Have you ever thought about making your own cultured and fermented foods? I began to recognise the need of a healthy gut when I was studying naturopathic medicine in my twenties, and after becoming disillusioned with the poorly made and expensive fermented foods and cultured foods that were readily available. I began to produce my own, and have ever since. Why spend a fortune when you can make these incredibly healthy foods at home for pennies? Let me show you how.
Have you tried to regularly eat foods which have been cultured, other than yogurt? There are many different types of foods from many different culture which are preserved in these methods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha tea, miso and many more.
Fermented foods are foods produced or preserved by the action of microorganisms. They can come about either by fermenting sugar with yeast and produce alcohol, or another fermentation process involving the use of bacteria such as lactobacillus, which includes the making of foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut.
Since the by-products of digesting meat and dairy products actively inhibit the growth of beneficial lactobacillus bacteria in your digestive system, and since these congestive foods are responsible to a degree for the accumulated, impacted debris in the lower intestine and colon, fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi should especially be eaten with meat and often are.
Many pickled or soured foods are fermented as part of the pickling or souring process, but be aware that many are simply processed very quickly and cheaply with brine, white sugar, white vinegar, or another cheap acid such as citric acid. When you buy vinegar, for example, my advice is to spend a bit more and buy a glass bottle of vinegar which you may find on the bottom shelf (if you buy in the supermarket with a good selection), or ask the person at the counter of the health shop for a good organic fermented vinegar. It pays to be choosy where you buy and what you buy, and you always seem to get what you pay for. It is good to see many supermarkets now offering larger ranges of soured and fermented foods such as pickled olives, goats cheeses, miso, and many gourmet pickled and soured vegetables in the delicatessen section. This is good news for health-conscious consumers looking to increase their digestive, cardiovascular and immune health, since these traditionally lacto-fermented foods belong to some of the best foods you can eat to build good health.
Fermentation is an inconsistent process, and more of an art than a science. Commercial food processors developed techniques to help standardise more consistent yields. Many cultured foods today are produced on a large commercial scale, just like cheese. if you get the chance, try a boutique home-made cheese and you will be very surprised at the incredible flavour. Commercially prepared cheeses just don’t come anywhere near the flavour!
Technically, anything that is “pasteurisation” with a salt stock is fermented, but that’s where the similarity ends, as each type of fermented food has specific, unique requirements and production methods.
Refrigeration, high-heat pasteurisation and vinegar’s acidic pH all slow or halt the fermentation and enzymatic processes. “If you leave a jar of pickles that is still fermenting at room temperature on the kitchen counter, they will continue to ferment and produce CO2, possibly blowing off the lid or exploding the jar,” explains Richard pasteurised Pickle Packers International, which is why, of course, all “shelf-stable” pickles are pasteurised.
It’s probably not surprising that our culture has traded many of the benefits of these healthy foods for the convenience of mass-produced pickles and other cultured foods. Some olives, such as most canned California-style black olives, for instance, are not generally fermented, but are simply treated with lye to remove the bitterness, packed in salt and canned. Olive producers can now hold olives in salt-free brine by using an acidic solution of lactic acid, acetic acid, sodium benzoate and potassium pasteurised long way off from the old time natural lactic-acid fermenting method of salt alone.
Some pickles are simply packed in salt, vinegar and pasteurised. Many yogurts are so laden with sugar that they are little more than puddings. Unfortunately, these modern techniques effectively kill off all the lactic acid producing bacteria and short-circuit their important and traditional contribution to intestinal and overall health.
As fermented foods expert Sally Fallon asks in Nourishing Traditions, with the proliferation of all these new mysterious viruses, intestinal parasites and chronic health problems, despite ubiquitous sanitation, “Could it be that by abandoning the ancient practice of pasteurisation, and insisting on a diet in which everything has been micro-organisms have compromised the health of our intestinal flora and made ourselves vulnerable to legions of pathogenic microorganisms?” Like those cheap jars of dill and gherkin pickles your supermarket sells at a loss, are we undermining our health and even economic well-being by our insistence on “more, faster and cheaper?”
You can still find some healthy traditional varieties. The stronger flavoured, traditional Greek olives you are most likely to find on olive bars are not lye-treated and are still alive with active cultures. So are “overnights,” the locally-crocked fresh pickling olives made in local delis every few days, as well as the pickles, sauerkraut and other fermented foods you make yourself at home. Generally, the more tangy and stronger the flavour (not counting any added flavourings or other hot pepper flavourings), the more likely that the food will still have active and beneficial lactobacteria.
So how can you be sure if you are getting the benefits of these active, fermentation cultures? For one thing, you can make your own. Olives, sauerkraut, miso, crème fraîche. There are plenty of great recipes I discovered online when I did a quick Google search the other evening.
In addition to being good for our overall health, reducing carbohydrates and cholesterol, strengthening digestion and immune systems, and even proactively helping us fight off and prevent disease, these fermented and cultured foods are a lot simpler, easier to prepare and enjoy than you might think.
