Gardeners blessed with a bounty of cucumbers may want to consider pickling them, not only to extend their shelf-life, but to enjoy their health benefits.
Researchers at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and North Carolina State University (NCSU) recently found that a stable, naturally occurring, health-promoting compound called γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA), was generated through the fermentation of brined cucumbers. Previous research studies demonstrate that consumption of GABA from foods or supplements has positive health benefits like reducing blood pressure, improving decision making, reducing anxiety, and boosting immunity.
Researchers demonstrated that low-salt fermentation enhances GABA content in pickled cucumber products prepared for direct consumption. Also, fermenting them in lower salt brines and storing them in their original fermented juices increases the GABA levels.
"Fruits and vegetables are made up of thousands of unique molecules. These molecules rule the flavor, texture, and nutritional value, but it is difficult to study them in such complex systems.” said Suzanne Johanningsmeier, ARS Research Food Technologist. “To tackle this problem, we use advanced analytical chemistry techniques like mass spectrometry to study food molecules and figure out the best food processing methods for improved quality of fruit and vegetable products.”
Fermentation is a process that’s been known for years as a very powerful tool toward food preservation. Some other well-known foods where GABA content has been enhanced through fermentation are sourdough bread, soy sauce and dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and certain cheeses.
“Worldwide, people are interested in consuming fermented foods as part of a healthy lifestyle. Most often, we associate the healthfulness of fermented foods with probiotic microbes. But many fermented foods contain few to no microbes when consumed,” said Jennifer Fideler Moore, NCSU Graduate Research Assistant. “Our research shows that the health-promoting potential of lactic acid fermented cucumbers reaches far beyond the world of probiotics. This opens the door to more research into health-promoting compounds made during fermentation of fruits and vegetables.”
The research, recently published in the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis, also found that the health promoting compound GABA in pickled cucumbers did not break down during pasteurization and remained stable over at least 6-months storage time.