The word “bacteria” may leave a bad taste in one’s mouth, as it’s commonly associated with disease and contamination. But in the case of probiotics, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Probiotics—from the Latin words pro and biota, which mean “or life”—are beneficial micro-organisms that can be found naturally in our digestive tracts.
They are known to aid in digestion and in reducing inflammation in the gut. Additional benefits of consuming probiotics, based on clinical studies done in recent decades, also include the treatment of gastrointestinal problems, prevention of allergies, and relief from urinary infections.
And not only do probiotics come with myriad health benefits—they come in many delicious varieties, too! Fermented products such as yoghurt, pickles, and probiotic beverages contain what is called “live cultures,” or still-living beneficial bacteria. Consuming foods that are rich in probiotics like Bifidiobacterium and Lactobacillus would do wonders for your diet, both health- and taste-wise!
Want to know which foods are best at nourishing your gut? Here’s a list of consumables—some that are familiar, and some that are delightfully new to the Aussie palate—that are laden with healthy probiotics.
- Yoghurt is traditionally made by adding lactic bacteria starters to pasteurised and homogenised milk, then leaving the bacteria to work its magic. The resulting product is thick, creamy, and tangy, as well as rich in calcium and protein. Yoghurt is also highly versatile and can be enjoyed in savoury dishes, sweet dishes, or refreshing smoothies.
- Water kefir. Water kefir is an organic and dairy-free carbonated beverage made out of water kefir grains. The live culture in water kefir produces lactic acid like that of yoghurt, as well as carbon dioxide bubbles like those of soda or sparkling water. Water kefir can be drunk as is, or blended with fruits, vegetables, honey, or nut-based milks in order to make tasty shakes. It is also easy to make the drink at home, with the drinker only needing to mix a tablespoon of grains into clean spring water and waiting 48 hours.
- Kombucha. Kombucha is a fermented tea drink thought to have originated in Manchuria between 200 and 2000 years ago. Regardless of whether the drink’s history is ancient or recent, many can agree on its benefits to gut health. Made by fermenting a sweetened tea with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, or SCOBY, kombucha’s slightly sour after-taste and refreshing bubbles make it a viable replacement for sugary drinks.
- Probiotic milk beverages. The sweetened probiotic milk beverage Yakult, which is fermented with the Lactobacillus paracasei Shirota strain, is extremely popular in Japan. It has even inspired the phenomenon of the “Yakult Ladies,” or the drink’s iconic door-to-door sellers. Yakult and other probiotic milk beverages often have a sweet and pleasant taste, which makes it easy for both adults and children to consume them for their probiotics fix.
- Sauerkraut. Though German in name, sauerkraut is thought to have originated in Ancient Rome and eaten everywhere from Mongolia to Eastern Europe. It is a dish that is made by fermenting cut raw cabbage with lactic acid. Sauerkraut is noted to be a high source of Vitamin C, iron, fibre, and potassium, and has a conveniently long shelf life. It can be eaten on its own or as an accompaniment to pork, beef, or potato dishes.
- Kimchi. An Asian counterpart to sauerkraut is kimchi, a Korean dish of cabbage or radishes seasoned with chilli powder, garlic, and preserved seafood. Aside from healthy lactic acid bacteria, it also contains hearty amounts of dietary fibre, carotene, calcium, and iron. Koreans traditionally eat kimchi as a side dish in their meals, but it also figures in a number of soups and stews. It is likely to please any diner on the lookout for healthy, spicy, and flavourful ingredients.
- Tempeh. Hailing from Southeast Asia, tempeh is an Indonesian food made out of fermented soybeans. The starter Rhizopus oligosporus is added to partially cooked soybeans so that they can germinate white mycelium threads and bind in the shape of a rectangular cake. Once harvested, tempeh is typically cut into thin slices and then fried. It is an adaptable meat substitute in sautéed, stir-fried, and saucy dishes, and thus has risen in popularity among Australia’s vegans and vegetarians.
Staying healthy is no deterrent from having a rich, varied, and tasty diet. If the list above serves as any evidence, probiotics-rich foods can sate both your body’s nutritional needs and your ever-evolving palate.
Based on what you’ve read, which of these seven foods appeals to you? Which one are you looking forward to eating, drinking, or cooking with next?