The Oneness of Fermentation

A New York article about the suicide of a Dalton student contains this interesting observation. The dead boy

left filthy socks (which smelled, a cousin said, like kimchi) on his pillow

From which I conclude not only that kimchi is a good source of bacteria (“fermented foods” is a vague category — fermented for how long? — that might contain poor sources of bacteria) but also that our olfactory systems are good at detecting bacteria or more precisely bacterial byproducts. (Kimchi and used socks involve vastly different bacteria but are lumped together.) We don’t use smell to avoid predators or find food. We use vision and hearing for that. Maybe we use smell mainly to decide what to eat — to decide what contains calories (by learning smell-calorie associations, the basis of the Shangri-La Diet) and, as this observation suggests, what contains bacteria.

Mark Frauenfelder says that fermenting foods (yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha) makes him happy.

4 Replies to “The Oneness of Fermentation”

  1. Mark refers to fermentation as making him happy in the context of making things. This is different from your discussion about possible mental effects of fermented food due to a dietary effect. He also says that painting makes him happy. This isn’t really evidence for anything other than Mark thinking home projects are fun, which is not surpising or uncommon.

  2. Jeff R, you write: “possible mental effects of fermentation . . . due to a dietary effect”? I don’t know what you’re talking about.

    You can take Mark Frauenfelder’s comments about fermentation to just be “thinking home projects are fun.” Maybe that’s all he meant. But I think the health benefits of fermented foods put making them in an entirely different class from building a bird feeder. Making fermented foods is also much easier than conventional home projects.

  3. Seth, I’m glad that you linked to Gretchen Rubin’s blog (“The Happiness Project”). Although she doesn’t explicitly use the term “self experimentation”, that’s exactly the approach that she used to determine ways to boost her own happiness. See also her book, which I enjoyed very much. She describes her book this way: “My book, THE HAPPINESS PROJECT, is a memoir of the year I spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy–from Aristotle to Martin Seligman to Thoreau to Oprah.”

  4. Seth, you’ve talked a lot about the health benefits of fermentation, but I don’t think you’ve discussed the role that vitamin K-2 may play. (The only mention of K-2 on your blog appears to be here:

    (The mk-7 form of K-2 is created by fermentation, particularly in stinky cheeses and in Japanese natto. And other forms of K-2, particularly mk-4, may be as important.)

    K-2 is crucial in the human body, because it activates a compound which the body uses to move calcium where the body needs it (the skeleton and teeth) and away from where it is a health hazard (the organs and the lining of the arteries.)

    The additional K-2 Europeans get by eating more (esp. stinky) cheese may account for part or all of the “European paradox.”

    some links:

    In mice, high-dose K-2 _regresses_ arterial calcium deposits by 50% in six weeks (!) :

    Damaged teeth can heal themselves with K-2 (with D3) [in the absence of the standard Western diet]:

    More on K-2:

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