Probiotic foods – What foods have probiotics?

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What are probiotic foods?

Probiotic foods promote your health naturally by containing probiotics which are live bacterial cultures. Researchers are currently exploring their ability to help improve symptoms of various diseases and chronic conditions. However, not only sick people can benefit from consuming probiotic foods, but also people generally interested in their wellbeing and maintaining a healthy body. Fermented foods and drinks have the highest probiotic concentration.  They get their nice taste, consistency, digestibility and shelf life by adding bacteria and enzymes. However, if compared to probiotic supplements, probiotic foods just contain small amounts of the beneficial bacteria and most of these will be killed by stomach acid.

Probiotic food list: What foods have probiotics?

Many foods contain probiotics. However, since it is a long tradition in Asia to ferment foods, many probiotic foods are Asian fruits and vegetables. The following probiotic foods list includes an overview of foods and drinks with bacterial cultures:

Probiotic food Included microorganisms
Brined olives Lactobacillus plantarum

Lactobacillus brevis

Lactobacillus pentosus

Pediococcus cerevisiae

Lactobacillus mesenteroides

Cashew cheese Saccharomyces
Gundruk Pediococcus and Lactobacillus spp.
Kefir Lactobacillus acidophilus

Bifidobacterium bifidum

Streptococcus thermophilus

Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus

Lactobacillus helveticus

Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens

Lactococcus lactis

Leuconostoc species

Yeast (e.g. Saccharomyces and Kluyveromyces)

Kimchi Leuconostoc mesenteroides

Lactobacillus brevis

Lactobacillus plantarum

Lactobacillus sakei

Kombucha Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY)

Gluconacetobacter xylinus

Saccharomyces and other yeasts

Miso Aspergillus oryzae (Koji)

Bacillus subtilis

B. amyloliquefaciens

Natto B. subtilis var. natto
Pickled cucumber (Gherkins, Cornichon) Lactobacillus plantarum

Lactobacillus brevis

Salami Lactobacillus plantarum

Lactobacillus paracasei

Sauerkraut Lactobacillus mesenteroides

Lactobacillus plantarum

Lactobacillus brevis

Lactobacillus rhamnosus

Lactobacillus plantarum

Sayur asin Lactobacillus mesenteroides

Lactobacillus confuses

Lactobacillus plantarum

Pediococcus pentosaceus

Tempeh Rhizopus oligosporus

Rhizopus oryzae

Yogurt St. thermophilus

Lactobacillus delbrueckii ssp. bulgaricus

Brined olives

If you like Spanish or Italian cooking, you probably know brined olives. They are usually either pickled in salt water or vinegar and contain up to five different probiotic strains depending on the preparation.

Cashew cheese

Are you looking for a dairy-free cheese alternative? Here you go. Cashew cheese is vegan and can have different consistencies varying from spreadable to sliceable, depending on the recipe. Most recipes include salt, pepper, garlic and lemon juice which makes this probiotic food very tasty.


Gundruk is mainly consumed in Nepal, India and in the Himalayan region. It is a simple dish with only four ingredients: cabbage, radish, mustard and cauliflower. For quality Gundruk, you take both the leaves and the roots and ferment them for about a week. It is a side dish or appetizer. Similar to kimchi or sauerkraut, it has an acidic taste.


Originating in the Caucasus region, Kefir is a fermented milk drink with a sour taste similar to yogurt, but with a thinner drinkable consistency. It can be made from cow, goat or sheep milk which is inoculated with kefir grains. Kefir grains is a fermentation starter with yeast and bacteria which make the kefir probiotic.


Kimchi is a very traditional Korean side dish which is practically part of every meal. Each Korean region has its own recipe with different ingredients and preparation. However, commonly included are beachu (Chinese cabbage) and radish. Furthermore, various seasonings like garlic, green onion and chilli powder give Kimchi its aromatic flavor.


Kombucha is a Chinese fermented drink which has been around for more than 2,000 years. It is produced by fermenting green or black tea which is mixed with bacteria and yeast. Thus, Kombucha has a high concentration of probiotics, but also contains a lot of sugar to improve the otherwise unpleasant taste.


Miso is a traditional Japanese spice which you can use for many dishes, for example the miso soup. It consists of soybeans, brown rice or barley which is you ferment by adding koji. Koji is a fungus called Aspergillus oryzae.


Another probiotic food is natto.The Japanese food is made from fermenting soybeans with Bacillus subtilis var. natto. The strong flavor and smell, paired with the slimy texture, can make the food slightly unappealing, but once you get used to it, you can enjoy a gut-friendly and healthy food.

Pickled cucumber

Various forms of pickled cucumbers, also called gherkins and cornichons, have been created in different parts of the world, including Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. Depending on the region people pickle the cucumbers either in vinegar or salty brine.


Originally, salami comes from southern and central European countries where people dried and fermented meat to bridge times with low supply of meat. Hence, salami is a cured sausage which consists of air-dried and fermented beef, pork or horse. Typical ingredients include minced fat, garlic, salt, spices, herbs and vinegar. In some regions people smoke salami – in earlier days for preservation, today mostly for flavor.


