Get cultured: How fermented foods can help your digestion and your health

Back in the day, people knew how to preserve their food without the use of artificial preservatives, freezers or canning machines.  They did this through the process of lacto-fermentation or culturing. This process involves good bacteria (lactobacilli) working on sugars and starches in food to produce lactic acid, a natural preservative.  Fermenting foods has many more benefits than just preservation.  It makes food more easily digestible, increases vitamin levels, and promotes the growth of healthy bacterias throughout the intestine.  I am of the belief that our immune systems are centered in our gut.  So if we don’t have that good bacteria or flora in our intestines, then we will be significantly more vulnerable to illness and disease.  I don’t think that it is a coincidence that the rise in antibiotic use and pasteurization of foods coincides with the rise in new viruses, intestinal parasites and disease.  We americans spend a ton of time avoiding bacteria out of fear, but our bodies are meant to coexist with bacteria.  It is all around us and if we have the healthy kind inside our bodies, it will help fight off the ones that we don’t want to let in.  In Europe they eat sauerkraut, in Asia a meal isn’t complete without a side of fermented veggies (eg. kimchi), and in Indian culture they ferment fruits and use them for chutney.  In our culture, we are obsessed with killing all possible harmful bacterias, and in the process are killing even the ones we can benefit from.  We need to bring some healthy bacteria back into our lives, or at least our guts.

I’ve read that homemade cultured veggies are quite easy to make, but we haven’t gone there yet. Until then, we buy a wonderful tasting sauerkraut at Whole Foods.  We have a few tablespoons of it every night with dinner.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it is fermented cabbage and tastes like a strong, delicious pickle.  It can be an acquired taste, but I’ve loved pickles forever, so it was love at first bite for me.

When the process of pickling (same as fermenting) became industrialized, many changes were made to ensure the product was more uniform, but not necessarily more nutritious.  They started using vinegar and then pasteurizing the final product which killed all of the lactic-acid producing bacteria, essentially robbing consumers of the beneficial effect on digestion and the immune system.  So, when you are looking to buy sauerkraut of your own, here is what you wanna look for:  Organic, Raw sauerkraut that is kept in the refrigerated section.  If it isn’t refrigerated and/or if vinegar is on the ingredient list, it isn’t truly fermented and therefore will not have the benefits.

This simple addition to your diet will not only help you digest the food you are eating and strengthen your immune system, but the good bacteria lining that it will create in your gut will produce helpful enzymes as well as antibiotic and anticarcinogenic substances. It is such an easy way to support healthy digestion and a strong immune system.  Below is a recipe to make your own and  a link to the brand we buy.   Try it!

Farmhouse Culture Sauerkraut-

Sauerkraut Recipe- From the book Nourishing Traditions By: Sally Fallon (BUY HERE–
Makes 1 quart
1 medium cabbage, cored and shredded
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 tablespoon of sea salt
4 tablespoons whey (recipe for homemade whey below.  If you don’t have whey use an extra tablespoon of salt, but using whey is preferable.)
In a bowl, mix cabbage with caraway seeds, sea salt and whey.  Pound with a wooden pounder or a meat hammer for about 10 minutes to release juices.  Place in a quart-sized, wide-mouth mason jar and press down firmly with a pounder or meat hammer until juices come to the top of the cabbage.  The top of the cabbage should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar.  Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about 3 days before transferring to cold storage.  The sauerkraut may be eaten immediately, but it improves with age.

Homemade whey-
Makes 5 cups
2 quarts of yoghurt (preferably organic and raw.  If not available, choose an organic, plain, whole milk yoghurt from the store.)
Line a large strainer set over a bowl with a clean dish towel.  Pour in the yogurt , cover and let stand at room temperature for several hours.  The whey will run into the bowl and the milk solids will stay in the strainer.  Tie up the towel with the milk solids inside, being careful not to squeeze.  Tie this little sack to a wooden spoon placed across the top of a container so that more whey can drip out.  When the bag stops dripping, it is done.  Store the whey in a mason jar in the refrigerator. The whey will be good for 6 months.

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