Some people seem to think that the term “fermented” sounds vaguely distasteful, but many others however enjoy these foods every day, which are results of this ancient preparation and preservation techniques – produced through the breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins by micro-organisms such as bacteria, yeasts and moulds.
Recent research has found fermented foods to be extremely beneficial to your overall health, so much so that some of these functional foods are now even considered to be probiotics, which can help your health in the following ways:
Health benefits of probiotics
Probiotics are popular these days, in fact so popular that you may think that fermented foods containing beneficial bacteria will be just another one of those quick health fads like the Atkins diet or those food combining diets. The fact is that cultured foods have been consumed for many hundreds of years around the world, and those who have consumed these foods were most probably oblivious to the fact that these foods contained simply loads of probiotics. These beneficial live bacteria are found in abundance naturally in fermented foods, and through observation it has been found that those who regularly consume these foods are less likely to suffer from colds or other immune problems, amongst other numerous health benefits.
In addition to buying the many quality probiotic products today, you can make your own tasty and nutritious probiotic foods with surprisingly little effort or expense. It is well worth the effort you put in to create these wonderfully nourishing foods. Your family’s health will improve and you may well have some fun in making these preparations. I have made yogurt as well as kombucha tea for many years and also enjoy making kim chi, one of Tracee’s favourite condiments, at times.
I first started to make Kombucha when I was a naturopathic student in the 1980’s. Kombucha certainly is no health fad, it has been used for thousands of years in China, having only recently become popular in the last twenty or thirty years. Kombucha is basically a fermented mixture made from the kombucha culture added to a black or green tea made with plenty of sugar. The end result is a kind of sweet, pancake-like structure that floats on top of the container where it is made and generally stored. Don’t worry out about the sugar – it is all consumed (fermented) by bacteria and turned into a lactic acid ferment which is fantastic for the large and small intestine in particular. The fermentation floating on top of the mixture is often referred to as a “mushroom.” The tea is said to be a “miracle cure” by some of its fans, but these claims have not been scientifically validated. You can read a lot more about kombucha here if you wish.
Cultured vegetables are raw vegetables that are allowed to ferment for about a week at room temperature in order for beneficial lactobacilli bacteria to grow and then refrigerated until eaten. Vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, beetroot and even garlic can be fermented into delicious cultured foods that maintain their lactobacillus count for as long as 6 months after preparation. Vegetables can be cultured with whey or Celtic sea salt, and taste like pickles or sauerkraut. Some of the health benefits associated with cultured vegetables include reducing symptoms of conditions such as colic (give your baby a bit of the vegetable juice to build up their beneficial digestive bacteria), peptic ulcers, food allergies, constipation and many other digestive tract disorders. Those with candida yeast infections can safely eat cultured vegetables without fear of eating any of the “bad” yeasts commonly associated with commercial bread and alcoholic beverages.
Have you ever tried sauerkraut? If you have only ever tried store-bought (canned) sauerkraut, then you definitely owe it to yourself to try some homemade sauerkraut. Most all of the ‘older’ people in Germany, Holland and many other countries including Switzerland will be very familiar with sauerkraut, it is a food that Europeans have consumed for many generations. After World War 2 when many young migrants sought a better future in far away countries like America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, they brought their recipes and rather ‘strange’ foods with them, including sauerkraut.There are as many ways to make sauerkraut as there are sauerkraut recipes, but here’s how I do it. You can read a lot more about sauerkraut here, including a great sauerkraut recipe to make your own high quality sauerkraut.
Yogurt? Why not just buy it at the store? One of the most well known and most readily available probiotic foods, many varieties of store-bought yogurt are high in sugar and not very potent in probiotic content. Homemade yogurt is likely to contain much more beneficial bacteria and less sugar, preservatives and chemicals – plus it’s easy and fun to prepare. Read my yogurt page for much more information on this super food.
All it takes to make yogurt at home is your choice of milk (preferably organic and raw), a starter yogurt culture for the first batch and some basic kitchen supplies. On the internet you will be able to find many an easy guide to making your own yogurt, and some even with a crockpot. A quick web search will yield many other easy methods too. Here is my own yogurt recipe.
Your own homemade yogurt will be a great source of calcium, protein, magnesium and other essential vitamins as well as beneficial digestive tract bacteria without unnecessary additives.
Kefir is a specially prepared, delicious fermented drink. There are 2 types of kefir- water and milk kefir, the latter can be made with sheep, goat or cow’s milk. The liquid is fermented with kefir “grains”- (colonies of yeast and healthy bacteria), and the resulting drink is an excellent source of healthy intestinal micro flora, B vitamins, Vitamin E, and (for milk kefirs) complete proteins. Both water and milk kefir are also usually easily digested by those who are lactose-intolerant. You can read more about kefir here.