5 Things to Look Out for When Buying Fermented Foods

Whether you’ve not had enough time or have temporarily lost interest in making your own, or just fancy trying what’s available on the market, you have your pick of commercially fermented food and drinks to try.

If you’re buying your ferments, here’s what you should be looking for on the label or asking your kindly ferment seller.

Fermented foods
Photo credit: Lesley Lau
  1. Raw or unpasteurised – this means that is hasn’t been heat treated, so the bacteria should still be alive.
  2. Fermentation time – the bacterial fermentation process occurs in stages, with different strains of bacteria responsible for each part of the process. In most ferments, unless you’ve added them in, the beneficial bacteria haven’t kicked in until about the 10 day mark and are at their peak at around 20 days. So make sure you ask how long the product has been to get an indication of how much of the good bacteria might be present.
  3. Pure salt – make sure the ferments, like your own, are made with pure salt, otherwise, these might spoil soon after getting them home.
  4. Organic produce – the bacteria and yeasts have been shown to breakdown some of the remaining pesticide, but some can remain, which can result in a sluggish ferment, which has an impact on the taste, flavour and overall quality. So, those made with organic produce are ideal. This is probably hard to find, but worth noting and checking for anyhow.
  5. Preservative and additive-free – these might be added to prolong shelf-life or enhance colour and these categorically aren’t necessary, you wouldn’t use them at some, so avoid buying ferments containing these.

If none of the above is printed on the label and there isn’t anyone to ask, leave it on the shelf, particularly if you’re looking for the bacterial/health benefits. Do also make sure all allergens are correctly labelled. I won’t name and shame, but I recently bought a ferment containing sesame oil (FYI sesame is one of the 14 known allergens that must be labelled by law here in Europe) and it wasn’t labelled as an allergen. Also, oils are also a bit of an issue in ferments, as these have a very limited shelf-life, meaning they go rancid over time, affecting the taste and shelf-life of a ferment.

So long story short, label reading is important, even when buying fermented foods and drinks if you want to ensure you’re getting the good stuff!

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