The Health Benefits of Fermented Foods

wild fermentation

Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods

by Sandor Katz

Chelsea Green (2003)

Book Review

Free PDF

Wild Fermentation is an encyclopedia of do-it-yourself fermentation. Sandor Katz first learned of the health benefits of fermentation in his search for alternative AIDS treatments. Published in 2003, this book foreshadowed recent breakthrough research into the importance of the microbiome* in digestion, mental stability, neuroendocrine function and immunity.

According to Katz, it was Russian immunologist and 1908 Nobel laureate Ilya Mechnikov who first observed – while studying yogurt eating centenarians** – that lactobacilli (the bacteria produced by fermentation) “postpone and ameliorate” old age.

The first half of the book is a historical overview of the art of fermentation. Mead (an alcoholic honey drink) is the earliest example of deliberate fermentation, dating back more than 12,000 years. Following the agricultural revolution, human beings also used fermentation to make other alcoholic drinks, as well as preserving milk and grains. It later came to be used in bread making and chocolate, coffee and tea production.

Prior to the advent of refrigeration (in the early 1900s), all households produced and consumed fermented foods as part of their diet. Katz (and many health practitioners) believe the sudden increase in chronic health conditions (cancer, obesity, diabetes, allergies, asthma, autoimmune disease, autism, etc) relates to a loss of fermented foods in the Western diet. This, in combination, with overuse of antibiotics (and heavy exposure to herbicides like Roundup) causes major a major loss of healthy intestinal bacteria for many of us.

The second half of the book is devoted to recipes for home fermented foods. According to Katz, any food can be fermented and the distinction between “fermented” and “rotten” is purely subjective and cultural. He gives the example the Swedish delicacy lutefisk and Chinese 100-year-old eggs, which are fermented in horse urine for two months.

The video below is from one of Katz’s fermentation workshops: