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Nine thousand years ago, Neolithic people in Northern China used fermentation to make a beverage from rice, honey and fruit. At around the same time, wine from grapes were being produced in ancient Mesopotamia — evidence of beer brewing in Sumer goes back to 3500 BCE. There’s nothing new about “microbrewing.”

We don’t know exactly how fermentation began — perhaps windblown wild yeast found its way to an open container of juice or food — but we do know that nature’s “cooking” process was widely embraced by cultures across the globe. Beer, wine, and other food products made with fermentation have been with us for millennia — and fermentation continues to be used to preserve and enhance the nutritional benefits of foods. Even meats are “fermented,” or cured — think of salami or corned beef. 

What is Fermentation?

Fermentation is a natural process whereby microorganisms such as yeast or bacteria break down a substance into a simpler substance. Fermentation enhances flavor, preserves, and brings the benefit of healthy bacteria, or probiotics, to the diet. In wine and beer, bacteria processes natural sugars into alcohol — in bread, yeast creates “leavening,” causing the bread dough to “rise.” A simple combination, water, salt, and time elevates cucumbers to pickles and cabbage to sauerkraut.

Fermentation enhances flavor, preserves, and delivers the benefits of healthy bacteria, or probiotics, to the diet.

The ancients discovered that fermentation and pickling could preserve foods and vegetables. These practices produced the ancestors of present-day foods like soy-based miso from Japan, kimchi from Korea, sauerkraut from Germany, creme fraiche from France, and dhoukla from India, to name a few. Black tea is the result of tea leaf fermentation, as are oolong teas. According to a study, “Fermented foods provide many health benefits such as antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory activity.”  

Benefits of Fermentation

While early fermentation was used to preserve foods, fermentation also makes the nutrients in food more “bio-available,” or digestible. Fermentation also adds health-supporting probiotics, or “good” bacteria to foods. Cultures that utilize fermentation in food preparation have the advantage of diets rich in probiotic cultures by consuming probiotic-rich foods such as kefir, yogurt, kombucha, and tempeh as well as the foods noted above. 

In one article, researchers tied the benefits of fermented foods, such as bio-availability of high-profile nutrients and enriched flavors, to brain health, speaking of “cognitive enhancement and neuroprotective effects.” This is because research has revealed the intimate connection between the gut “microbiota,” or healthy bacteria, and healthy brain function, including stress relief and memory. 

Why Fermented Herbs?

The advantage of fermented herbs is that the phytonutrients are preserved and enhanced with increased bioavailability. An example of an herb  dramatically enhanced by fermentation is turmeric. While research has identified turmeric as a powerhouse of nutritional benefits, the active component, curcumin, is not easily bio-available unless taken in large quantities or combined with certain types of pepper — some find this rough on digestion. But by fermenting turmeric, its beneficial micronutrients become bio-available and easily digestible. 

According to an article published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the revered Ayurvedic herb Ashwagandha has been shown to have broad-spectrum health-supporting properties, and is an adaptogen, meaning it supports the body’s ability to cope with physical, emotional, and environmental stress. 

When ORGANIC INDIA Ashwagandha was tested* after undergoing fermentation, researchers found that it showed a 400 percent increase in antioxidant activity. The same testing showed similar results for ORGANIC INDIA Tulsi and Amla — a dramatic increase in antioxidant payload. 

There are big nutritional advantages to getting fermented herbs into your diet — beginning with ORGANIC INDIA fermented herb products is a great way to partake of centuries of nutritional wisdom.

* Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) quantifies the total antioxidant capacity of foods.

Fermented Foods and Beneficial Effects on Brain and Cognitive Function.

An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda