We’ve all heard of the importance of gut health and probiotic-rich foods — but sometimes the nuance and specific benefits of these fermented powerhouses is lost. Although the most commonly known probiotics are beverages like kombucha and apple cider vinegar, there are actually many different types of probiotic foods from around the world. Equally, we find that if a healing food is popular in many cultures, then it’s a good sign of its strength and effectiveness.
To help you get a broader understanding of the unique compositions of different probiotics, we’ve pulled together a guide that walks you through some of the most rich, adaptable, and delicious probiotic foods to help you easily add them into your cooking and supplement repertoire.
The literal translation of kefir is “feeling good” and as gut health and can improve our mood as well as our digestion, it makes sense. The origins of kefir are found in Russia and Turkey and it has been consumed for over 3,000 years. If you’re a lover of yogurt — then this is a probiotic to definitely consider as it’s made with a unique combination of milk and fermented kefir grains and has a similar tart taste to standard natural yogurt. The other difference is that kefir is fermented with yeast and more bacteria, making the final product higher in probiotics (between 10 to 34 strains) and lower in lactose.
THE FULLEST Approved Kefir:
- Unpasteurized Raw Milk Kefir from Raw Farm
If you’re not into dairy at all, consider this plant-based alternative that’s made by fermenting the juice of young coconuts with kefir grains. It has some of the same probiotics as traditional dairy kefir but in full transparency, they are not as typically high in number. Having said that, coconut kefir also contains other coconut benefits like magnesium and iron — and it’s delicious!
THE FULLEST Approved Coconut Kefir:
Another plant-based alternative is water kefir, which is made by adding kefir grains to sugar water, resulting in a fermented, fizzy beverage that is jam-packed with probiotics. Unlike dairy-based kefir, it also has a thinner consistency than regular kefir and can be flavored using a variety of herbs, fruits, and spices to create your own customized concoction.
THE FULLEST Approved Water Kefir:
Although most people associate sauerkraut with Germany, it originally heralds from China over 2,000 years ago. Sauerkraut is made from fermented cabbage and other probiotic vegetables. Although sauerkraut is not as diverse as some other options on this list, it is very high in organic acids (what gives food its sour taste) that support the growth of good bacteria. For example, it’s very high in vitamin C, digestive enzymes, and has a good source of natural lactic acid bacteria, such as lactobacillus.
THE FULLEST Approved Sauerkraut:
Kimchi is a cousin to sauerkraut and is the Korean take on cultured veggies. It’s created by mixing a main ingredient, such as Chinese cabbage, with a number of other foods and spices, like red pepper flakes, radishes, carrots, garlic, ginger, onion, sea salt, and fish sauce. The mixture is then left aside to ferment for three to 14 days, resulting in a flavor-filled, probiotic-packed ingredient.
Jun is the close cousin to the poster child of probiotics — kombucha — and just like kombucha, jun is a fermented tea that ultimately becomes a fizzy, probiotic drink. The main difference is that kombucha is traditionally fermented with cane sugar and black tea, but jun is adapted to thrive on raw honey and green tea (if you want to dive deeper on the nuances, check out this article). In terms of timing, microbes can ferment raw honey faster than sugar, making jun’s entire fermentation process only about 5-7 days versus 2-3 weeks for kombucha. If you’re not wanting to make your own, check out these delicious options.
THE FULLEST Approved Jun:
Hailing from Indonesia, this fermented soybean product is another awesome source of probiotics. Tempeh is created by adding a tempeh starter to soybeans. The product is then left to sit for a day or two, which results in a cake-like product. You can eat tempeh raw or by boiling it and eating it with miso. It can also be used as a substitute for meat in a stir fry meal and can be baked, grilled, marinated, or sautéed. Make sure to look for organic and soy-free options!
THE FULLEST Approved Tempeh:
Another popular dish consisting of fermented soybeans is natto. It originally comes from Japan and contains the extremely powerful probiotic Bacillus subtilis, which has been proven to bolster your immune system, support cardiovascular health, and enhance digestion of vitamin K2. Natto also contains a powerful anti-inflammatory enzyme called nattokinase that has been proven to prevent blood clotting and is loaded with protein, securing it a top slot in the list of probiotic foods. Again, as always keep your eyes peeled for organic soy natto options.
