No matter who you are or where you live, you’ve almost certainly eaten something fermented. Humans have been processing food this way for at least 10,000 years in cuisines on every populated continent. Microbes like bacteria and fungi flourish when feeding off carbohydrates, turning sugars into a wealth of new chemicals like the carbon dioxide in breads, ethanol in alcoholic drinks, and lactic acid in dairy.
The resulting foods have qualities ideal for human sustenance: prolonged shelf life, better digestibility, and enriched nutritional and flavor profiles. The buffet above represents just a sampling of the treats our species brines, brews, cures, and cultures around the world.
This story appears in the Winter 2020, Transformation issue of Popular Science.