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:
- Important nutrients.Some fermented foods are outstanding sources of essential nutrients such as vitamin K2, which help prevent arterial plaque buildup and heart disease.
- Optimizing your immune system.It’s estimated that 80 percent of your immune system is located in your gut. Probiotics help the development of the mucus lining of your digestive tract, which plays a big role in a strong immune system.
- The beneficial bacteria in fermented foods are highly potent detoxifiers.
- Natural variety of micro flora. By varying the fermented foods you eat, you get a wider range of healthful flora than you would from taking a supplement.
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.
Grace O’s Atchara Pickle
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
- Place the papaya in a colander and sprinkle with the salt. Allow to sit for 15 minutes.
- Make the pickling solution: Combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a porcelain or glass pan (don’t use a metal pot). Simmer for 10 minutes or until all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Squeeze any remaining water out of the papaya. Toss with the garlic, ginger, and remaining vegetables and place into wide-mouth pickling jars.
- Pour the pickling solution over the vegetables. Top off the jars with water, if necessary, so that the vegetables are completely covered. Close the jars tightly and refrigerate overnight to cure.
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:
Fermented Rainbow Chard Stems & Carrots
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
- Dissolve salt in 2 cups cool water to form brine. Place chile flakes and dill in a 24-ounce glass mason jar or other sterilized glass fermentation vessel. Cut chard stems into long spears and remove any leaves. Cut ¼ inch off the end of the chard stems. (TIP: Measure the height of the jar against the chard stems to ensure they fit with at least an inch of headspace. Remember you’ll need to cover the stems with brine.)
- Arrange halved carrots and chard stems standing upright in jar, alternating carrot and chard. Cover stems and carrots with the saltwater brine, and cover tightly with a regular or airlock lid. Set jar in a dark, cool place to ferment.
- Check brine level after a day or two and replenish, if needed. If you aren’t using an airlock lid, you will need to “burp” your ferment daily by simply loosening the lid and allowing gas to escape. The ferment should expand and release gases, if successful. As an extra precaution, you may want to “burp” your ferment over the sink in case it overflows. Glass fermentation/pickle weights can keep chard stems submerged.
- Test your ferment after 4–7 days. The vegetables should taste tangy and have a slightly effervescent mouthfeel. When fermented to desired taste, place a new lid on the jar, mark it with the date, and store in refrigerator up to 2 months.
Makes 24 ounces (1.5 pints); Prep 20 minutes; Fermentation 5–7 days
Anti-Inflammatory Turmeric Kraut
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
- Place the cabbage in a large bowl. Add 1 teaspoon salt, and use your hands to massage the cabbage until it begins to soften and release liquid, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining vegetables and spices and another 1 teaspoon salt to the cabbage. Wear gloves to prevent staining hands. Continue to massage the cabbage mixture, crunching and squeezing the vegetables and spices until well combined, about 3 minutes more. Taste the mixture and, if desired, add the final 1 teaspoon salt. (TIP: You want the mixture to be salty, but not quite as salty as seawater.)
- When mixture is well combined, begin to spoon it into a 24-ounce glass mason jar or other sterilized glass fermentation vessel. After every couple spoonfuls, use a wooden tamper to pound the mixture tightly into the jar. (TIP: Tightly pack the kraut mixture to eliminate trapped air bubbles.)
- Continue to pack and fill the vessel until 1–1½ inches of headspace remain at top. Pour any liquid from the cabbage mixture bowl into the jar. You want a thin (about ½-inch) layer of liquid on top of the kraut. (TIP: Keep the kraut below the brine. If you don’t have enough liquid, simply add a little purified water. A glass weight can keep the kraut submerged.)
- Wipe the inside lip of the jar to remove any stray cabbage pieces or liquid. Then cover jar tightly with a regular or airlock lid. Set jar in a dark, cool place to ferment for 2–4 weeks. Taste each week to check on fermentation process. When fermented to desired taste, place a new lid on the jar, mark it with the date, and store in refrigerator up to 1 year.
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.
Reduce inflammatory process in cells, tissues, and blood vessels, helping to slow aging and reduce risk of long-term disease.
Prevents and repairs oxidative damage to cells caused by free radicals.
Support the body’s resistance to infection and strengthen immune vigilance and response.
Improves mood, memory, and focus.
Reduces risk factors for common degenerative and age-related diseases.