The fermenting of foods and beverages has been occurring for thousands of years. Our ancestors used to consume fermented foods on a daily basis and indeed there are some cultures where this is still the case. There are many benefits to eating fermented foods, but the best benefit of all is the thousands of beneficial bacteria that are available due to the fermentation process.
Most people would have heard of the health giving benefits of probiotics, but our knowledge tends to extend only as far as yoghurt and probiotic supplements like inner health plus. You’d be surprised to know that there are 2-3kg of bacteria, yeasts and other organisms in your digestive tract. This army of organisms functions a little like an organ of the body. Studies have shown that these ‘good’ bacteria help to modulate the immune system, assist digestion, create neurotransmitters and nutrients and even have a role in mood regulation! There are more bacterial and fungal cells in your digestive tract than there are cells in your body, so it is vital that we look after them.
A disruption in our digestive flora is called dysbiosis, a very common condition that our naturopaths treat on a regular basis. Given that there are hundreds of different strains of bacteria in the gut and hundreds more that are yet to be discovered, it does not take much to tip the balance unfavorably. Once one of the bacteria or fungal organisms is out of balance it affects the way that the rest of the bacteria can work. For example if your diet has too much sugar or soft drink, it will help to feed fungal colonies such as candida. A candida overgrowth means that our good bacteria cannot survive as easily, leading to situation where you have both overgrowth of some organisms and a reduced number of others.
There are hundreds if not thousands of different fermented foods and beverages that contain a wide range of ‘good’ bacteria. One of the best things you can do for your health is to include fermented food on a daily basis, preferably a few different varieties to gain access to different strains.
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.
Rejuvelac is a nutritious and energizing fermented tonic made from sprouted grains. Rejuvelac contains B vitamins and the vitamins E and K.
4 cups of any whole grain – wheat, rye, buckwheat, spelt
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. 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.
The sauerkraut you buy in jars is heat treated, so the only way to gain the full benefit is by making your own. Luckily it is very easy to do and has a long shelf life. Sauerkraut also is a good source of vitamins A and C.
1 large cabbage with the outer leaves (you’ll need around 2kg of cabbage)
3tbsp Celtic sea or Himalayan salt
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.
This is a vegan alternative to dairy yogurt that is super easy to make. A natural bacteria on the outside of the cashew nut causes this yoghurt to ferment.
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)
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.
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.
You can use the kefir grains to ferment non dairy liquids, such as coconut milk, juice, water and honey, nut milk or rice milk. Simply rinse the grains and put them in water for a few hours to remove the dairy. The process is the same as described above so experiment with it! Kefir juice makes a great effervescent drink that is high in probiotics.
There are of course dozens of other things that you could ferment easily at home. For further reading we recommend Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz.
Foods that will reduce your good bacteria
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.
Some websites to help you get started:
http://www.freshmilkkefirgrains.com/ – order kefir online
http://www.scythesaustralia.com.au/proddetail.php?prod=C002 – affordable crock pot for fermenting sauerkraut, Kim chi and vegetables.
We also stock a range of probiotic foods in store, including coconut yoghurt, cashew yoghurt and cheese, sauerkraut, kim chi, kombucha and kefir. Pop into our Healthy Living Store in Milton and say hello!