10 Lesser-Known Fermented Foods

Fermented foods are celebrated for their unique flavours and impressive health benefits. While the famous 4Ks—Kimchi, Kombucha, Kefir, and Sauerkraut—are well-known, many other fermented foods deserve recognition. Here’s a deeper dive into ten lesser-known but fascinating fermented foods from around the globe.

1. Natto (Japan) Natto, a staple in Japanese cuisine, is made by fermenting soybeans with Bacillus subtilis. It's recognised for its strong, cheese-like flavour and sticky texture. Natto is incredibly nutritious, loaded with protein, vitamin K2, and probiotics that enhance gut health. Traditionally served with soy sauce, mustard, and spring onions over hot rice, Natto supports cardiovascular health and bone density.

Natto Bowl 


2. Doubanjiang (China) The heart of Sichuan cuisine, is a spicy, salty paste crafted from fermented broad beans, soybeans, and various spices. This condiment undergoes a fermentation process that can last several months to years, deepening its flavour complexity. It's essential for adding umami and heat to dishes, notably in classics like Mapo Tofu and Sichuan chicken.

3. Bagoong (Philippines)
Bagoong is a Filipino fermented seafood product, typically made from small fish or krill. This potent condiment is integral to Filipino cuisine, used to flavour many dishes or as a dipping sauce. It’s known for its strong, salty flavour and is often paired with green mangoes or used as a base in the popular dish, Pakbet (vegetable stew).

Ginisang Bagoong Ang Sarap

Ginisang Bagoong. Photo courtesy of Ang Sarap


4. Sumbala (West Africa) Sumbala, or soumbala, is a seasoning made from the fermented seeds of the néré tree, common in West African cooking. It has a rich, savoury flavour and is often used in soups and stews, similar to bouillon cubes in Western cooking. Sumbala is noted for its nutritional benefits, including providing protein and enhancing the aroma and taste of food.

5. Fermented Bamboo Shoots (Northeast India) In Northeast India, fermented bamboo shoots known as khorisa are used as a flavouring agent. These shoots are fermented to develop a tangy, slightly sour flavour and are commonly added to curries and chutneys. They are appreciated for their ability to enhance digestion and add a distinct taste to traditional dishes.

6. Hausa Koko (Ghana) Hausa Koko is a popular breakfast porridge in Ghana, made from fermented millet or sorghum flour. The fermentation adds a slightly sour flavour to the porridge, which is typically served hot with sugar and milk. This dish is often enjoyed with spicy fried bean cakes (Koose) or doughnuts, providing a filling and nutritious start to the day. 

Hausa Koko Julia Hartbeck The Spruce Eats.
Hausa Koko. Photo by Julia Hartbeck, courtesy of The Spruce Eats.


7. Surströmming (Sweden) Surströmming is a traditional Swedish dish made from Baltic herring that is fermented for several months. Known for its strong aroma and pronounced taste, it is typically served with thin flatbreads, sliced potatoes, and a dollop of sour cream. This method of preserving herring has been part of Swedish cuisine since at least the 16th century.

8. Salgam (Turkey) Though primarily a drink, Salgam is thick and full of fermented chunks of black carrot, turnip, and spices, offering a food-like experience. This traditional Turkish beverage is celebrated for its benefits to digestive health and its distinctive spicy and sour flavour. It is commonly served cold alongside kebabs and other rich, meaty dishes.

Salgam Fotolia the Spruce Eats

Salgam. Photo by Fotolia, courtesy of The Spruce Eats

9. Puto (Philippines) Puto is a Filipino steamed cake that's slightly sweet and made from fermented rice dough. This popular snack is fluffy, moist, and can be enjoyed on its own or with savoury dishes. Puto is often coloured and flavoured with pandan, ube, or cheese, making it a versatile component in Filipino feasts and everyday meals.

10. Gari (Japan) Gari, the sweet, pickled ginger served alongside sushi, is lightly fermented to enhance its flavour and preserve its fresh, spicy kick. This ginger is typically sliced thin, marinated in a solution of sugar and vinegar, and used to cleanse the palate between different types of sushi, offering a perfect blend of sweet and tangy notes.

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