For the third year in a row, fermented foods tops Today’s Dietitian list of the year’s No. 1 superfood. The annual “What’s Trending in Nutrition” survey reveals the hottest food and nutrition trends to look for in 2020.

“The 2020 survey results send a clear and consistent message. Consumers want to live healthier lives,” says Louise Pollock, president of Pollock Communications. “They have access to an incredible amount of health information, and they view food as a way to meet their health and wellness goals. Consumers are taking control of their health in ways they never did before, forcing the food industry to evolve and food companies to innovate in response to consumer demand.” 

Consumers are using fermented products as “powerhouse foods,” foods that boost gut health and reduce inflammation. Some nutrition experts recommend fermented foods should be included in national dietary recommendations. 

In April, Today’s Dietitian published an article “The Facts About Fermented Foods.” In it, Dr. Robert Hutkins, a researcher and professor of food science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, shared his expert opinion on fermentation. Hutkins wrote what many in the field consider the most exhaustive textbook on fermentation, “Microbiology and Technology of Fermented Foods.” He explained how fermented foods have a long history in the human diet. 

“Indeed, during much of human civilization, a major part of the human diet probably consisted of bread, yogurt, olives, sausages, wine, and other fermentation-derived foods,” Hutkins told Today’s Dietitian. “They can be considered perhaps as our first ‘processed foods.’”

Hutkins, who studies the bacteria in fermented foods, said researchers like himself “are a bit surprised fermented foods suddenly have become trendy.” 

“Consumers are now more interested than ever in fermented foods, from ale to yogurt, and all the kimchi and miso in between,” he says. “This interest is presumably driven by all the small/local/craft/artisan manufacturing of fermented foods and beverages, but the health properties these foods are thought to deliver are also a major driving force.”Fermented foods first appeared in the survey of registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs) in 2017, where it was the 4th most popular superfood.

The full superfoods list includes:

  1. Fermented foods, like yogurt and kefir
  2. Avocado
  3. Seeds
  4. Exotic fruit, like acai, golden berries
  5. Ancient grains
  6. Blueberries
  7. Nuts 
  8. Non-dairy milk
  9. Beets
  10. Green tea

As the dairy industry declines rapidly – milk sales plummeted by $1.1 billion in 2018 – fermented dairy could help dairy farmers reclaim the grocery aisle.

More Americans are turning to plant-based options, like nut, oat, rice and soy milk. The demand for milk-based alternatives from companies like Miyoko’s Kitchen (vegan, plant-based dairy products) and Perfect Day Foods (oat milk with fermented yeast) are popular with modern consumers.

But sales are not slowing for fermented milk-based products like kefir and Skyr yogurt.

A study from The Nutrition society published in the Cambridge University Press found multiple health benefits of fermented milk drinks like kefir. Fermented dairy improves digestion, produces anti-inflammatory effects, increases colonization of good gut bacteria and stimulates antioxidants, researchers found. Fermented dairy is high in protein, high in live probiotics and improves lactose digestion.

“Consuming fermented dairy can [help] the digestive system because it actually adds more beneficial bacteria to the system,” said Nicole Dynan, a dietitian with gut health expertise. She spoke to Dairy Australia in an article about the power of fermented dairy. “If we put it in simple terms, most of our bacteria live in the large intestine and can assist that existing population of bacteria to balance out the good and bad. Fermented dairy can contain microbiota that make by-products called short-chain fatty acids that can help release anti-inflammatory benefits into the body.”

“Fermented dairy can also represent a precious source of other nutrients and vitamins such as C and E, while balancing out the ‘bad’ bacteria that can lead to common digestive problems such as bloating, diarrhea, pain and gas,” she says.

Dairy Alternatives Full of “Frankenfood”

Today, 19 percent of yogurt varieties are plant-based. Christopher Malnar, vice president of marketing for Stonyfield, says the ingredient lists on dairy-free yogurts are often alarming. They’re highly processed, full of sugar, chemical stabilizers and what he called “frankenfood.” Organic dairy, meanwhile, is a clean ingredient list with no high processing.

