What are probiotic foods and fermented foods? A definition.
Find out what foods have probiotics in them.
Get a list of top fermented foods & best probiotic foods, plus probiotic drinks.
What are the health benefits of probiotic foods?
Where to shop for, how to buy, store & cook fermented foods.
What are probiotic foods? A definition
We have eaten helpful bacteria in and on our foods throughout human history.
Different countries have different types of fermented foods, produced using live bacteria & yeasts to add flavour & preserve food.
Before we had fridges & freezers, fermenting milk into yogurt and pickling vegetables helped store gluts of food & made perishable foods last longer.
Probiotic Foods List
Easily available probiotic foods include:-
– kimchi or kimchee
– some pickles
– soy sauce
You can check the fermented food contains live probiotic bacteria by:-
– Looking on the label for live cultures / active cultures / fermented
– Reading our probiotics shopping guide below.
Foods with added probiotics have are also recently available:-
– like probiotic chocolate, snack bars and teabags
– the probiotic bacteria in these foods is often freeze dried
– these foods aren’t fermented, but they do have live bacteria inside
You’ll find a wide range of local specialities of fermented food & drink in every country, so this list covers the best available top probiotic foods.
Probiotic Drinks List
Probiotic drinks include:-
– kefir (fermented milk)
– water kefir (fermented fruit juice / sugar water / coconut water)
– kombucha (fermented tea)
– rejuvelac (fermented sprouted grains)
– kvass or kvas (fermented rye drink)
Define fermented foods. What foods are fermented?
In order to ferment a food, bacteria or yeast are added to the ingredients:-
– to preserve the food
– to produce a distinctive flavour or texture.
For example, in sauerkraut, lactobacillus bacteria ferment (or breakdown) sugars (carbohydrates) in cabbage, into lactic acid.
This acid preserves the cabbage & stops it rotting and gives an delicious tangy, slightly acidic (or sour) flavour to the sauerkraut.
Bacteria or yeasts can be added to fermented food either:-
– naturally, by exposure to air (eg. for sauerkraut & kimchi, the bacteria are already present on the cabbage skin)
– deliberately, by adding a bacterial culture to the food (eg. a starter to sourdough bread or yeast to beer).
Are fermented foods probiotics?
Fermented foods contain a range of beneficial bacteria (or probiotics)
For example, Greek Yogurt can contain strains of probiotic bacteria like Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, Streptococcus Thermophilus
Eating a variety of fermented foods can boost your intake of probiotics
What are the health benefits of Probiotic Fermented Foods?
Fermented foods foods can contain a much wider variety of probiotic bacteria than are found in probiotic supplements
(which generally contain just a few strains of lactic acid bacteria only).
Unpasteurised milk, cheese, pickles, sauerkraut, miso, can contain thousands of different strains of bacteria, yeasts and fungi.
We know more about some of these strains than others.
These fermented foods have been eaten safely & healthfully for centuries.
Eating a steady stream of probiotic bacteria in and on our foods can have health benefits.
What are the best fermented foods?
As we can’t test each batch of probiotic fermented food for the bacteria they contain, it’s hard to know precisely.
The numbers and types of live bacteria in fermented foods can vary from batch to batch.
We can’t be sure how many & what type of bacteria, will be in a particular batch of a fermented food.
Or even that there are enough bacteria present in any one portion to have any health benefits for us.
Health benefits from probiotics vary from person to person as we all have a different mix of bacteria already in our gut.
By eating probiotic fermented foods regularly you can ensure a constant presence of beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Studies show that probiotic bacteria need to be eaten regularly and in quite large numbers to make it through to the gut.
How & where to buy best fermented foods / good probiotic foods?
To be sure the food is fermented, look on the label for the following words:-
– live cultures
– active cultures
Pasteurised or sterilised = less live beneficial bacteria.
– Check the label to see if a product has been heat treated
– Labels with UHT, long life, pasteurised all show a product has been heat treated
For example, a cheese made with unpasteurised milk will contain a large variety of bacteria, yeast and fungi.
You can look in the refrigerated aisle or chilled section of the supermarket for yogurt, kefir, kombucha and other fermented foods.
– If the food is sold at room temperature it has most likely been heat treated : pasteurised or sterilised.
– This kills off large numbers of bacteria to meet food regulations & extend shelf life.
You’ll find the widest range of refrigerated fermented foods online & in health food stores
Are pickles fermented? Check the label…
– These days, many foods that were traditionally fermented, are pickled in vinegar or brine, or soured with other acids like lemon juice instead.
– This means beneficial bacteria won’t be present
– Cornichons or pickled cucumbers are usually pickled in vinegar or brine, not fermented.
– Sour cream can be soured using lemon juice or acid, so might not contain live cultures
– Read the label of your chosen fermented food to check it contains live probiotic bacteria that can have health benefits.
Heating fermented foods will kill off some of the beneficial bacteria in the food.
Eg : making miso soup with hot water will destroy some of the probiotics it contains
You should store fermented foods in the fridge to keep the probiotic bacteria alive
Prepare & eat fermented foods at room temperature or colder, to avoid killing off the precious beneficial bacteria they contain.
eg. try miso in salad dressings rather than hot miso soup, to get the most beneficial bacteria,
The Science Bit
The information I share on this site distills the research I’ve read on the microbiome, prebiotics & probiotics.
You’ll find links to the relevant research studies on each page.
I’m not a scientist / dietician / nutritionist. I’m a food lover & home cook, putting microbiome research findings into action in my kitchen.
Find out more about the scientists leading research into the microbiome on the FAQs page