Probiotics are live microorganisms that are incorporated in various food items, by a process known as fermentation. They consist of bacteria and fungi (yeast) belonging to the Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Rhizopus and Saccharomyces groups, among others. They are termed as “good bacteria” as they help in sustaining the natural supply of beneficial microbes in the stomach and also help to beat UTI, diarrhea and other intestinal disorders.
It is a well-known fact that yogurt is the most popular probiotic food the world over, but since it is traditionally made from milk obtained from bovine animals, it is not suitable for those following a vegan diet.
However, those who have made the switch to a completely “green” food regime need not worry. Not only are plant-based probiotic food options plentiful, but they are also tasty and just as nutritious as those containing dairy.
Three such very appetizing fermented foods derived purely from plant sources are sauerkraut, tempeh and kombucha. All of these are packed with vital nutrients such as proteins, fibers, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and hence, perfectly serve to fulfill all the essential vegan probiotic dietary needs.
The name sauerkraut, derived from German, literally translates to “sour cabbage”. It is traditionally served as a side dish with sandwiches in many European nations.
The procedure to make sauerkraut involves chopping a cabbage, a seasonal vegetable, into fine, thin pieces, adding some salt to it, and allowing it to ferment in the presence of lactobacillus bacteria. Sauerkraut has a distinct tart flavor, and when stored outside, or refrigerated, in an airtight container, it has a long shelf life.
The probiotics in this dish have the potential to improve brain function and regulate moods. Besides, sauerkraut is also a rich source of vitamin C and iron, which enhance immune system function and maintain healthy blood flow.
Tempeh is customary soy produce, originating from Indonesia. It is served either fried or steamed, alongside soups, salads and stews.
The process to make tempeh entails the softening of whole soybeans, by soaking in water for a while. Then, the outer covering is removed, and it is partly cooked. This pliable soy is now fermented with rhizopus yeast, and the resultant tempeh, with a nut-like flavor, is molded into rectangular cakes.
Tempeh is packed with soy proteins and fibers, which help to satisfy hunger, control cravings, and promote weight loss. Moreover, plant compounds known as isoflavones are abundant in soy, which helps in lowering blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Kombucha refers to fermented black or green tea, which has its origins in the regions of China and Japan. It is consumed as a refreshment both before and after meals.
Kombucha is prepared by adding sugar to some warm green or black tea and allowing it to ferment in the presence of SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) probiotics. It is bottled and sold globally today, and has a characteristic fizziness to it, with a mild sweet taste.
Kombucha is a powerhouse of nutrients, with polyphenols that help to cut down the risk of certain cancers and antioxidants that protect liver function. This drink also slows down the digestion of carbohydrates and regulates blood sugar levels, helping in the management of diabetes and kidney disease.