Preserving ancient practice of fermentation

University of New England

When Elva Eddasdottir looks back on her childhood, she fondly recalls where her love of fermentation began.

“My grandparents brewed, pickled, and fermented a lot,” she says. “There was always something brewing in my grandfather’s shed! I remember he’d always say, ‘drink your sour milk- it’s good for you’.”

Now a Master of Scientific Studies student at the University of New England (UNE), Elva is putting her grandfather’s theory to the test.

For her research project, she’s studying the gut microbiome of people who regularly consume traditionally fermented products to see if there are any major benefits or differences when compared to those who don’t.

To start the process, she’s surveying members of Living History groups across Australia about their eating habits.

“Food preparation processes, such as fermentation methods, are commonly replicated by Living History practitioners during educational events and at open air museums,” says Elva. “Many practitioners have an excellent knowledge about the practices of the time period they represent and anecdotal evidence suggests that they carry this knowledge into their ‘regular’ lives and make traditional fermented foods and beverages part of their diet.”

Elva, who is a member of a Living History group herself, explains that the process of fermentation began as a way to preserve large amounts of food, and through this, people discovered it could also improve the taste, texture and health benefits of some ingredients.

Through her research, Elva hopes to reignite a widespread love of fermented products and bring awareness to the benefits they can have on our gut microbiome.

“Research has shown that fermented foods may contain microorganisms and/or their metabolites which can affect physiological processes and have positive implications on human health,” she says. “There is also evidence that the microbiome of traditionally fermented products differs from commercial products in terms of abundance, diversity, and microbial metabolites. Because of this, it would be interesting to find out if the gut microbiome of people who consume traditionally fermented foods differs from the microbiome of people who do not.”

As a mother, Elva says she’s grateful for the flexibility that UNE provides, as without the option to study online, her research project would have been merely a pipe-dream.

“Online learning gives so many people access to education who would otherwise miss out on the opportunity,” she says. “I have had an excellent experience as an online postgraduate student at UNE and it is no accident that UNE receives five stars for the quality of student experience. UNE is blessed with outstanding teaching staff who are not only fantastic at teaching in their specialty but are also supportive and understanding.”

If you are a Living History practitioner, you can participate in Elva’s survey here.

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