Fermented foods are the new “it” food today, even though fermentation is a centuries-old process that was around long before refrigeration. Over time, with all of the modern convenience foods available to us, home-made fermented foods lost their appeal. But today’s rebirth of fermented foods makes good sense – they are powerfully good for us.
In addition to the benefits of the food itself– for example, milk, soy beans or cabbage—the fermentation process creates lactobacillus that feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which in turn creates a natural balance of intestinal flora improving digestion, immune function, and absorption of nutrients.
According to an article by Dr. Stephen Devries on the Gaples Institute website, “Having a wide spectrum of healthy types of bacteria as a result of fermentation has been associated with a host of possible benefits — including weight control and reduced blood sugar.” He goes on to say, “An interesting aspect of cultured dairy is that the bacteria used are excellent at partially digesting lactose, which is a boon for those who are lactose intolerant.” That’s why people who have trouble digesting milk products don’t experience discomfort from yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese and lassi (an Indian drinkable yogurt).
According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, consuming fermented foods provides you a number of other benefits, including:
Probiotics and other microorganisms are regarded as a ‘newly recognized organ’ by researchers because they are so important to health.
Discover the Culture Club!
We spoke with Elaina Luther, owner of Culture Club 101 in Pasadena, CA. Her business began as a culinary ‘club’ where members could learn techniques and sample fermented foods. Now open to the general public, Culture Club 101 is a place to find nutrient-dense foods such as pasture-raised meats, raw milk, soy-free eggs, low or gluten-free breads and pastries as well as probiotic-rich fermented foods, including sauerkraut, kombucha, naturally-fermented sauces and other specialties. They also offer classes on fermenting as well as supplies and tools to do it yourself.
Luther is a wealth of information on the health properties of all food and bubbles over with enthusiasm on the subject of boosting the nutrient value of foods through fermentation. “Until about 100 years ago when refrigeration was invented, people relied on fermentation to preserve foods. The process takes foods’ nutrient value and intensifies it by nurturing healthful bacterial, which then colonize the gut. Since the advent of modern refrigeration, there has been a reduction in the consumption of fermented foods and this has probably contributed to people tending to be plagued with more chronic health issues.”
“Because of refrigeration and long periods in cold storage, produce found in most supermarkets has lost almost all the good bacteria. That’s why it’s best to use organic produce from farmers’ markets for fermenting—it still has enough bacteria to start the process.” Luther continues,
“To maintain optimal health and nutrition, you need a tablespoon of fermented food with every meal. Every raw food has its own enzymes, so just about anything can be fermented. Done properly, fermented foods are safer than cooked foods.”
Fermented vs. Pickled
There is a difference between fermented foods and pickled or preserved foods. Foods packed in vinegar, such as cucumber pickles are not fermented. Until the 1940s, pickles were processed by means of natural fermentation. At that time, processors began using vinegar, which is acidic and pasteurization, a heat process, to stabilize the food. These pickles have the benefit of not being perishable, but they have lost much of their nutrient value, including vitamin C and the live lactic acid bacteria found in raw fermented foods.
Fermenting Summer’s Bounty
As summer and warmer weather approach there will be plenty of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables for pickling and fermenting that will provide that important dose of healthy flora into your system.
What’s in a Pickle?
Here’s a fantastic summer side dish that’s not fermented, but crisp, fresh and will keep for several days in the refrigerator.
When I was a teenager in the Philippines, my mom and I would make atchara. This sweet-and-sour pickle is made with green, unripe papayas and other vegetables. My mom made carrot florets to add beauty and color to the pickle. Eaten with grilled pork or fried fish, atchara is considered a national dish of the Philippines. In America, I eat it with BBQ, grilled meat, and smoked fish.
Papayas contain papain, an enzyme that helps break down proteins. I sometimes use green papaya as a meat tenderizer. Papaya and jicama are rich in fiber, which helps regulate cholesterol and aids in weight loss. Vinegar can lower blood sugar and may help with weight loss because it helps you feel more full and satisfied.
8 cups coarsely grated green papaya (or cucumbers)
¼ cup coarse salt
3 cups white balsamic vinegar (or champagne or seasoned rice vinegar)
¾ cup white or natural sugar
2 tsp. salt or salt substitute
½ cup peeled pearl onions
½ cup red bell pepper strips
½ cup green bell pepper strips
½ cup carrot florets or strips
½ cup jicima strips
¼ cup julienned ginger
8–10 peeled garlic cloves
If you prefer to use white vinegar or apple cider vinegar instead of white balsamic vinegar, cut it with an equal amount of water or it will be too harsh. The amount of sugar in this recipe makes a sour pickle. For a sweet-and-sour pickle, double the amount of sugar. Be sure to cool the pickling solution; if it’s too warm, the vegetables will cook.
Here are two recipes for fermenting that you’ll also enjoy:
For a pretty look, buy small carrots that still have their green tops attached, and trim the tops down to ¼- to ½-inch. These fermented veggies taste great garnishing a Bloody Mary or veggie tray, or topping a Cuban sandwich. Also, use them to jazz up scrambled eggs, salads, rice, quinoa bowls and tabbouleh.
1 Tbs. fine sea salt (Celtic or Himalayan non-iodized salt)
2 cups cool water
1 tsp. red chile flakes
1Tbs. dried dill or 1-2 large sprigs fresh dill
2 bunches organic rainbow chard, leafy greens removed
3 small to medium-size organic carrots, washed, not peeled, and halved lengthwise
Makes 24 ounces (1.5 pints); Prep 20 minutes; Fermentation 5–7 days
Serve over chicken, turkey, pork or veggie sausages, or add kraut to a sandwich or wrap. Add a pop of flavor by stirring kraut into a salad of beans and greens, or a bowl of rice.
1/2 head organic green cabbage, cored and shredded or thinly sliced
3 tsp. fine sea salt (Celtic or Himalayan noniodized salt), divided
1 organic carrot, unpeeled, grated
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
1 Tbs. minced fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lemon, thinly sliced into circles
1 tsp. red chile flakes
1 Tbs. dried turmeric
Makes 16–24 ounces (1–1.5 pints); Prep 30 minutes; Fermentation 2–4 weeks
The Fermented Rainbow Chard Stems & Carrots and Anti-Inflammatory Turmeric Kraut recipes are by Carsen Snyder and are posted by permission of Delicious Living (and its parent company New Hope Network), a trusted voice in the natural living community for 30 years.