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Does Cooking Kill Probiotics?

By now many of you know the importance of good gut health. It’s been receiving more attention lately, and that’s a good thing. Gut health can impact other systems in our body, including brain and mental health. We need to take the time to ensure it’s running optimally.

If we’re going to talk gut health, then we have to talk about probiotics, the healthy microorganisms that are found in fermented foods. The idea is that by eating foods with probiotics, we can colonize our gut with “good” bacteria. Doing so helps issues like improving our digestion, improving our immune system, reducing our risk of diseases, and even treating depression.

One easy way of achieving these health benefits is simply including probiotic-rich foods into our current diets. Let’s take a closer look at adding probiotics to your diet, and answer some frequently asked questions along the way.

Does Cooking Kill Probiotics?

Of all the questions about probiotics, this is probably the most frequently asked. Can you kill the healthy bacteria by cooking it? Yes. Does that mean you should never cook probiotics? No, but it’s complicated.

While the heat from cooking and pasteurization can easily destroy enzymes and probiotics, there is evidence that heat-killed probiotics can produce similar results to live probiotics.

In a study done in 2009, heat-killed bacteria was found to improve intestinal and organ inflammation. In another study, researchers found that elderly people who took heat-killed bacteria were significantly less likely to suffer from the common cold than those who took a placebo. This study suggests that, while live probiotic cells can be beneficial to gastrointestinal microflora, dead bacteria could exert an anti-inflammatory response.

So, killing the bacteria may alter the benefits for a different desired effect, or lessen it to some extent, but it doesn’t necessarily do away with the health benefits all together.

Can You Freeze Probiotics?

What about freezing probiotics? Does freezing them kill the bacteria? Not according to a study published in the Journal of Bacteriology. The study examined bacteria’s ability to survive after being frozen for 11 weeks, and whether it could survive multiple freeze-thaw cycles.

The results were surprising. Turns out, it is possible that frozen and thawed probiotic foods will contain many bacteria that are still alive. Some survival rates are improved with FDA-approved cryoprotectants like anti-freezing proteins.

Professor Don Schaffner of Rutgers also supports this conclusion, “. . .it’s possible, even likely, that frozen and thawed yogurt will contain living lactic acid bacteria, although it may only be 10% or 1% of the total number of bacteria that were there before the yogurt was frozen.”

The bacterial survival seems to depend on how long and how many times it was frozen. It doesn’t seem to matter whether the food is thawed or eaten frozen either. As far as the bacteria content is concerned, the bacteria will become unfrozen when it reaches the digestive tract anyway.

Have you ever tried kombucha popsicles? They’re delicious!

Get More Probiotic Foods Into Your Diet

Including more gut-friendly foods into your diet isn’t complicated. Simply select a few of the foods on the list below and add them into your favorite meals.

A quick note about probiotic foods: Possibly the number one food that is associated with probiotics is yogurt, however vegans do not consume dairy-based yogurt for a myriad of health, environmental or ethical reasons. Luckily for vegans, there are plenty of probiotic-filled non-dairy yogurt choices. Simply swap out the dairy versions for the dairy-free ones.

Here are a few other delicious sources of probiotics to choose from:

This is just a small list. There are many more gut-healthy foods like kefir, dark chocolate, sourdough bread and of course, yogurt.

Related Reading: 10 Vegan Sources of Probiotics


There are many numerous health benefits from eating live cultures and enzymes that have only been gently heated or left raw, it’s true. While cooking and freezing does kill some of the good-for-you bacteria in probiotic foods, that’s not always a terrible thing. You can still get plenty of health benefits from including more of these foods into your meal plans.

Related Probiotic Reading on Care2:

 Photo of fermented pickles via Thinkstock

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