This study compared the content of several essential micronutrients (calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin A in the carotenoid beta-carotene form) as well as lactic acid bacteria in both organic and conventional fermented foods and beverages to determine which ones offer you (and your gut) a better health bang for your buck.
Specifically, the researchers measured levels of these vitamins, minerals, and lactic acid bacteria in the following plant- and animal-sourced items: pickled beet and carrot juices, pickled cucumbers, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, and buttermilk.
As for the answer? Well, “research results do not clearly indicate which production system-conventional or organic-provides higher levels of bioactive substances in fermented food,” the study states. “However, it should be emphasized that the lactic acid bacteria number and their bacteriocinogenic potential was higher in most organic products.”
So, what does that mean? While the results were…uh…semi-ambiguous (mixed), a few clear trends emerged. Firstly, the analyses revealed that good bacteria (those lactic acid ones) were higher in organic sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, and pickled carrot juice compared to their conventional (i.e., not organic) counterparts. Meanwhile, conventional pickled cucumbers and pickled beet juice netted higher levels of these beneficial bacteria when compared side-by-side with organic versions.
These findings are notable because lactic acid bacteria (e.g., Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces species being the most famous) have helpful probiotic properties and actions in the body.
What’s more, the organic fermented vegetables (pickled cucumbers and sauerkraut) were found to contain slightly more (albeit statistically significant) vitamin C, and calcium was higher in organic yogurt compared to conventional.
By way of example and to put the magnitude of these nutritional differences into perspective: Conventional yogurt was shown to contain approximately 154 milligrams of the calcium mineral per 100 grams of yogurt, while the organic yogurt boasted a bit more (166 milligrams).
Additional findings? Glad you asked: In the organic pickled beet juice, there was five times less beta-carotene (aka vitamin A) compared to the conventional juice. The researchers note that “the quality of organic food is not always better than conventional food,” due to factors like production technology, chemical composition of the raw material, and storage conditions.
All in all, this emerging research on the nutritional and probiotic features of a select number (important point: this is not an exhaustive list of fermented foods nor nutrients analyzed by any means) organic vs. conventional foods and beverages is somewhat mixed, but still insightful.
Shopping organic (if that’s an accessible option for you) appears to have advantages for certain items. If we hone in on lactic acid bacterial potential alone, it appears organic organic sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, and pickled carrot juice as well as conventional pickled cucumbers and pickled beet juice are the winners.