The aroma that makes you pinch your nose but lick your lips
If you haven’t yet forayed into fermented foods, then one thing might put you off it.
Fermented foods, almost by default, are kind of pongy, and if you’re reading this then you are probably wondering why. But just like with cheese, the best flavours are usually the ones that smell the worst!
Although bad smells from foods are usually a sign to stay away (or throw away!), as it normally signifies rotten food, intentionally fermented foods are a little different. They’re deliberately rotten. Or – kind of.
Intentional rotting is one way to look at fermented foods, but if you’re already sitting on the sauerkraut fence, thinking of the dish as decomposing is probably not going to help you. However, unlike intentionally rotten foods, fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, have been perfected over the years to create unique and delicious flavours, and a whole bunch of good gut bacteria for good measure! We just haven’t figured out how to fix the smell yet!
But where does that unique bouquet of scents come from? Many scientists have theorised that decomposing food has its distinct smell as a way for the microbes growing to survive - if they smell bad, they’re less likely to be eaten up! It’s not just the microbes producing that smell however. It’s also the food itself.
As with anything, food that is decomposing starts to go through changes, and chemicals are a massive part of this. But if you’ve ever taken school science, you’ll know that chemicals don’t usually smell great.
Even if we can all agree that the smell isn’t exactly Chanel No.5, if you’re eating the right fermented foods, then it means the taste is going to be amazing.
But are intentionally fermented foods actually rotten? Not really. Instead of them being left out in the sun and eaten by flies, fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, have been salted (to actually prevent them from spoiling), flavoured (to make them yummy), and stored in an anaerobic environment (AKA no oxygen, and no rotting). So really they’re quite different - even if they do smell similar.
Unfortunately, the iconic smell of fermented foods are part of what make them taste so great – Korean scientists are working hard to remove the smell from their delicious kimchi, but finding that all the flavour and fun gets removed too.
Fermented foods aren’t just tasty though, they are thought to have a whole wide range of health benefits that make enjoying them so much easier. If you’d like to know the different ways sauerkraut and kimchi are good for you, then our blog on bioavailability is a great place to start.
So next time you’re worried about the smell of your sauerkraut, just pinch your nose, open your mouth, and enjoy the unique taste of (not) rotten foods!