Superfood Bacteria? 5 Probiotic Foods from Around the World

Letting the little things bug you—at least, the right little things—could lead to better health and a longer life.

Due to fermentation, probiotics contain friendly bacteria that break down carbs and sugars, making your food easier to digest. These invisible bugs also battle the not-so-harmless bacteria in your gut to keep them from growing unchecked. Worldwide studies of probiotic foods suggest numerous benefits.

The following probiotic foods pack an especially powerful punch. Don’t let your inability to pronounce them keeping you from eating them!


Popeye loved his spinach, and Genghis Khan loved his sauerkraut. In fact, the dreaded invader introduced the fermented cabbage to Europe. Some thousand years prior to that, sauerkraut is mentioned in the writings of great Roman thinkers like Cato. It seems that sauerkraut has a longer shelf life than anyone thought.

Sauerkraut produces microbes that boost the growth of other bowel flora to fight disease in the digestive tract. Having virtually no fat, sauerkraut is rich in fiber, enzymes, vitamin C and iron. For centuries, Europeans have used it to treat ulcers and other irritants.

Like other probiotics, sauerkraut should be eaten uncooked or very minimally processed. Heat and processing kills most beneficial microorganisms.


It is estimated that every South Korean consumes 40 pounds of kimchi each year, so not surprisingly, it’s the national dish. During the Viet Nam conflict, it was considered vital to Korean soldiers’ energy and morale.

Kimchi is a spicy, sour-tasting side dish made of fermented vegetables. Recipes may include highly seasoned radishes, scallions, onions, garlic or cucumber. Hot peppers give kimchi the bite that people crave. It has high fiber content, and just one cup contains 50 percent of the recommended daily amount of vitamin C.

Kimchi is praised for preventing obesity, chronic constipation, high cholesterol and some cancers. It also strengthens the immune system and boosts brainpower.


This fermented soybean dish hails from Japan, where it’s commonly served with soy sauce at breakfast alongside rice. It has a distinct, pungent smell and unusual flavor. The fermentation process produces a powerful enzyme called nattokinase, which breaks down a protein called fibrin. Left undigested, fibrin can cause poor circulation, heart attack or stroke. Natto also gets high marks for warding off osteoporosis and preventing blood clots.

Store-bought natto may include a sauce of some kind. Don’t use it; it’s likely to contain high-fructose corn syrup or other unhealthy ingredients.


Tempeh originated in Indonesia centuries ago. In the East, most tempeh is soybean-based. Western tempeh is sometimes made from whole grains, vegetables or other legumes. To make tempeh, a yeasty starter culture is added to cooked soybeans. Over a day or two of fermentation, a fungus forms to bind the soybeans tightly together, resulting in a chewy, patty-shaped food.

Despite its unfortunate name—rhizopus oligosporus—the fungus produces a remarkable antibiotic that fights dangerous bacteria, like staph. The natural antibiotic is heat-resistant, so tempeh may be quickly boiled or stir-fried to tone down its strong taste. It’s a great source of estrogen; many swear by tempeh for relieving menopausal discomfort and strengthening bones.


Kvass is a lacto-fermented concoction that has been around since the Slavs invented it in the 10th century. It’s been a popular drink throughout Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries since at least the Middle Ages, and kvass production is now a multi-million dollar industry. Containing less than 1.2 percent alcohol, it’s widely sold by street vendors and children operating the equivalent of lemonade stands. It’s also a tangy base for vinaigrette and summer soups.

Traditional kvass starts with stale rye bread soaked in water. Yeast is added for fermentation, and enthusiasts flavor the drink with mint, honey, lemons, strawberries or raisins. The resulting acid lowers the pH to a level capable of killing bacteria. Kvass, especially the beet-based variety, cleanses the liver, helps prevent kidney stones, alkalizes the blood and builds up the immune system. It is full of enzymes for aiding digestion.

Kvass sold in stores, containing sugar and additives, is a far cry from the real thing. Newer manufacturers have rallied for a return to healthier, more authentic recipes.

Probiotics can make a remarkable difference in your life. Don’t be afraid to get bugged and get healthy.

About the Author Jessica

After growing up a perpetually pudgy kid, Jessica discovered real food - and her waistline shortly afterward. When she's not crafting concoctions in the kitchen, she spends her free time writing about food, making her own deodorant, watching sci-fi, doing headstands, and looking for gluten free food that doesn't suck.

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