Brands can create demand for dairy again by raising awareness, Malnar said. They can educate on the benefits of dairy and organic products.

“How can we be more innovative as an industry?” Malnar said. “We understand where the market is going [but Stonyfield is] staying true to our core in dairy, recognizing that there are some needs out there.” Stonyfield is currently testing a fruit and vegetable pouch.

Malnar spoke at a panel on organic dairy in September during Natural Products Expo East. When educating consumers on dairy, the panel of organic dairy leaders said it’s important to highlight proper animal treatment. Fairlife Dairy recently came under fire after a video was released of employees abusing calves and cows in a processing facility. Tim Joseph, the founding farmer at Maple Hill Creamery, said he thinks brands lose consumers when they educate them with scientific facts “because it’s just too much information.” Animal welfare is a major consumer driver.

“It’s not whether we think it is right or wrong in the end, it’s what the consumer is looking for,” Joseph said. “Animal welfare is I think the next biggest areas consumers are focusing on.”

Not all Milks Are Equal

A major consumer for plant-based milk: new moms. Mothers, many who adopt a healthy, organic lifestyle once they have children, are turning to dairy alternatives because they believe it’s the healthiest option for their child.

“We’re feeling like we have to go back in time and educate on the value of dairy,” said Melissa Hughes, chief mission officer and general counsel for Organic Valley. “It’s not necessarily to say that plant based isn’t the right thing, but especially for a lot of young moms, make the choice based on good science and good understanding of what the nutritional value is for your child.”

American dietary guidelines dictate that, besides water, milk is the only other drink recommended for children.

Jessica Shade, the director of science programs for the Organic Center, presented findings of a study on modern milk in today’s grocery market, comparing organic and conventional milk. The biggest takeaway: Americans should be choosing dairy milk for the nutritional benefits, and organic milk to avoid exposure to harmful chemicals.

Shade said she was surprised testing milk that non-organic varieties test positive for antibiotics, high levels of growth hormones and pesticide contaminants. “…it is much more ubiquitous than previously thought,” Shade added. Many of these are illegal residues are banned by the Food and Drug Administration. They concentrate highly in cow milk, and research shows they can lead to a wide array of health problems in humans. Allergies, hypersensitivity, rashes, headaches, birth defects, hyperthyroidism are all linked to consuming contaminants in milk.

Organic milk, meanwhile, did not test for any illegal residues.

“The findings about conventional milk are really concerning,” Shade said. “That’s the question that needs to be asked and needs to be addressed – how are these chemicals getting into the milk supply when they shouldn’t be there? The difference between organic and conventional are extremely significant…the easy way to avoid all of these residues is by choosing organic.”

The American dairy industry is in a period of oversupply, hurting farmers especially who are forced to throw out milk. On average, it takes three years to transition a dairy farm from conventional to organic.

“The challenge with any dairy, whether it’s organic dairy or conventional dairy, is balancing this perishable product that’s coming out of the cows and making sure you put it into the system as quickly as you can in order to return a value,” said Hughes.

“We’ve seen the slowdown. For Organic Valley, we’ve seen the slowdown of consumption in fluid milk. For us, quality really becomes a very important thing. Volume becomes a very important thing, and how do you control that when most of your volume is folks drinking milk? But at the same time we’ve seen an incredible increase in the consumption of butter. Everyone loves butter and fat. It’s really pushing some pressures on our supply chain to make that all work together. We’re starting to see more opportunity.”

Though overall U.S. yogurt sales fell 6%, the average U.S. supermarket carries 306 different yogurt varieties. Consumers are embracing new flavors and vegan, plant-based yogurt styles.

