Superfood Spotlight: Fermented Foods

Consumers are going with their gut and upping their intake of these powerhouse picks

Fermented food, beverages and supplements are taking the market by storm as consumers learn more about what a boon fermented options are for wellbeing. And the trend is expected to continue gaining steam: The global fermented ingredients market is projected to grow at the rate of 8.7% during the forecast period 2018 to 2023 (1).

Yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut are familiar staples, but increasingly people are pouring themselves a glass of kombucha, a fermented green or black tea flavored with herbs and fruit. The sip is such a hit that 20% of households now purchase these drinks, according to data from SPINS, which also reports that the refrigerated kombucha and fermented beverage category has grown 31.4%.

For consumers who have an inkling of what fermented options have to offer but head over to their local natural products store to learn more, here’s the 101: Lacto-fermentation is the process in which lactic acid is created in foods after natural bacteria feed on sugar and starch. Fermentation has been shown to create beneficial enzymes and multiple strains of probiotic bacteria, plus fermented fare delivers fiber and prebiotics, which feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Researchers reporting in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology summarized several additional benefits of fermentation, writing: “It is well established that with traditional dietary patterns, fermentation can magnify protein quality and the bioavailabity of mood-regulating B vitamins, magnesium, and zinc. The effect of diet on intestinal microbiota may also extend to vitamin D levels. (2)”

The payoff of adding more of these foods to one’s diet can be significant. As researchers from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, noted in the December 2018 issue of the journal Nutrition Reviews, studies have linked fermented foods with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease, as well as with a better ability to maintain a healthy weight (3).

A cascade of additional benefits comes from the ability of fermented fare to support digestive health. A healthier bacterial balance in the gut in turn supports healthy digestion and can ease bothersome symptoms such as bloating, cramping, constipation and diarrhea. And since fermentation also helps nutrients consumed in the diet to be more easily absorbed and digested, that can in turn lead to feeling more energized and vital overall. As researchers explain in the December 2018 issue of the journal Food, fermented foods have been shown to positively effect gut health, and “our guts control and deal with every aspect of our health.” How we digest our food, they report, “is linked with our mood, behavior, energy, weight, food cravings, hormone balance, immunity, and overall wellness. (4)”

Additional science suggests that probiotics in fermented fare support a healthy inflammatory response, which is important because chronic inflammation has been linked in studies to depression and other mental health concerns. Indeed, research has shown that consuming a fermented beverage for just three weeks can significantly improve mood (2).

Expanding horizons
In addition to familiar classics like yogurt, fermented pickles and sauerkraut—as well as mega-trendy options like kombucha and kefir—your customers may be interested in sampling these fermented bites and beverages from your grocery section:

Miso: a fermented paste made from either barley, rice or soybean

Kimchi: fermented vegetables (commonly napa cabbage and daikon radish) flavored with additional spices

Tempeh: fermented soybeans formed into a firm, dense cake and featuring a strong, nutty flavor

Natto: made from fermented soybeans, with a stronger, bitter taste and different texture (it is stringy and sticky) compared to tempeh

Switchel: a beverage made from water mixed with vinegar and honey for flavor

Water kefir: a dairy-free beverage made from kefir grains and spices

Kvass: a fermented grain drink that is sometimes compared to a barely alcoholic beer

Fermented supplements, too!
While some experts debate which is more beneficial—fermented foods or probiotic supplements—natural products companies are stepping in with a third option that may offer the best of both worlds: fermented supplements. Ingredients are fermented and then blended together to be easily digestible and offer a plethora of nutrients. These products are said to be easier on the stomach, so they can be taken without food. They can also be a great option to offer customers who are prone to experiencing stomach troubles.

To help increase awareness of fermented supplements, consider placing shelf talkers by your fermented food display alerting consumers to the fermented offerings in your dietary supplement aisle—those who aren’t a fan of the foods may love the idea of a multivitamin or probiotic product fermented with beneficial bacteria and whole foods. WF

DIY it!

Adventurous foodies may be interested in fermenting their own foods and sampling the trend at home. You can offer kits to create cheeses, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, vegetables and more. Most kits include mason jars, spices and salt, the chosen ingredient and any tools needed, as well as recipe cards. Try putting these in a special section near your fermented foods. You could also craft together your own boxes to offer to customers and pass along handy info on how to sample different fermented foods. Two websites that are loaded with delicious (and easy!) ideas—everything from kefir water soda to fermented honey garlic to coffee kombucha and more: and For those interested in a cookbook, point them to The Cultured Cook: Delicious Fermented Foods with Probiotics to Knock Out Inflammation, Boost Gut Health, Lose Weight & Extend Your Life by Michelle Schoffro Cook Ph.D., DNM, or for kombucha fans, a book that scores rave reviews is The Big Book of Kombucha: Brewing, Flavoring, and Enjoying the Health Benefits of Fermented Tea by Hannah Crum and Alex LaGory. Cluing curious shoppers into these resources can help boost their interest in fermented fare—and have them coming back to you to stock up on ingredients!

Special bonus coverage!
The science of fermented

Fermented foods and beverages are a hot topic of research right now, with new findings shedding more light on the benefits and the mechanism of action. As Clare Fleishman, MS, R.D., who writes for the International Probiotics Association (IPA), notes, “In the 21st century, microbes are formally getting their due thanks to modern techniques and rigorous lab work that clearly show the benefits extending far beyond gut health.” That said, she adds, “Unfortunately, facts on the microbial makeup of many common fermented foods are limited. Further confusion arises regarding which numbers are best or even adequate when it comes to probiotics in fermented foods. Consumers hoping to take advantage of any benefits have few tools to help them make choices.” In the WholeFoods web exclusive Fermentation: Health in an Ancient Recipe on, Fleishman and the IPA sort through the science to help cut through consumer confusion.


  1. MarketWatch, “The Global Fermented Ingredients Market to 2023: Driven by the Growing Demand of Fermented Ingredients to Prompt the Process of Fermentation,”—-researchandmarketscom-2018-09-26
  2. Selhub, E.M., Logan,A.C., Bested, A.C.; Fermented foods, microbiota, and mental health: ancient practice meets nutritional psychiatry. Journal of Physiological Anthropology, An official journal of the Japan Society of Physiological Anthropology (JSPA)201433:2
  3. Car Reen Kok, Robert Hutkins; Yogurt and other fermented foods as sources of health-promoting bacteria. Nutrition Reviews, Volume 76, Issue Supplement_1, 1 December 2018, Pages 4–15,
  4. Bell V, Ferrão J, Pimentel L, Pintado M, Fernandes T. One Health, Fermented Foods, and Gut Microbiota. Foods. 2018; 7(12):195.