THE FULLEST Approved Natto:
This powerful ingredient has been a common fermented beverage in Eastern Europe since ancient times. Kvass uses Lactobacilli probiotics and is known for its blood and liver-cleansing properties, along with its mild sour flavor. It was traditionally made by fermenting rye or barley, but in more recent years has been created using probiotic fruits and beets, along with other root vegetables like carrots making its flavor profile tart but delicious.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Is apple cider vinegar a good source of probiotics? Yes. In addition to controlling blood pressure, reducing cholesterol levels, improving insulin sensitivity, and even enhancing weight loss, apple cider vinegar can also help ramp up probiotic intake as well. Is there anything apple cider vinegar can’t do? Drink a small bit each day or use it as a salad dressing to maximize your results.
THE FULLEST Approved Apple Cider Vinegar:
Salted Gherkin Pickles
You may not have thought that this American classic would make the list but these fermented treats are also an unrecognized but powerful source of probiotics. When shopping for pickles, be sure to choose a smaller food manufacturer that uses organic ingredients. If you can find a local maker, you’ll be getting some of the best probiotics for your health, that also go well on a sourdough sandwich or devoured straight from the jar.
Equally, everyone’s favorite cheese platter staple, the olive, is also an excellent source of probiotics — if brine cured. Like with salted gherkin pickles, be sure to select a product that is organic first. Next, be certain that your olives aren’t made from a huge manufacturer and try to select a smaller company that advertises probiotics. Also make sure that your olives don’t contain sodium benzoate, a food additive that can negate many of the health-promoting properties of this probiotic power-food.
THE FULLEST Approved Brine-Cured Olives:
Miso is an ancient Japanese spice found in many of Japan’s traditional foods. Not only that, but it is also one of the mainstays of traditional Japanese medicine and is commonly used in macrobiotic cooking as a digestive regulator. Miso soup is famous throughout the world and is very easy to prepare. However, a lot of miso recipes use soybean but we encourage you to look for soy-free alternatives. There are many delicious alternatives made with ingredients such as barley or chickpeas. To enjoy, simply dissolve a tablespoonful of miso in a pot of water filled with seaweed and other ingredients of your choice. Miso can also be spread on crackers, used in place of butter, or added to marinades and stir-fries for an added dose of flavor.
THE FULLEST Approved Miso:
Possibly the most popular probiotic food of all is live cultured probiotic yogurt or Greek yogurt made from the milk of cows, goats, or sheep. Yogurt, in most cases, can rank at the top of probiotic foods if it comes from grass-fed animals and has not been pasteurized. The problem is there is a large variation on the quality of yogurts on the market today. Make sure when buying yogurt to look for organic, grass-fed varieties that are made from goat’s or sheep’s milk.
THE FULLEST Approved Yogurt:
This childhood staple is incredibly gut friendly and is full of live and active cultures. However, it’s super important to find an organic and trusted brand with any dairy product.
THE FULLEST Approved Cottage Cheese:
Goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, and A2 cow’s soft cheeses are particularly high in probiotics, including thermophillus, bifidus, bulgaricus, and acidophilus. We are big proponents of raw dairy and if we are going to choose a cheese, we always look for unpasteurized cheeses to ensure we receive the most probiotics possible; as pasteurized and processed varieties are lacking in beneficial bacteria.
THE FULLEST Approved Raw Cheese:
As per raw cheese, milk is also high in probiotics but again, only if it is raw and unpasteurized. Remember, all pasteurized dairy is devoid of healthy bacteria, so to get the probiotics, you need to stick to only high-quality options. A few of our integrity brands are below but you can also find local raw milk dairy farms in your area using this handy tool.
THE FULLEST Approved Raw Milk:
- Claravale Farm
- Raw Farm
- Alexandre Family Farm (lightly pasteurized, regenerative practices)
Traditional buttermilk, also sometimes called cultured buttermilk, is a fermented dairy drink that is made from the liquid left over after churning butter. It’s considered one of the top probiotic Indian foods and is also commonly consumed in countries such as Nepal and Pakistan. Keep in mind that most types of buttermilk found at supermarkets do not contain probiotics. Instead, look for varieties that contain live cultures to boost the benefits of your buttermilk.
THE FULLEST Approved Traditional Buttermilk:
- Kalona Supernatural
- Make your own from raw dairy