The production of sauerkraut, a cabbage side dish from Germany and Eastern Europe, just needs two ingredients: cabbage and salt. Thinly sliced cabbage is mixed with salt and left to ferment. Due to the lactic acid bacteria fermenting the sugar in the cabbage, sauerkraut has a sour taste and long shelf life.

Sayur asin

Sayur asin is an Indonesian dish consisting of fermented mustard cabbage. It is similar to sauerkraut, except that you mix the cabbage in sayur assin not only with salt, but also with the liquid from boiled rice.


Tempeh originated in today’s Indonesia and is now worldwide a meat substitute in vegetarian cuisine. The main ingredient is whole soybeans which you need to soak and cook. Afterwards you mix them with a mild vinegar and a starter culture of fungus Rhizopus oligosporus and Rhizopus oryzae. The final tempeh, after fermentation of 24 to 36 hours, has an earthy aroma and a firm texture.


Most commonly yogurt is made with cow’s milk, but in some regions milk from goats, camels, mares or ewes is also used. First,  you heat the milk to denature the protein, then you cool and mix it with bacterial culture. The fermentation then takes between four to twelve hours.

Are probiotic foods a new phenomenon?

Quite the contrary, more than 2000 years ago our ancestors fermented foods to be able to store them for a longer period. Back then, they did not know that fermenting enriches foods with valuable probiotics. Even in the the Old Testament it is mentioned that Abraham consumed sour milk (curds) into his old age. In the year 76 BC, the ancient Roman historian Plinius also recommended to take fermented milk against an upset stomach. Hence, probiotic foods are not a new phenomenon.

How do you make probiotic foods?

During the fermentation of fruits and vegetables carbohydrates are converted into acids or alcohol. Usually, it is a lactic fermentation with lactic acid bacteria (lactobacilli). When you want to make your own probiotic foods, you need to go through the following steps:

  1. First of all, get your equipment ready. You need a knife or shredder to slice, shred or chop your fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, you need a vessel for the brine and a big bowl so that you can mix the foods with the brine. For fermentation and storage you also require several mason jars with a wide mouth for easier filling. 
  2. You probably know yourself best, including food preferences and allergies, so pick your favourite recipe and buy the fruits and vegetables accordingly.
  3. Then wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly to remove bacteria and pesticide residues. Do not forget to clean your mason jars as well. Undesired bacteria can make the final probiotic food grow mold and go bad.
  4. Now chop, slice or shred your fruits and vegetables.
  5. Afterwards, prepare the brine – with salt, whey or a starter culture – based on your chosen recipe.
  6. Mix your foods with the brine. Make sure to cover all bits and pieces.
  7. Then fill your mix into the mason jars. Close the lids, but not too tight so that gases resulting from the fermentation can escape when the pressure gets too high.
  8. Let the foods ferment at room temperature for one or two weeks so that the enzymes and bacteria can do their work. You should find guidelines on how long the foods need to ferment in the recipe.
  9. Finally, check your fermented foods for mold or bad odors before moving them to cold storage.

What should I look for when buying probiotic foods?

If you do not have enough time to prepare your own probiotic foods, you can also buy them at the supermarket. However, you should be aware that commercial foods can often lack probiotics as manufacturers preserve them, for example through strong heating. This destroys the contained living bacterial cultures. Moreover, probiotic foods sold at supermarkets often contain additional sugar and additives which you should look for when you want to eat health-consciously.

Probiotic foods vs. probiotic supplements: What’s better?

Probiotic foods contain probiotics naturally. However, probiotic supplements are commercially produced. They are available as capsules, gummies or (yogurt) drinks. However, despite being natural, probiotic foods are not necessarily better. It is not clear whether the foods always contain the mentioned probiotic strains and in a concentration which is high enough to have a beneficial effect. In addition, researchers have to prove that the probiotics in foods survive the gastric acid and thus reach the gut. Both is required for the probiotics to colonize. With probiotic supplements on the other hand, manufacturers are able to produce capsules which withstand enzymes and gastric acid long enough to reach the gut. Besides, they can also ensure to exclude allergens and that the concentration, given in CFU (colony forming units), is high enough. Additionally, producers can combine strains individually to create a customized supplement.


Schrezenmeir, J. and de Vrese, M., 2001. Probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics—approaching a definition. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 73(2), pp.361s-364s.

Leite, A.M.D.O., Miguel, M.A.L., Peixoto, R.S., Rosado, A.S., Silva, J.T. and Paschoalin, V.M.F., 2013. Microbiological, technological and therapeutic properties of kefir: a natural probiotic beverage. Brazilian Journal of Microbiology, 44(2), pp.341-349.

Swain, M.R., Anandharaj, M., Ray, R.C. and Parveen Rani, R., 2014. Fermented fruits and vegetables of Asia: a potential source of probiotics. Biotechnology research international, 2014

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