-Nielsen Data

The yogurt Los Angeles Times calls “the best yogurt in America” was forced out of California in 2011. White Moustache, which sells Greek and Persian yogurts with seasonal fruit common in Iranian cuisine added, moved to Brooklyn in 2012 after California Department of Food & Agriculture shut them down. According to California state law, making a milk-based product in a facility separate from the facility where the milk was pasteurized is illegal. Though White Moustache founder Homa Dashtaki produces her famous yogurt in New York, she now sells it in California — Manhattan’s brand of Eataly opened a Los Angeles store, and Dashtaki’s family members oversee production for the West Coast store.

Read more (The Los Angeles Times) 

The deadline for the annual Good Food Awards has been extended until tomorrow, August 2. The Good Food Awards invites food producers from across the country to submit their beer, charcuterie, cheese, chocolate, cider, coffee, confections, elixirs, honey, oils, pickles, preserves, preserved fish, spirits, pantry items, snacks and – new this year ­– grains! (Grains, you ask? We’re talking grits, rice, quinoa tortillas, pasta and more!) Click here to apply.

Award winners from 2019 featured multiple fermented products, like Forward Roots Fermented Vegan Kimchi Sauce, St. Benoit Creamery Plain Yogurt, Elevate Grain Naturally Fermented Beer Grain Crackers, Blue Bus Cultured Local Kraut-chi, Civil Ferments Ethiopian Sauerkraut, Little Apple Treats Original Apple Cider Vinegar, Barrel Creek Provisions Cucmbers, Lindera Farms Apple Cider Vinegar, Gold Mine Natural Food Co Organic Probiotic Golden Kraut, Hex Ferments Sauerkraut, St. Pete Ferments Jackfruit Kimchi, Oly Kraut Local Spicy Garlic Sauerkraut, Real Pickles Organic Garlic Dill Pickles & Organic Garlic Kraut.

Read more (The Good Food Awards) http://bit.ly/2ysMWed
(Photo by: Good Food Awards of 2016 winner, Wild West Ferments)

Dietician Lisa Valente writes in Eating Well the seven must-eat fermented foods for a healthy gut. Her list features: sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, miso, tempeh and yogurt. She writes: “Fermented foods are a hot health topic—and for good reasons. These good bacteria—particularly those in our gut—may improve digestion, boost immunity and help us maintain a healthy weight. Research is still emerging on just how important these mighty microbes might be for our health, but the early results are promising. Take care of your gut, and in turn, it will take help take care of you.”

Read more (Eating Well)

One question commonly posed by consumers starting to eat fermented products: How do I incorporate fermentation into my daily meals?

Alana Holloway, founder of Fermented By Lab, provides a great overview on how she uses fermented food and drinks. Hollaway’s food diary illustrates that it’s possible to include fermentation as a key element to every meal. Her simple meals are easy, delicious and highlight ways the average consumer can pair fermented food and drink with their regular food. Her dairy is also a great example of creative marketing fermented food brands can use to showcase ways to use their food. 

Here’s Alana’s food diary, showcasing what she eats to keep her gut in good health.

Approach to food: I love to eat intuitively, according to the seasons… not only that, but according to the weather and how I’m feeling on any given day.  After a lifelong battle with eczema, I have now found the key to managing it with the right foods for my body, and a complimentary lifestyle, too.  I like to maintain a balanced, healthy gut and so eat/drink ferments every day… just as well I run a company that makes them!

Food Diary:

DAY 1 – FRIDAY

I tend to start day with about a pint of warm water. I really find it gives me immediate energy following sleep.  I’m really not a lover of cold water, so will always drink it at room temperature or warm/hot. 

I usually have breakfast about 10.30 as I struggle to eat too early in the morning.  I like to allow my body time to build up a good hunger!  Now that Spring is here, I’ve swapped my porridge for smoothies.  This morning’s is organic cooked beetroot (I cook up a batch and then freeze it for smoothies), organic frozen strawberries from last Summer, a green banana, which is a great source of prebiotic fibre, coconut yoghurt, goats milk Kefir for the all-important probiotics, Plenish cashew milk (my favourite) and a little raw honey for a some more prebiotic love! I also take an omega 3 supplement; generally speaking, I’m not a massive supplement advocate and prefer to get what I need from my diet, but as I am prone to really dry skin, I find this one helps.  

