Fermented foods are not new. Staples of our diets since prehistory, fermented foods reduced spoilage, added a flavorful zest to dishes and were suspected of enhancing health. All true, it turns out, thanks to the growth of microbes.
Yet countries emerging from poverty often forget about traditional foods in their rush to adopt a western diet. Unfortunately, these regions could benefit greatly as fermented foods could play a role in decreasing diarrhea of many origins in children, a deadly situation for many.
In South Africa, for example, “yogurt, amasi, mageu and ting” are widely used. But they are rarely given to infants and small children. Yogurt is fermented milk of course. The others:
- Amasi: fermented milk that tastes like cottage cheese and yogurt
- Mageu: non-alcoholic drink made from fermented maize
- Ting: fermented food made from sorghum flour
Researcher Paul K Chelule and colleagues asked caregivers in a rural community in Gauteng in South Africa about awareness and use of these products. In all, 33 were questioned. The results were published as “Caregivers’ Knowledge and Use of Fermented Foods for Infant and Young Children Feeding in a Rural Community of Odi, Gauteng Province, South Africa.”
Here are some of the findings:
- Source of knowledge about fermented foods came from parents, grandparents and other relatives. No one received it from health workers.
- Attitudes about fermented foods were varied. Some thought fermented foods were nutritious but only for adults. Some thought fermented foods could be harmful for children (weight loss, phlegm).
- Accurate preparation methods were inconsistent
These recipes will be lost to new generations who prefer the convenience and sweet taste of supermarket foods.
This small focus group is a prime example of what happens in a nutrition transition. As a country moves into economic stability, the diet changes from plant-based to more processed foods. Then the chronic diseases follow: diabetes and heart disease.
Public health ministries need to reinforce the value of grandma’s recipes. Educating health care workers in their nutritious content as well as the preparation and safety of fermented foods for their babies is a start.