Fermented Foods

June 1, 2010  |  Foods: A - F

What are fermented foods?

Fermentation is a chemical change in food brought about by yeast, bacteria or mold. This process has been used for centuries (perhaps thousands of years) by people in order to make and preserve drinks such as beer, buttermilk, and wine.

Fermented foods include artichokes, cheese, epicor, kefir, ketchup, miso, mushrooms, olives, pickles, sauerkraut, yogurt and other tangy pickled and marinated foods, A growing number of health food stores have these at their self-serve antipasto bars.

Health benefits

Yourbody is loaded with both good and bad bacteria. There are approximately 100 trillion bacteria living inside each human. Ideally, the body should have at least 85% good bacteria for optimal health.

Abalanced digestive tract is essential for optimum health and is said to be responsible for 80 percent of the immune system. When there is not enough good bacteria in the body, unhealthy bacteria begin to proliferate, causing ill health and disease.

The ancient (and still best) way of replenishing good bacteria in the body is through fermented foods. Yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi (fermented cabbage) and kefir (fermented milk or water) are all traditional foods that are naturally dense in healthy bacteria.

Over 200 species of bacteria live in our gut. Necessary microbes help break down food in our intestines, aid in the digestion process, help fight off disease, and boost our immune system. You want a good balance of intestinal bacteria for your overall health. If we eat nothing but commercial overly processed and hard to digest foods, then the fermentation process that occurs within will kick into overdrive resulting in bloating, diarrhea, constipation, gas, and might possibly lead to diseases like cancer. Providing our bodies with predigested fermented food will help the microbes within do the job they need to do.

Fermentation is not only a way to preserve certain foods, it many cases it actually adds to the nutrient value. For example, fermented vegetables contain more vitamin C (sailors would eat sauerkraut to prevent scurvy) and fermented milk products have ample amounts of B vitamins. The bioavailability of these vitamins also increases with fermentation.

Though the term “fermented” sounds vaguely distasteful, the results of this ancient preparation and preservation technique — produced through the breakdown of carbohydrates and proteins by microorganisms such as bacteria, yeasts and molds — are actually delicious.

Beware the big difference between healthy fermented foods and those that are commercially processed

Fermentation is more of an art than a science — so commercial food processors developed techniques to help standardize more consistent yields. Technically, anything that is “brined” in a salt stock is fermented, but thats where the similarity ends, as each type of fermented food has specific, unique requirements and production methods.

Its 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 pickles are simply packed in salt, vinegar and pasteurized. 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.

You can make healthy fermented sauerkraut yourself at home

Sauerkraut is an extremely common fermented food that comes in many varieties and is very easy to make. (However, commercial sauerkraut that has been pasteurized isnt the same). It is an immune boosting, flu-fighting, cancer battling, and digestive aid that you can make in your kitchen without too much trouble. It tastes great on burgers, in soups, and is even great by itself. You can make it by using salt or whey.

Here is what you need

A ceramic bowl (definitely not plastic)

A wooden spoon (not a metal spoon)

A wide mouth 2 quart jar (or a 1 quart mason jar for half the recipe)

A pint size mason jar, or other glass object that can fit into the first jar and weigh down the vegetables.

Ingredients

One head of cabbage: shredded (ideally organic cabbage)

2 apples: peeled and sliced (also organic)

2 carrots: grated (also organic)

Sea salt (dried pure white salt from the ocean). Not denatured salt that is easy to pour.

Directions

Shred the cabbage while adding handfuls to the ceramic bowl and sprinkle salt over each layer to help draw out the moisture. Add the apples and carrots into the jar and pack them all down with the wooden spoon as you go. Make sure to release as much juices as possible. Then weigh down the veggies with your other jar, pressing down and pushing out as much air as possible and get the juices flowing. Finally, put a cheesecloth or towel over the bowl and let it sit until it is tart and crunchy. This may take a few days to a few weeks depending on the weather. Just be sure to test it often. Once tart, its ready. Then stick it in the fridge for storage and enjoy at your convenience.

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