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Fermented plants: “neither cooked nor raw”: Should we eat them?

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Very fashionable, fermented products invade our magazines and our blogs “cuisine” or “naturopathy”. Less well-known than fermented milk products, plants are however also suitable for fermentation. Apart from sauerkraut and olives, Westerners still know very little about this method of conservation, “neither cooked nor raw”, of plants.

A conservation process for several millennia

Fermentations have been used empirically for millennia, whether to produce wine, vinegar, bread, cheese and fermented plants, but the process itself was not understood until the 17th century. .

“Fermentation is the transformation of food by microorganisms, in the absence of oxygen. It allows food to be stored in the air for several years. It acts on their taste, texture and nutritional quality, ”says Sylvie Lortal, director of research at INRA. This researcher became interested in fermented plants after working on fermented dairy products.

Use all the diversity of plants

In the West, beer (hops and germinated cereals) and fermented milk products (cheese, yogurts) are well known. In Africa, yam and cassava are eaten fermented, but it is in Asia that there is a real culture of fermented plants (miso, kimchi …).

Practically all plants can be fermented (cereals, vegetables , fruits) and almost all organs (slightly fibrous stems, fruits, leaves, roots, etc.). In vegetables, we find cabbage, olive and pickles, but also green beans, carrots, tomatoes, radishes, onions … fruits such as melon; plums, cherries, apples and pears are good candidates, just like all cereals (wheat, corn, barley, oats, rice…). Ideally, you should favor varieties of fruits and vegetables that contain a maximum of fiber and little water. Herbs or aromatic leaves are also fermentable. A notable exception: the potato which does not lend itself to fermentation.

How do we consume them?

“Fermented plants can be eaten as condiments or as aromatic sauces. They can also be offered in the form of pasta, porridge or powders. They complement and diversify the daily diet. They also allow consumption to be spread out of season naturally ”explains Sylvie Lortal.

Why such an interest ?

Fermentation is an ancestral method, which echoes the search for “authentic”, more natural products by consumers. There are more and more books for making vegetable jars, as are blogs and specialized social networks. Many small local processing units are created. In 2017, France was the European champion in the number of products and drinks with the “fermented product” claim.

But fermented plants are nowadays less acclaimed for their “conservation” aspect than for their “health” promises. “Fermented foods are living foods. They contain beneficial microorganisms that will interact with our digestive system. So there are actions but it is a field of research, adds Sylvie Lortal. Health claims are not yet scientifically proven. “

Medical virtues are often advanced, such as strengthening the immune system, slowing the aging of the skin, action against cholesterol, diabetes and certain cancers. Certain enzymes are indeed known to have positive effects, but often of high content. Fermented plants are therefore more of a source of diversification for a balanced diet.

More vitamins and minerals

If fermentation does not have all the health benefits compiled in many sites, it nevertheless actually increases the nutritional value of food. “The extent of this improvement depends on the ecosystem that develops on the vegetable. This depends in particular on cultural practices and the method of plant conservation, ”recommends Sylvie Lortal.  

Thanks to fermentation, interesting nutrients can be better assimilated. “This living microbial biomass provides enzymes that were not present at the start. These enzymes can improve the availability and digestibility of nutrients, ”says the researcher. “For example, these microorganisms are capable of degrading phytates, enzymes that trap minerals and make them less available. “

Fermented plants are therefore a new, simple and healthy way to take advantage of the diversity of fruits and vegetables .

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