Top 5 Fermented Foods to Add to Your Diet

Shift_Fermented Food

When it comes to fermented foods, you may not automatically think of them as gut healers. However, a wide body of research has shown that incorporating portions of fermented food could provide significant health benefits – especially on our microbiome.

Firstly, what is the gut microbiome?
Episode 14 and Episode 15 of The Shift podcast Season 1 discuss what our gut is made up of.

What is fermentation?
Fermentation is an extraordinary food preservation process. Bacteria and yeasts slowly begin to break down the food, resulting in various by-products including lactic acid or vinegar. Another part of the process is the breakdown of the fibres within the food, making them easier for our bodies to digest.

What exactly are fermented foods?
There are a whole host of gut health benefits associated with some fermented foods, and many traditional ferments are highly touted for their probiotic properties. We need these probiotic cultures in order to provide the right amounts of enzymes to properly absorb, digest, and utilise nutrients in food. These good bacteria can vastly improve digestion, boost our immunity and help maintain a healthy weight. 

It is very difficult to buy quality fermented foods. This is because many products are heat-treated to prolong shelf life, which kills the bacteria. Even yoghurt, which is the most commonly consumed fermented food can be problematic. Nearly all of the yoghurt you buy at the supermarket is devoid of probiotics and packed with sugar. Look for organic natural varieties that have no added sugar.

Fortunately, there are many probiotic foods and beverages that you easily ferment at home for a very small cost. Below you’ll find a few of the most common fermented products and how you can make them.

How else can fermented foods help you? 
Okay, so we’ve seen the great things that fermented foods can do for us, but consuming all the fermented food in the world won’t do anything if you’re not incorporating enough digestible fibre into your diet. 

Remember, high amounts of fermented foods may not be beneficial for everyone, so if you have underlying digestive issues, seek the advice of a medical practitioner for further advice. 

There is a lot more research being done due to the varying bacterial makeup of fermented foods, and this field is continually expanding. With a greater understanding of bacterial cultures, comes a better understanding of their many and varied benefits, that were previously unknown.

Are there foods that harm the microbiome?
So now that you are all set to build your army of probiotic helpers, it makes sense to cut back on those things that might kill them off in your gut. Things that cause dysbiosis and are unfavourable to your good bacteria include soft drinks, cordial, sugar, alcohol, potato, white bread and a low intake of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

Here are the Top 5 Fermented Foods Shift recommends (with bonus recipes!)

 The natural, unsweetened type may contain over 100 million probiotic cultures per gram, so having a daily dose can boost your immune system and gut microbiome hugely. Below is a recipe for making cashew yoghurt! A natural bacteria on the outside of the cashew nut causes this yoghurt to ferment.

Ingredients

  • Raw cashews (this means regular untoasted, not the truly raw variety. All cashews we buy are extracted with heat to get them out of the pods and to neutralize toxins)
  • Filtered water

Equipment needed

  • A blender
  1. In a blender, place cashews and water. If you like a thicker yoghurt use less water, or use more for a thinner consistency. You can always add more water later if you wanted. Blend until a smooth consistency.
  2. Cover the blender with a damp paper towel or clean cloth and leave overnight to ferment. You can also transfer to a clean jar to ferment if you need your blender!
  3. In warmer climates it will be done in the morning. If it doesn’t taste sour then leave it for another 12 hours or so until it tastes slightly sour and bubbles have formed.
  4. Store in the fridge and use within 2-3 days. Delicious with fresh fruit, muesli or on its own!

Kefir is a fermented drink made from grains. It can be made with water but is most commonly made on milk, resulting in a healthful probiotic drink that is high in lactobacillus and other bacteria. Kefir grains can be bought online and is shared between culture enthusiasts. See the references below for sources.

