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Fruits, Vegetables and Fermentation

Jun 30, 2016 02:57PM ● Published by Jason Huddle

A few months ago, Aubrey Mast got a text message from her roommate, “Did you mean to leave raw chicken on the counter?”

Mast chuckled. 

It wasn’t chicken in the little zip-tight bags; it was SCOBY, or Symbiotic Colonies of Bacteria and Yeast, that she had prepared to share with the participants in her latest Healthy Living class. She was going to talk about the health benefits of fermentation and planned to send each one of them home with a starter culture to make their own kombucha, a fermented tea.

Fermentation is a centuries-old technique for preserving foods. Yogurt is by far the most widely consumed fermented food in American culture, being produced by the bacterial fermentation of milk. Second is likely sauerkraut, a side dish made by layering finely shredded cabbage and salt in a non-porous container and allowing lactic acid fermentation to “work” its culinary magic. (Really, it’s a great science lesson on population dynamics where different bacterias dominate in an increasingly acidic environment.)

Mast works at the Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) at the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis. As an N.C. State Extension Associate, she develops programs that bring research-based information to the general public; specifically, she focuses on research conducted at PHHI. PHHI faculty are looking at food crops – fruits, vegetables and herbs – that provide benefits to human health. "

One of the programs Mast has launched is the Healthy Living Series, a three-part course that teaches: 1) the health benefits of certain foods, particularly with regard to treating and preventing chronic disease; 2) making food choices based on more information than just taste and calories; and 3) demonstrations of recipes and alternative food preparation techniques, including fermentation.

One big area of PHHI research is exploring phytochemicals in foods. Phytochemicals are plant compounds that provide health benefits without providing nutritive value. Fermented foods allow these phytochemicals to be more readily absorbed by the body, offering increased health benefits compared to the raw or traditionally cooked fruit or vegetable.

Fermentation immediately targets inflammation and aids digestive problems. It is a treasure trove of probiotics that enhance the gut microbiota. In fact, according to Mast, two ounces of homemade sauerkraut has more probiotics than 100 capsules of a store-bought probiotic.

Mast maintains a wealth of information on the PHHI website, plantsforhumanhealth.ncsu.edu, including a schedule of class offerings (and online registration). The next Healthy Living Series is being held July 12, 19 and 26, 1:00 to 3:00pm, in the Community Kitchen at Cabarrus Health Alliance. If you would like to host Mast to teach a Health Living Class for a group, contact her at 704-250-5471.

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