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Naturally Fermented Foods

By Alana Sugar, September 9, 2013  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Alana Sugar

Greek Yogurt with Honey Thyme Walnut CrumbleIf you’re like me, you pay attention to food trends, like growth in the popularity and availability of naturally fermented foods. I’m talking about live cultured foods — naturally fermented the way our ancestors have done it for centuries. For them, it was a method of preservation. It was also a secret to good health, and it’s making a serious comeback. 

For millennia, traditional cultures around the world have made their own naturally fermented sodas and ale, as well as fermented dairy products, vegetables, fruits and even meats. Japanese cuisine features fermented pickles, natto and miso. In Germany, sauerkraut is a traditional dish. In other parts of Europe, sourdough bread is made from naturally fermented dough. In Korea, people eat kimchi made from live cultured cabbage.

A strong immune system depends on a healthy digestive tract. If digestive health is not up to par, chances are neither is the immune system. Healthy bacteria are key! That’s where fermented foods come in. They contain probiotics — friendly bacteria that colonize our digestive track, keeping our bacterial flora balanced.   

Because of our culture’s reliance on pasteurized foods, we’ve eliminated most sources of these important probiotics that we used to consume on a regular basis. To make sure your diet contains these valuable live foods, consider adding the following:

  • Live cultured pickles, sauerkraut, vegetables and kimchi (you’ll find these in the refrigerated case)
  • Cheese made from raw milk
  • Unpasteurized miso (which has not been heated)
  • Tempeh, made from fermented soybeans
  • Fermented drinks and tea such as kombucha
  • Yogurt and kefir made with live cultures (not all commercially sold yogurt or frozen yogurt contains live cultures). Non-dairy yogurt varieties may also contain live cultures.
  • Probiotic supplements – we’ve got a large selection in our Whole Body Department

Look for “live food” or “contains live cultures” on the label of many of these products. Eat a variety. Remember: Different foods contain different strains of healthy bacteria. Start slow and work your way up gradually to what feels right for your body. Generally speaking, ¼ to ½ cup daily or several times a week works well for most people, but everyone is different.  If you have digestive problems, be sure to check with your health care provider. 

My idea of a probiotic-friendly lunch is a sandwich made with raw milk cheese, tomato and live pickle slices, German-style mustard or honey mustard, and quality mayonnaise on dark rye bread. Delicious with a fresh green salad and probiotic dressing I make with olive oil, raw apple cider vinegar, a little raw honey, a little unpasteurized miso and a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano made from raw milk.   

Do you enjoy fermented foods? What’s your favorite? Let me know.