Ingredients

  • 1L organic milk
  • 1tbsp kefir grains
  1. Put milk in a large jar and ensure it is no more that 2/3 full. Add kefir grains and put the lid on.
  2. Leave in room temperature for 24 to 48 hours, agitating the jar every now and then. The milk should become bubbly then coagulate and separate. Shake it to remix it.
  3. Strain off the grains and put aside for later. The grains would have grown. You can use the excess to give to friends, use in recipes, put in compost or culturing other things.
  4. Store kefir in the fridge and start your next batch with the same grains. If you tighten the lid on the jar of developing kefir it will become effervescent.
  5. Store grains in the fridge for a couple of weeks in milk or frozen for a couple of months. You can also dry them out and they will store for a couple or years.
Ingredients
  • 500ml of freshly brewed tea of your choice sweetened with 2 tbsp raw or rapadura sugar (quantities are adjustable depending on the size of your brewing vessel)
  • 1 scoby with a little mother tea (the mother tea is just kombucha)
First ferment
  1. Brew your tea and sweeten with the sugar. Allow the tea to cool to room temperature.
  2. Add your scoby and mother tea to your cooled, brewed and sweetened tea. Important – do not add the scoby to warm/hot tea as this will kill the scoby! Cover your jar or teapot with a cloth and pop a rubber band over the top to allow it to breathe and ferment over a few days.
  3. The teapot should stay on your kitchen bench during this time. This is the first ferment. Taste test after 4-5 days and if the tea is no longer too sweet, your first ferment is done. If it still tastes too sweet, allow it to ferment for another couple of days until you are happy with the level of sweetness. Please note there will not be any fizz just yet. Once you are happy with the taste of your tea, remove your scoby (you will now have 2 scobies – a baby scoby will have grown off your mother scoby. You can now give the second scoby to a friend if you wish. Every time you brew kombucha, you will get a new scoby!).
  4. Place the scobies into a glass storage container, and pour a little of the kombucha from your first ferment into the container as well, then pop into the fridge to store for the next use.
Second Ferment
  1. Now it is time for the second ferment. This is where you get your fizz!
  2. Pour your strained kombucha into a sealable glass bottle or jar. At this point, you can add some flavour (eg a few berries, or a few apple slices and a cinnamon quill, even a little fruit juice –whatever you like, feel free to experiment with different flavours!) and the fruit sugars will serve as a food source for the scoby, which will allow your fizz to form.
  3. Seal your bottle or jar so that it is air tight, and leave on the kitchen bench for around 48 hours. After 48 hours, when you open the bottle you should now have some fizz. Your kombucha is now ready! Close up the bottle and pop into the fridge and enjoy!
  4. Important – please ensure that if you don’t drink the kombucha for a few days while it is in the fridge, you need to “burp” the bottle every few days so that the gases don’t build up inside the bottle and cause a kombucha explosion in your fridge. Note: you can purchase a kombucha scoby online, or many health food stores also sell them.

Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage.  The sauerkraut you buy in jars from the supermarket shelf is heat treated, so the only way to gain the full benefit is by making your own. Sauerkraut also is a good source of Vitamins A and C.

Ingredients

  • 1 large cabbage with the outer leaves (you’ll need around 2kg of cabbage)
  • 3tbsp Celtic sea or Himalayan salt

Equipment:
A very large crock pot with plate to weigh down or special sauerkraut vessel. You could also use a large food grade bucket with a plate that fits snugly inside.

  1. Grate or chop cabbage finely or coarsely, depending how you’d like it. Place the cabbage in a large bowl as you chop it.
  2. Sprinkle salt on the cabbage as you put in in the bowl. The salt is what will create a brine that the cabbage will ferment in without rotting and keeps the cabbage crunchy. Use more salt in summer and less in winter.
  3. Mix cabbage and salt together and place in a crock or bucket. Pack a little in at a time, using your fists or a potato masher to press down firmly. This helps to pack it down firmly and encourage water out of the cabbage.
  4. Cover sauerkraut with a plate or some other lid that will fit snugly inside the vessel. Place a clean weight (like a glass jar filled with water) on the cover to force water out of the cabbage and keep the cabbage submerged under the brine. Cover the top with a cloth tied on to keep flies out.
  5. Press down on the weight to help force the water out of the cabbage. Continue doing this every few hours until the brine rises above the plate/cover. The can take around 24 hours. Older cabbage will contain less water and may take longer.
  6. If the brine does not rise above the plate by the following day add enough salted water to cover it. Use 1 tbsp salt to 1 cup water.
  7. Leave the crock/bucket to ferment. Check it every day or two. The volume will reduce as it ferments. Occasionally mould will appear on the top. Simply skim off what you can. The sauerkraut is still fine under the brine.
  8. Rinse off the weight and the plate and taste the sauerkraut. It should be tangy after a few days and the taste will intensify as time passes. In cool weather it can ferment for months but in summer the process is much more rapid. It should become soft and flavor will be pleasant.
  9. The sauerkraut is now ready to eat! You can scoop some out and put it in a clean jar in the fridge and leave some still fermenting for a while if it is convenient, but make sure you repack it carefully.
  10. Sauerkraut can keep in the fridge in brine for months, just be sure to use a clean spoon to get it out of the jar.

Rejuvelac is a nutritious and energizing fermented tonic made from sprouted grains. Rejuvelac contains B vitamins and the vitamins E and K.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of gluten-free wholegrains such as buckwheat, brown rice or millet
  • Purified water
  1. Soak the grains in a large jar of water for 12-24 hours.
  2. Drain the water and discard it. Place the jar in a bowl covered with a colander or mesh so that the sprouts drain into the bowl. The grains must not be sitting in water or they will not sprout.
  3. Rinse the sprouts with fresh water at least twice a day. Rinse more often in hot or humid weather.
  4. When you see little tails emerging from the grains they have germinated. You can store for up to 2 days in the fridge before use if needed, but be sure to keep rinsing them to prevent mould.
  5. Rinse grains for the last time and fill the jar with water.
  6. 6. Loosely cover the jar to keep flies out and ferment for 2 days at room temperature.
  7. After 2 days pour off the liquid, enjoy it fresh or store it in the refrigerator.
  8. A second batch of rejuvelac can be made using the same sprouts. Refill the jar with water and ferment for only 24 hours this time.

Now you are all set to build your army of probiotic helpers! More information to help you on the journey of fermented food is below.

Making fermented products at home

More reading on the microbiome

More fermented food recipes

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Your gut is the centre of everything!

Your ability to digest food and absorb nutrients determines your health, and your microbiome (the bacteria that live inside you) are so important for preventing disease.

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