Probiotic Foods: 2008 Update
Part VI: Foods Containing Probiotics, Prebiotics Or Both ~ Fermented Vegetables & Miso
This is Part VI of an ten-part article. Use the article index below to click among the pages. In this section, we take a look at brands of fermented vegetables (like sauerkraut and pickles) and miso products that have probiotic, prebiotic and/or synbiotic benefits. Some of these products have only regional distribution. If they aren’t available in your area, you can ask your retailer to bring them in.
As discussed in last year’s article, not all fermented vegetables are the same. Most commercially-available brands have been pasteurized to allow for easier transport and shelf stability. But pasteurization destroys any probiotics within the vegetables. So, too, does the use of sodium benzoate, a common preservative. The unpasteurized brands mentioned last year (Rejuvenative Foods, Bubbie’s, Wills Valley) are still around, but they have more and more competition.
Miso, pronounced “mee-so,” is a fermented seasoning paste of soybeans, often with rice or barley added, used to flavor soups and sauces. High in protein, it originated in Japan around 1720 to 1730. It is fermented in a process that is quite complicated (see an excellent flow chart describing this process).
Traditional, unpasteurized miso is fermented for a period of time, ranging from three months to three years. Lighter, sweeter miso is fermented for a shorter time than the darker, saltier, more savory type. South River Miso produces unpasteurized, organic misos made from soybeans and/or brown rice plus adzuki beans, barley, chickpeas, dandelion/leek and millet.
Miso is often cited as a food containing probiotics. It is said to contain multiple strains of Lactobacillus, but I have been unable to find anything specific on this subject. Christian Elwell, president and owner of South River Miso, says that he has tried to have laboratory assays done on his products, but adds that miso is not easy to analyze due to its salt content and complex fermentation. The labs Mr. Elwell contacted did not have protocols in place for analyzing foods like miso, standard protocols did not work, and this small company cannot currently afford to develop protocols of its own.
Dr. Alejandro Rooney, Curator of Bacteria at the National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research, believes that “there are more questions than answers regarding the composition of strains that go into the fermentation,” adding that there isn’t much information on this subject in the public arena “because so few academic and government scientists work on miso strain characterization.” Quantity used will likely be a factor in levels of probiotics ingested with this product, as a standard serving is no more than two to three teaspoons, according to William Shurtleff of the SoyInfo Center in California.
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