The consumption of fermented, probiotic foods has tremendous benefits. The microflora that lives in fermented foods creates a protective environment in the intestines and shields it against disease and infection factors, such as salmonella and E-coli. In fact, your overall health comes from your intestines and probiotic bacteria is the main factor that fights bad bacteria and disease.
To get that healthy dose of bacteria, it is essential to regularly consume top probiotic foods. Fermented foods lead to an increase of antibodies, a stronger immune system, regulate the appetite and reduce sugar and refined carb cravings.
Chances are you’ve been eating fermented foods your whole life, maybe without even realising it. Much of our everyday food is fermented, some naturally and some more processed – like wine, tea, cheese, bread and chocolate – all these are made using different fermentation processes.
What is fermentation?
Fermentation promotes the growth and life cycle of good bacteria to transform the flavour and shelf life of ingredients.
When a food is fermented, it means that it’s left to sit and steep until the sugars and carbohydrates become bacteria-boosting agents. The fermentation of vegetables is also a great way to preserve them for a longer period of time. This gives you the option to make a large batch of it and have a ready-to-eat dose of microflora at your disposal for a very long time.
How does it happen?
All vegetables are covered in the good bacteria lactobacillus, and when you slice up, grate and squeeze them with salt, they release their juice, which mingles with the salt to create a brine. Once contained within this briny environment, lactobacillus multiplies and begins to break down the ingredient, digesting the natural sugars and transforming them into lactic acid, which creates the tangy flavour and a sour environment that keeps the growth of nasty bacteria away.
While products like Kimchi and Kombucha recently have become popular in America and Europe in more recent years, people have been harnessing the natural process of fermentation all over the world for thousands of years.
As more and more studies come out, more people are getting into the use of naturally fermented food, it’s becoming less scary, and something we increasingly want to do for ourselves at home, rather than relying on industrially produced versions. Many of these have been pasteurized and therefore are no longer ‘alive’, or as health-giving or flavourful. Beginning with fruit and vegetables is a good introduction to fermentation.
Here are the most common strains of probiotics:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus bulgaricus
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus gasseri
- Lactobacillus plantarum
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bifidobacterium lactis
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Enterococcus faecium
- Saccharomyces boulardii.
Fermenting food at home
The beautiful thing is that it’s very simple to do at home – all you need are some clean jars, organic vegetables, quality salt and water and a bit of patience.
- Quality jars
Glass jars are strongly recommended for this, especially in the beginning to be able to visually follow the process. You only need to buy this once and its a low cost accessory that can be used for more than just fermenting. When it comes to size; the bigger the better but preferably at least 1 liter(quart) or more. This way you can create larger batches and spend less time on it even though its not very time consuming but rather meditative and pleasant work.
Most cooking or kitchen appliance stores has glass jars with the wire snap lid that can create the anaerobic environment, just make sure its strong and sturdy enough as the fermentation process involves creating gas and pressure. You can also get mason jars that are specifically made for fermentation as they come with a airlock valve to release the pressure.
- Quality salt
When making fermented foods the same rule applies as with other things in life; use quality products for a quality result! Go to your local organic whole foods store to get your ingredients, like unrefined sea salt, kosher salt or Himalayan salt. Regular table salt och other processed salts will contaminate the ferment and inhibit the growth of good bacteria. The same goes with the water that you will be using, instead of the tap water that has chlorine, use purified or bottled still water.
- Quality vegetables
Just like above, it all comes down to quality. The vegetables you get in the regular supermarket just doesn’t qualify for the job. They are treated with pesticides that again will inhibit growth of good bacteria and is also something that you generally don’t want to consume. These pesticides and chemical treatments are a strong driver for cancer. A generally good rule is to try to get as much groceries locally produced or home grown, so find a nearby organic whole food store to do your shopping!
The process is pretty simple and in a nutshell it looks like this:
- Clean your fermentation vessel (glass jar) thoroughly, preferably pouring in some boiling water without the use of any detergents.
- Prepare the vegetables, cut them into your preferred size, slice, shred or grate. Try to get all pieces into same size. All vegetables needs to be raw and organic!
- Prepare the brine, salt + filtered water. The good ratio is 3% = 30 grams salt / liter(quart) water.
- Keep the vegetables submerged under the brine all the time, this is to create the anaerobic environment that the good bacteria needs to work and keep away bad bacteria. A clean stone, a smaller object that fits inside the jar or a cabbage leaf. Carefully open the jar everyday to release pressure.
