Food preservation and food security go hand in hand. Food security is defined as enough availability of healthy food for all. Food preservation is defined as methods that improve the shelf life of many different foods and has been used over thousands of years. One method that has been common in many cultures across centuries, is fermentation. Fermentation not only makes food last longer, but it actually improves the nutritional value of the food it is preserving.

Fermented foods are often talked about for their probiotic properties and benefits to gut health. Sauerkraut, kombucha, and pickled veggies are all common foods in a healthy diet. But what cultures do fermented foods come from and how does that relate to food security?

Fermentation is a food preservation method that allows for food to become preserved for longer periods of time and transforms foods into a unique flavor profile with an enhanced nutritional value due to the fermentation. Fermentation is a common food preservation practice across the entire world and has been around much longer than canning or refrigeration. Pickled fruits and vegetables play a key role in diets across the globe and cultures have been using this food preservation method for centuries. Fermented tea leaves, fruit juices, and other products in brine are common in Asia. Fermented cereals, tubes, and roots are common in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Fermented seeds and fish are also common. When foods go through a fermentation process, the nutritional value is modified and the foods can be enriched with essential amino acids, vitamins, and bioactive compounds.

Fermentation is inexpensive, easy, reliable, and allows for nutritious fruits, vegetables and other foods to be preserved and kept available for long periods of items. This preservation process allows communities across the globe to keep and store food to ensure availability in times where fresh food might not be possible.

Fermentation requires no equipment and can be easily done at home, preserving the health benefits and preventing foods from losing their nutritional value over time.

An indicator that fermentation and food security go hand in hand, is the countless cultures that use this process. Many fermented foods have been developed in areas that traditionally experience famine, such as Western Sudan in the Kordofan and Darfur regions. More on this study can be found here. The correlation is further supported by the fact that when a family becomes rich, food fermentation is no longer prepared for a number of foods.

Fermentation also plays a role in food security in that it can turn otherwise inedible food waste into a nutritious and healthy food source. In Sudan, a wide variety of edible food “waste” products are fermented into foods such as “Dodery”, which has a shelf life of up to two months. In Indonesia, a tempeh-like protein-rich food is made by fermenting a wide variety of food waste products including peanut and coconut press cake. More on this can be found in this article from the Food and Agriculture Organization. Efforts are also being made to improve the fermentation process in third world countries to promote access to food, entrepreneurship, and food security. The project FermFood, aims to combat hunger and malnutrition by improving the food fermentation process in Africa. Additionally, it aims to strengthen women’s entrepreneurial efforts at making food fermentation a priority. In turn, this will result in higher production of food and also generated income.

While fermented foods are popular in the wellness space and are known for their taste and gut-healing benefits, it is important to remember the origin of these foods — where they came from, and how they have ensured that cultures across the world have had access to enough healthy food.

Ali Parsons graduated from The University of Washington with a degree in Media & Communications. She is passionate about nutrition, health, and wellness and is currently in the process of becoming a Registered Dietitian. Ali enjoys cooking, running, yoga, hiking and travel!

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