“As I always say, fermentation is good for the gut and good for the globe,” says Ky Guse of GYST Fermentation Bar.
Ky and her sister Mel founded GYST as a way to bring people together and spread the good news about lacto-fermented foods. For five years, their south Minneapolis bar has served only fermented foods and drinks—kombucha, wine, cheeses, cured meats, pickles—with tastings and workshops on how to ferment.
But the sisters recently shared some news—they were discontinuing regular restaurant hours and moving down the street to 16 1/2 W. 26th St. That'll help them focus on those events and let Ky concentrate on her research: She took GYST’s mission a step further this past fall, when she teamed up with Dr. Andres Gomez at the University of Minnesota’s Animal Science and Food Science and Nutrition Departments. Together, Guse and Gomez are conducting a pilot study to gauge the health benefits of consistent consumption of lacto-fermented foods.
At their first meeting, GYST's co-founder learned more about Gomez’s research into the gut microbiomes of BaAka hunter-gatherers and the Bantu tribe as well as gorillas and other primates. She had to learn more.
"I had always wanted to test our vegetable ferments to understand more about the bacteria, yeast, and other microbes in them,” she explains. “I always wondered: Does the health of the soil produce more beneficial microbes after the fermentation process?"
She had other questions, too: "What differences do we find between organic produce that has been fermented vs. conventional produce ferments? Is there a significant difference? What about the vegetables themselves? Do carrots produce more of one type of beneficial bacteria that cabbage does not?”
Armed with her curiosity, she and Gomez shaped a pilot study, which sought participants who eat lacto-fermented foods every day (and who were willing to provide a stool sample for study).
Fermented foods are an area ripe for investigation; Guse and Gomez were motivated to dig in deeper because so few have been conducted with regards to the soil health where the vegetable was grown. Which is weird, considering how long humans have been eating fermented foods—pretty much forever.
(A quick nerdy note: lacto-fermented is different than fermented. Lacto-fermented foods contain lactic acid: sauerkraut, kimchi, etc. Other fermented products like beer, bread, and wine are created with yeast fermentation. There’s also acetic, mold, and symbiotic fermentation... we won't even get into that.)
Not only does fermentation extend the shelf life of certain foods—preserving otherwise quickly spoiled dairy, meat, and produce for consumption in later, leaner times—but “the process also makes fiber more digestible in the gut and releases vitamins, enzymes and minerals not available in the unmodified form," Guse says. "Importantly, lacto-fermented vegetables are also a source of live microbes with probiotic potential."
Though studies on lacto-fermented foods and their effects on human health are scarce, knowledge of the importance of gut health isn’t. Guse points out how intelligent our guts are: They have to sift through what we eat and recognize nutrients alongside potential toxins, accepting or rejecting them accordingly. Diet affects the bacteria in our guts, and studies have shown that certain diets tend to lead to stronger gut health than others.
But gut health is very individualized and influenced by a variety of factors, all things the pilot study attempted to capture. “Scientifically, we don’t really know what little miracles are happening in lacto-ferments,” Guse says. “Now, we have the tools to find out, which will hopefully open more doors about how to treat dis-ease in the body.”
Not only are lacto-fermented foods good for your gut, they’re good for your community. Supporting local makers of fermented foods, buying local produce to ferment at home, or attending a workshop on fermented foods bolsters the local economy.
Plus, what’s not to love about kimchi, fresh bread, and craft cider? Did you know 90 percent of serotonin, the neurotransmitter that conveys feelings of happiness, is created in your gut? Fermented foods: good for your stomach, the community, and your well-being.
If you’d like to participate in Guse and Gomez’s study, they’re currently recruiting healthy participants (between the ages of 20 and 50), both people who regularly consume lacto-fermented vegetables and never do. Participants must complete a detailed three-day food journal, as well as a stool sample. (They provide the kit.) All participants will receive their own gut microbiome profile after analysis is complete. For more information and to determine eligibility email Ky: [email protected].