06/02/2017 – Irish Scientists Investigate Health Properties of Fermented Foods

Irish Scientists located in University College Cork, have recently investigated the potential health benefits of fermented foods. 

The APC Microbiome Science Institute, funded by Science Foundation Ireland and located at University College Cork, is always at the forefront of groundbreaking research. Last week, in a news statement from this award winning University of the Year, it was announced that a team of Irish scientists including Dr Paul Cotter, Principal Investigator at the Institute and Head of Food Biosciences at Teagasc, was to feature in the first episode of a brand new BBC 2 series  ‘Trust Me I’m a Doctor.’ The programme set about investigating the question ‘What are fermented foods and which are best for improving our gut health?’


Dr Cotter’s group have previously used cutting-edge DNA analysis to characterise kefir, a reputed health-promoting dairy beverage, produced when a kefir grain containing many micro-organisms, is added to milk to initiate a natural fermentation. 

The group was able to determine how specific microbial populations dominate during different stages of the fermentation process, plus how the flavour of the fermented milk, which can have vinegary, buttery, or fruity tastes, is dictated by the genes encoded with these dominant species. 

Further analysis of kefir milks also revealed a vast amount of additional data relating to these micro-organisms, including the presence of genes considered important for probiotics. Which may explain the long held view that kefir has health-promoting properties. 

So that’s the scientific bit out of the way. In layman’s terms, scientists are discovering that fermented foods like Kefir can contain genes that are good for your gut!


Many different ancient races have used the traditional process of fermentation to preserve foods. In India, lassi is a common fermented pre-dinner drink. In Asia, pickled fermentations of cabbage, turnips and eggplant are popular. Kefir originated in northern Caucasus Mountains.

Sauerkraut is strongly associated with Germany. Other fermented foods include yoghurts, cheeses, and sourdough bread.

There’s a double whammy bonus to fermentation. The process makes otherwise quickly perishably ingredients last longer. It also promotes a variety of ‘good’ bacteria which, scientists say, if they can survive the journey to our gut, can be beneficial for our health. This will be no surprise to the earliest people who discovered fermentation and who believed foods preserved in this way had properties which could prolong life. 


We are blessed with a number of chefs in our network who thoroughly appreciate the art of fermentation! Here’s a clutch of them: 

Declan Ryan of Arbutus Breads has long been making his scrumptious sourdough bread from a mature fermented yeast culture made from organic grape must. Read about how Declan’s retirement hobby  turned into a business here.

Kevin Aherne of Sage Restaurant in Midleton is a keen forager of wild seasonal foods and a big promotor of fermentation. Our #12 mile chef likes to make the most of summer’s seasonal fresh produce, preserving the glut by means of fermentation for use in the colder months. Find out more about Kevin’s food ethos at Sage in our review.

Jp McMahon of Aniar is another chef whose menus often feature home fermented preserved ingredients which have been gathered from the Galway region during times of prolific growth. Come the winter, when there’s not much around, these preserved treasures will appear on the plates of diners at Aniar, reminding everyone of summer’s bounty. 

Book yourself a Michelin Star Experience with Aniar’s Ten Course Tasting Menu here. You’re bound to find some fermented foods featuring in your meal! Have a read of Aniar’s review here. 

Enda McEvoy of Michelin starred Loam in Galway loves to take one ingredient and see how many things he can create with it. It wouldn’t be unusual for one dish to be solely featuring carrots, for example. His creativity knows no bounds and what he can do with these most humble of Irish vegetables is, quite simply, amazing. Preserving methods like fermentation are often in use in his kitchen. Read more about the inquiring mind and never-ending inspiration of Enda McEvoy at Loam here.