As far back as our records
will take us, man has used the art of fermenting foods to
improve holding and storing properties of foods. Originally
foods with poor holding qualities, particularly the milks
from camels, buffalo, goats, sheep or cows, were fermented
naturally to produce an acidic-tasting food drink. History
suggests that some of the first yoghurts were produced in
goat bags and dropped over the back of camels in the hot
deserts of North Africa. Temperatures reaching 40°C or 110°F
were ideal for lactic acid-producing bacteria to go to work.
Since this period, many races have fermented many types
of foods in the need for developing new tastes and improving
Are there benefits
to good health?
was not until 1910 that the famous Nobel prize-winning Russian
Bacteriologist, Elie Metchnikoff, first considered the possible
benefit to good health from fermented foods. Initially he
noticed that Bulgarians had an average life-span of 87 years,
exceptional for the early 1900s, and that four out of every
thousand lived past 100 years of age. One of the significant
differences in their lifestyle was the large consumption
of fermented milks. Since this period studies have looked
at the lifestyle of a number of populations and found that
the use of fermented food is very common.
Of more recent times the famous
Hunzas of Kashmir and the Georgians of what used to be known
as the Soviet Union, have been highlighted by their amazing
history of longevity. Males of 100+ years participating
in horse events such as polo and women working in the farm
fields at ages of 100 years or greater, are not uncommon.
They are both very active races and have sound basic diets.
A significant part of the diet is fermented milks, using
active Lactobacilli bacteria. The Georgians are particularly
strong believers that health is very dependent on fermented
milk consumption. A famous Georgian saying is “IF YOU WANT
TO LIVE LONG, DRINK MORE SOUR MILK”.
the early 1900s, Metchnikoff inspired a surge in the consumption
of fermented milks. The bacteria he called Bulgarian Bacillus
was believed to contain many benefits to good health; for
30 years people popularised these foods. It was not until
1921 when Retteger demonstrated that Bulgarian Bacillus,
later called Lactobacillus Bulgaricus, could not live in
the human intestine, that the fermented food phenomena pitted
out. Metchnikoff’s theory was disputable (at this stage)
and people doubted his theory of longevity.
Since the late 1920s scientists
have continued to investigate the possible benefit to the
health of bacteria. In 1935, certain strains of Lactobacillus
acidophilus were found to be very active when implanted
in the human digestive tract. Further research throughout
the last forty years has found more and more health benefits
using friendly bacteria. Areas such as good digestion, effective
detoxification and prolonged food health appear to be all
affected by establishing a healthy balance of good bacteria
in the gastrointestinal tract.
Recent Findings and Suggested
Benefits of Fermented Foods
Of all the families of bacteria
researched, the group of bacteria known as the Lactobacilli
family has received the greatest attention. Two of the more
common forms: Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifido Bacterium,
have the focus of this research. However, the Bulgaricus
form, originally discovered by Metchnikoff, is still frequently
used in yoghurt production. More recent research is now
talking about the Casei form as showing more digestive benefits.
Together the activity of all these bacteria appear to play
a role in balancing the intestinal flora of the digestive
tract and contributing to good health overall.