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Why Does Fermentation Make Only Some Foods Healthier?

By: Steve Frailey Tuesday March 15, 2016 comments

Fermentation is a health trend that seems to be here to stay. Kombucha, homemade kimchi and sauerkraut, yogurt and kefir, fermented pickles, and more are experiencing a major revival, and the scientific community is doing lots of research on the impact of fermented foods on the human body.

The results are promising, but there’s still a lot we don’t understand about the tradeoffs of eating fermented foods versus raw, steamed, or roasted vegetables. What we do know is that fermentation dramatically changes the chemical composition of foods — often for the better, but not always.

Because fermentation is so popular right now, many people have some questions when we say that fermented noni (usually found in the form of noni juice) is far less potent than products made from raw unfermented noni pulp. Not all fermented foods are created equal, however, and not all foods react to fermentation in the same way.

We wanted to answer some questions, explain why we never ferment noni fruit, and hopefully convince you of the power of raw noni, just as nature intended us to use it.

fermentation

What is Fermentation?

If you are committed to finding natural ways to improve your health, you likely have at least a general sense of how fermentation works. To sum it up, fermentation is a natural decomposition process in which microbes convert carbohydrates into alcohol and/or acids.

In nature, fermentation is part of how fruits and vegetables are broken down so their nutrients can be returned to the earth. Wild bacteria and yeasts quickly begin their work once a fruit is damaged in any way (dropping to the ground, skin broken by an insect, or just by being picked).

Some fruits and vegetables are more prone to fermentation that others. Noni fruit begins to ferment within hours of ripening, just 3-4 days after being picked!

In nature, the fermentation process continues until the fruit or vegetable is completely broken down, with the help of molds, yeasts, and a whole host of bacteria. But many animals, including humans, tend to enjoy their fruits or vegetables partially broken down, and intervene in the process.

Animals Love Fermentation

Certain species of primates, birds, and rodents love alcohol, and will deliberately seek out fully or partially-fermented fruits! Lots of species have co-evolved alongside plants that produce a consistent source of alcohol. For many, there are positives and negative aspects of alcohol consumption — as there are for humans.

Humans figured out how to brew beer at least 5000-7000 years ago, around the same time when we learned how to make leavened bread. Indeed, beer might have even come first! Fermentation soon became one of the main ways humans “cook” food.

Most traditional cultures have at least one fermented food that is a staple of the cultural diet — often completely repugnant to outsiders, as in the case of kæstan hákarl (fermented, dried shark meat). More familiar foods include sauerkraut or kimchi (fermented cabbage from Germanic and Korean cultures, respectively), tempeh (fermented soybean curd), kefir (fermented milk).

These foods have their place in a healthy, balanced diet, and are linked to some significant health benefits.

Benefits of Fermented Foods

Countless nutritionists, foodies, and biologists have delved into the possible benefits of including more fermented foods in your diet. Click here for a great article that is pretty comprehensive.

The most commonly-cited benefit is the possibility for the live and active bacterial cultures found in traditionally-fermented foods to take up residence in your digestive tract. There are billions of bacteria in your digestive tract, most of which are necessary for complete digestion and good health.

But in today’s post-Pasteurian world (where most products are now pasteurized for safety), many Americans in particular are suffering from a shortage of these beneficial bacteria, resulting in lots of problems for our guts! Nature loves to fill a vacuum, so this often leads to bad bacteria taking up residence instead.

Many experts believe that including more traditionally-fermented foods (NOT pasteurized versions of them!) could help those good bacteria regain the high ground. The results could be more complete digestion of nutrients, reduced inflammation, and improved quality of life.

Take Your Cues from History

In general, I have more faith in the traditional wisdom of the human race accumulated over thousands of years of experimentation than I do in nutritional science today, which tends to jump from one fad to another with only tenuous or incomplete scientific support. Click here to read more of my thoughts on traditional wisdom.

While I’m confident that science will one day come to fully understand the value of noni and its impact on human health, I just have to consider how dedicated Polynesian settlers were to noni (dedicated enough to bring the plants with them in their canoes!) to believe in its significance. Leaving home without noni was as inconceivable to them, because generations of use had proved its value.

That being said, it’s crucial for those who want a solution that really works, and not just a placebo, to be aware of how easy it is for the modern food industry to jump onboard these trends. Many companies appropriate traditional foods and medicines, brand them as “traditional,” and then pollute, process, and pasteurize all the real benefits away!

Why Fermented Noni is 14x Less Potent

A great example of this kind of watered-down traditional food is noni juice. As I mentioned above, noni fruit starts to ferment within hours of ripening. This makes it problematic for people who want to sell noni in places where it doesn’t grow naturally.

Most companies solve this problem by actually accelerating the fermentation process, in order to create a stable product which can then be pasteurized, packaged, and shipped around the world. This is how noni juice is made. But fermenting noni fruit is a fairly recent invention, one which strips away most of the beneficial compounds that made it so valuable to traditional Polynesians.

Traditionally, noni was eaten raw, like a ripe plum or tomato, and that’s the tradition we adhere to here at Hawaiian Organic Noni. We spent years developing our slow dehydration process that preserves all the beneficial vitamins, minerals, and enzymes found in the raw noni pulp, in the form of a raw Noni Fruit Leather that is safe and shelf-stable without the need for pasteurization.

Why are we so committed to raw noni pulp? First, because that’s what’s supported by thousands of years of traditional use! Secondly, it’s scientifically proven that our solution is more potent.

We sent samples of our Noni Fruit Leather and a leading brand of noni juice to an independent lab, where they verified that our Noni Fruit Leather is 14x more potent. We believe this is due to the following problems with the process of making noni juice:

  • Fermentation: Creates alcohol which destroys 50% of the beneficial compounds and enzymes
  • Pasteurization: Heat destroys enzymes, antioxidants, and other beneficial micronutrients
  • Dilution: Fermented noni tastes unpleasant, so it’s usually masked with fruit juice or sugar

You can learn more about the problems with noni juice by clicking here, and read about reasons to switch to raw noni here!

Fermentation is complex, and we don’t fully understand how fermented foods work in the body yet. For now, a good rule of thumb is to enjoy fermented foods that have been eaten by traditional societies for thousands of years: sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, tempeh, etc. But remember that pasteurized versions by no means have the same benefits.

For foods that have always traditionally been eaten raw, like noni, stick with a raw food version such as Hawaiian Organic Noni Fruit Leather!

Steve Frailey

About the Author: Steve Frailey

My wife and I (Steve Frailey) moved to Kauai, Hawaii in 1982 from our organic farm in California. There were no roads, electricity, water or buildings but lots of Noni trees (Morinda Citrifolia) in our valley. We also developed a deep relationship with Noni that was growing all through our valley.  Today we run our Hawaiian Organic Noni farm, and share the gift of health with people throughout the world.