By Lauren Cox – Closer to Your Food

You have probably heard about yogurt being packed with probiotics or maybe you have seen commercials for gummy probiotics, but did you know some foods are naturally packed with them? In a nutshell, probiotics are live cultures that are beneficial for the microflora in the complex microbiomes of our bodies, most importantly the digestive tract. Modern American diets typically aren’t conducive to maintaining a good microflora balance in the gut, so this is why we see more and more people supplementing with probiotics to help alleviate different health issues. In more ancient diets, people consumed foods with naturally occurring microorganisms, and there are a few foods you might not know about that you can eat today to maintain a healthy microflora population in your gut.

Asian Influence

Fermentation is an ancient method of preserving food, letting microorganisms populate in food to make it last longer. Many Asian foods are fermented, and we see several of them readily available in today’s food culture:

Miso – Miso is a paste made from cooked fermenting soybeans mixed with barley or rice that typically comes in a red, yellow or dark variety. Miso is characterized as having an umami flavor, or that salty, rich unctuous flavor you find in savory dishes. Try adding miso to soups, marinades and sauces for its delicious flavor.

Natto – Natto is essentially fermented soybeans that have high levels of natural cultures. They are chewy in consistency with a stringy, gooey film. Many people are turned off by natto at first because of its pungent smell, but it is actually delicious in flavor. Try it with a little bit of cooked rice and soy sauce, or in sushi or salads at Japanese restaurants.

Kimchi – You can think about kimchi as the Korean version of sauerkraut. It is fermented and pickled cabbage with different spices such as garlic and chiles. If you buy a shelf-stable variety, it has most likely been heat-treated so look for the kind you have to refrigerate. Better yet, try making your own at home!

Raw Milk and Aged Cheeses

Cheeses aged and made with unpasteurized raw milk are great sources of probiotics. The fatty environment of the milk gives the cultures a perfect little environment to survive. Try incorporating them into your diet. People who are immunocompromised or infants should avoid raw milk, however, because some microorganisms may be harmful to their fragile systems.

Cultured Dairy

Many of us know that yogurt is a good source of probiotics, but be wary of the quality and sugar content. The best cultures come from grass-fed organic milk, but if you are sensitive to cow’s milk, try a goat’s milk or maybe even coconut milk variety. Look out for sugar too, as many big brand yogurts are packed with sugar because of added sweeteners, fruit and flavoring. Try buying plain yogurt and add a little good quality honey or fresh fruit for natural sweetness. Yogurt can be expensive too, so try making your own if you and your family eat a fair amount. It is extremely easy, but just takes some time.

Look for other cultured high-quality dairy products such as kefir, a more drinkable liquid cousin of yogurt. Buttermilk is an excellent source of cultures as well. If you have ever made your own butter, you get buttermilk as a byproduct and it is great to have in the fridge for dressings, marinades and baking. Cultured soft cheese like cottage cheese is another great source.


Many beverages are actually fermented and contain live cultures. Recent studies show that wine may contain beneficial bacteria that can survive in the human digestive tract. Easier alternatives include kombucha (a fizzy fermented beverage), water kefir, and lacto-fermented soda and tea. Typically these drinks will be fizzy and/or have a slight vinegar taste.

Real Deal Sourdough Bread

Bread is one of the earliest recorded means of fermentation. Somewhere along the line, someone left a bowl of ground wheat flour out that got wet. It was left to sit and started accumulating naturally-occurring yeast. Real sourdough bread made with a mother starter and high-quality stone ground flour has high levels of naturally-occurring beneficial organisms. This is what gives the bread that yummy signature sour taste. Just be wary of brands that add yeast. You want to find small batch artisan bakers that use old mother starters for their bread.

Fermentation is an essential component to food for human beings. In most cases it developed out of mistakes, but has become essential to preserving and improving food, all thanks to those little organisms. So you may already know that having probiotics is important for your health, but really they are essential. If you cannot remember to take a daily probiotic, simply incorporate some of these foods or any fermented food into your daily routine for optimal vitality and digestive health.

Closer to Your Food is a wellness blog focused on eating and cooking for health and sustainability with recipes and lifestyle tips formulated around a plant-based diet and home-grown local foods. Chef Lauren Cox holds a B.A. from the le Cordon Bleu in Culinary Management with over 8 years of fine dining experience in private dining, catering and Michelan star restaurants. For more information, please visit and follow Closer to Your Food on Twitter and Facebook @Closer2YourFood. 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.