurt are re-appearing in kitchens everywhere.
Cultured dairy products are dairy foods that have been fermented with lactic acid bacteria, known as probiotics. There is evidence of cultured milk products being produced as food as long ago as 10,000 B.C. While many types of cultured milk products can be found around the world, yogurt is by far the most common. Although the benefits of yogurt on digestive health had already been recognized, the microbiologist Ilya Mechnikov popularized its use throughout Europe in the 1900s, believing that lactobacillus bacteria were responsible for the remarkable longevity of Bulgarians.
Fermentation with lactic acid bacteria increases the nutritive value of foods because of improved bioavailability and can enhance the absorption of protein and minerals, particularly calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus and copper. Lactic acid bacteria can synthesize the vitamins folic acid, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and vitamin B12, even when they aren't provided in the diet.
Empirical research has identified a long list of health conditions that may be helped by consuming foods containing lactic acid bacteria, including colitis, constipation, diarrhea, gas, gastric reflux, heartburn, Crohn's disease, gum disease and high cholesterol. Recent studies have shown a positive effect of probiotics on autism and obesity.
Probiotic bacteria must be consumed every day to be effective as they cannot implant in the gastrointestinal tract and they do leave the body quite readily. Include a variety of foods fermented with lactic acid bacteria in your diet daily.
The fermentation process increases the shelf life of dairy products. Refrigerated, yogurt has a shelf life of 35-40 days.