I grab a small handful of Brazil nuts as I head out the door.

At 1pm I have a chunk of goats Gouda and another pint on warm water whilst waiting for my lunch to cook.  I can tell it’s going to be a hungry day for me today! 

At 1.30, I have a lunch of sliced avocado roasted chickpeas with nigella seeds, soft boiled egg, roasted sweet potato, Fennel + Lemon Kraut from the Fermented by LAB Spring Collection, steamed broccoli & kale.

3.30 small glass of Kombucha as I need a bit of a kick!

At 7pm I have dinner – it’s lentil Dahl with Carrot + Coriander Kraut from last year’s Autumn Box (one of my favourite things about fermenting foods is getting to eat them months later!)

I drink a Golden Mylk before bed and soak some oats for tomorrow morning’s porridge… I mentioned Spring too early and hear it’s due to snow tomorrow!

DAY 2 – SATURDAY

10am – I start the day with two huge mugs of warm/hot water again and follow it with the porridge I soaked last night.  I always soak my grains/pulses/legumes to make them easier on my digestive system. My porridge toppings are roasted rhubarb, coconut yoghurt, a little raw honey and some chopped Brazil’s. 

3pm – Lunch is a chunk of goat’s milk Gouda (I can’t get enough of it!) and roasted broccoli, carrot, fennel, sweet potato and nigella seeds with a soft-boiled egg (again!)  Despite it being the weekend, I’m working and need something easy to cook which doesn’t require too much thought!

5pm – I have a bottle of Red Grapefruit + Rosemary Kefir from the Spring Box.  I’m lucky enough to be able to delve into a good selection of seasonal ferments… it means I don’t get bored with eating the same Kraut all the time!

7pm – I try to stop eating by 8pm so that I can give my digestive system a break overnight.  As I had a late lunch, I’m not overly hungry so make a beetroot, carrot (both cooked and frozen), blackcurrant, green banana and goats kefir smoothie and have a mug of chicken bone broth.

I drink a small Golden Milk just before bed.  They really relax me and as I have a history of eczema, find they really help keep my inflammation at bay.

Best piece of advice about health + wellbeing?

Don’t search for all the answers in one place.  Every day, I try to remind myself that it’s not just about a healthy diet, a good exercise regimen, good quality sleep or daily meditation practice, for example, it’s a combination of all of them that allows you to live your healthiest and happiest life.

Should a fermented food process need a patent? PepsiCo has filed a patent to ferment oat flour and dairy milk together. PepsiCo-owned Quaker Oats is creating a “spoonable or drinkable” clean-label product comparable to yogurt. The process involves co-fermenting a grain, dairy and a set of metabolites. This patent is unique because, while there are existing food products that combine unfermented and fermented dairy and grains, none co-ferment grain and dairy at the same time. In their application, PepsiCo notes that consumers are increasingly consuming fermented food products for health benefits.

Read more (World Intellectual Property Organization)

Starbucks Japan has a new drink: Lemon Yogurt Fermented Frappuccino. The inventive flavor contains three different fermented ingredients – can you guess what they are? Yogurt, cheese and amazake, a fermented rice drink. The yogurt is in the drink’s base, the cheese is in the shortbread topping and the amazake is in the lemon curd sauce. Writes Japan Today: “Fermenting is a process which has deep roots all over Japan, and Starbucks hopes this beverage can act as a little tribute to that tradition.”

Read more (Japan Today)

Put down the Gatorade, athletes — the best performance-enhancing substance is fermented food and drinks. An article in sports magazine STACK says athletes are overlooking fermented products for workout nutrition. Fermented products — like raw sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt and kefir — heal the body with beneficial bacteria and combat gut imbalances. “The better our digestion, the better we utilize the food we are putting into our body, leading to even better improvements in our strength and health,” the article states. Though there is little research in the field, the article points to one study which found probiotics helped female college athletes improve body composition and deadlift performance.

 

Read more (STACK)