Category: Food & Recipes




Carolyn says ...
Nothing rocks my world like Bubbies Sauerkraut!! My mouth waters just thinking about it. I only wish I could buy it in bulk so my Bubbies jars would stop accumulating.
09/09/2013 10:34:17 AM CDT
Joel says ...
Wild salmon lox slices, raw sauerkraut, sliced organic avocado, crumbled nori ...that's a breakfast to really start the day with! High in omega 3, good quality fat, mineral rich seaweed and probiotic/enzyme rich fermented food.
09/09/2013 8:55:59 PM CDT
Megan says ...
I start and end my days with a glass of kombucha. A couple days a week I snack on a multi-veggie sauerkraut or kimchi.
09/12/2013 6:17:14 PM CDT
Renny Schweiger says ...
I eat Karthein's Organic Sauerkraut (I love the one with carrots and ginger) right out of the jar when I want a snack. I tried Bubbie's, but it's' too mild for me. I'm also trying Ontario Natural Kimchi-Style sauerkraut, but I got the chili-pepper flavour, which has quite a kick, so I need to eat it with something to tame it down.
09/14/2013 10:49:37 AM CDT
Tom says ...
BEER! Several different types of beer, typically lambics, sours and wild ales utilize microbes like lactic acid bacteria, enteric bacteria, kloeckera apiculata, various saccharomyces species, brettanomyces yeast and oxidative yeasts.
09/18/2013 11:15:54 AM CDT
brian says ...
I really enjoy the raw sauerkraut from http://sonomabrinery.com/ , available in my local WF store. I also make my own refrigerator pickles when pickling cucs are available. Super easy and tasty.
09/18/2013 11:34:23 AM CDT
kristym says ...
I make my own kefir from grains I bought online. I add berries and green algae and stevia or lohan for healthy shakes. I use it to bake with too. And I make a great tuna salad with kefir instead of mayo along with walnuts, onions, celery, apple and a bit of salt, pepper & cumin.
09/18/2013 1:00:10 PM CDT
Darleen says ...
Thank you for bringing fermented foods to our attention. The microbiology of our bodies is very important and I am seeing more and more information about how microbes affect our health. After all humans are more "foreign" material than human cells. No wonder it's so important! Let's get back to the traditional diet that included these much needed fermented foods.
09/18/2013 2:00:50 PM CDT
Ruthie Price says ...
Enjoyed this article. I know fermented foods are VERY healthy, and unfortunately I haven't been eating them often. Will look for them now at your store. Ruthie
09/18/2013 2:14:39 PM CDT
Eleanor Mason says ...
I always thought sauerkraut was 'pickled' instead of fermented. Not sure of the difference, but will try Bubbles brand next time.
09/18/2013 4:12:00 PM CDT
Mary R says ...
I've asked for miso and tempeh at WF-Calhoun/Mpls without success. The list of fermented foods is significant, but other than cheese and yogurt, the rest have been difficult to find. Are these foods now being carried? What about super-nutrient foods like purple sweet potatoes or potatoes, as well as specific varieties of other common foods that have high ORAC values? (They are more flavorful but tend to be less sweet, so would need to be marketed as more nutritious to get repeat sales.) We shop for highest nutrient density per dollar of groceries for the majority of our produce and think this is a great marketing opportunity to get people back to WF for hard-to-find items. Fermented foods are so much more nutritious than raw foods that they are on our grocery wish list.
09/18/2013 5:06:11 PM CDT
Mallie says ...
I really enjoy organic, fresh natto. I have only been able to purchase it online from Megumi Natto in California. Is there any chance that Whole Foods in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is going to start carrying it?
09/18/2013 5:20:26 PM CDT
Sharon says ...
I have digestive issues and have been reading about the power of fermented foods. I'm interested in making kvass from beets, but it requires a starter culture. Hopefully Whole Foods sells that - I'll be checking. Thanks for a good article.
09/18/2013 10:26:48 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@MARY - As a company we are decentralized so our buying is done at the store/regional level. If your local store does not currently sell a particular product, check to see if this is available in their regional for special order.
09/19/2013 3:49:13 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@MALLIE - Our products vary from region to region. Let the Dallas store know specifically about the product and they can recommend it to their region for buying.
09/19/2013 3:49:59 PM CDT
Carolyn says ...
I'm having a hard time finding good naturally fermented veggies. Most have have sugar & vinegar...& not organic. Can you start getting some of this, I don't have time to make my own.
09/19/2013 6:43:44 PM CDT
Leif says ...
Sauerkraut is fun and easy to make, and homemade, raw and unpasteurized sauerkraut tastes amazing!
09/19/2013 10:49:02 PM CDT
Marcia A. says ...
I have been trying to add more fermented foods into my family's diet. We already eat yogurt daily. I have started lacto-fermenting carrots and green beans. Now it's off to find some raw milk cheese!
09/27/2013 12:48:40 PM CDT
nikita says ...
fermented foods ate awesome..................................just love it........great for my boyfriend..u know
10/28/2013 4:57:25 PM CDT
Bob Bart says ...
I am interested in trying Natto, do you carry it?. I understand it has an assertive odor. What is the difference between natto and tempeh both of which are made from fermented soybeans?
11/06/2013 9:26:22 AM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@BOB - Products in our stores differ so check with your local store to find out if they have this in stock. The difference is that Natto is made from soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis. It is popular especially as a breakfast food which can differ a bit from tempeh.
11/06/2013 6:16:31 PM CST
debbie says ...
Can you tell me if the Whole Foods in Napa, Ca. carries fermented cabbage..I need it to heal my gut, so it needs to be just cabbage and salt and fermented long enough. Thank you
11/07/2013 1:13:24 PM CST
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@DEBBIE - The fastest way to find this out would be to call the store directly. Our products can vary so they will be able to look at the options and ingredient list for you.
11/11/2013 2:08:24 PM CST
c says ...
Thanks for taking the time to post this helpful information re fermented foods - much appreciated : )
11/29/2013 11:32:05 AM CST
Terry Satterthwaite says ...
Does whole foods sell Caldwells vegetable starter?
01/09/2014 7:36:22 AM CST