- When the bubbles and activity has slowed down significantly, you can move the jar into cold storage, your fridge or food cellar. This is generally after a week depending on what you’re fermenting.
Commonly used fermented foods and vegetables
Kefir – Kefir is a fermented milk product (cow, goat or sheep milk) that tastes like a drinkable yogurt. Kefir benefits include high levels of vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2, biotin, folate, enzymes and probiotics.
It boosts immunity, heals irritable bowel disease, builds bone density, fights allergies, kills candida and improves digestion.
Kombucha – There are many reasons to consume kombucha, a fermented beverage of black tea and sugar (from various sources like cane sugar, fruit or honey). It contains a colony of bacteria and yeast that are responsible for initiating the fermentation process once combined with sugar.
After being fermented, kombucha becomes carbonated and contains vinegar, B-vitamins, enzymes, probiotics and a high concentration of acid (acetic, gluconic and lactic). There are reasons to drink kombucha every day because it improves digestion, helps with weight loss, increases energy, detoxes the body, supports the immune system, reduces joint pain and prevents cancer.
Sauerkraut – Sauerkraut is one of the oldest traditional foods. Made from fermented cabbage, it’s high in dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and B vitamins. It’s also a great source of iron, copper, calcium, sodium, manganese and magnesium. Sauerkraut has a variety of beneficial effects on human health; it boosts digestive health, aids circulation, fights inflammation, strengthens bones and reduces cholesterol levels.
Pickles – Pickles contain a ton and vitamins and minerals, plus antioxidants and gut-friendly bacteria. Pickles alone can help address the all-too-common vitamin K deficiency, as one small pickle contains 18 percent of your daily value of this vitamin that’s an essential fat-soluble vitamin which plays an important role in bone and heart health. When choosing a jar of pickles, go with a food manufacturer that uses organic products. If you can find a local maker, you’ll be getting some of the best probiotics for your health.
Kimchi – Kimchi is a traditional fermented Korean dish that is made from vegetables including cabbage, plus spices and seasoning. This Korean delicacy dates back to the 7th century.
It’s known to improve cardiovascular and digestive health. It has high levels of antioxidants that reduce the risk of serious health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, obesity and gastric ulcers.
Raw Cheese – Raw milk cheeses are made with milk that hasn’t been pasteurized. Goat milk, sheep milk and A2 cows soft cheeses are particularly high in probiotics, including thermophillus, bifudus, bulgaricus and acidophilus. Probiotics benefits include healing digestive issues, neurological disorders and mental health problems; plus, probiotics boost the immune system and destroy harmful bacteria.
Yogurt – Probiotic yogurt is the most consumed fermented dairy product in the United States today. Yogurt intake is directly associated with better overall diet quality, healthier metabolic profiles, healthier blood pressure and increased triglyceride levels. It’s recommend when buying yogurt to look for three things: first, that it comes from goat or sheep milk; second, that it’s grass-fed; and third, that it’s organic. Yogurt is one of the top probiotic foods.
Sourdough Bread – Bread created with home made yeast. You simply put flour and water together and let it sit in room temperature for a few days to ferment. By performing a cycle everyday of pouring out half the amount and re-feeding with new flour and water it will constantly feed the bacteria with new sugars to grow and get strong enough to rise a bread to 30-50% its size as well as giving it the amazing texture and taste typically for sourdough bread.
Tasty and simple recipe for Sauerkraut
1 medium head green cabbage, about 1 kilo (4 lbs)
25 grams kosher, Himalayan or sea salt
For taste, optional:
10 grams caraway seeds
5 grams fennel seeds
1 teaspoon black pepper corns, slightly crushed
Cabbage Discard the wilted, limp outer leaves of the cabbage and save for later. Cut the cabbage into quarters and shred or grate all of it. After a lot of experimenting I find this method gives the best result.
Combine the cabbage and salt Transfer the cabbage to a big mixing bowl and sprinkle the salt over top. Begin working the salt into the cabbage by massaging and squeezing the cabbage with your hands. Gradually the cabbage will become watery and limp. This will take about 10 minutes. If you’d like to flavor your sauerkraut as above, mix the caraway, fennel and pepper seeds in now.
Pack the cabbage into the jar Grab handfuls of the cabbage and pack them into the canning jar. Every so often, tamp down the cabbage in the jar with your fist. Pour any liquid released by the cabbage while you were massaging it into the jar.
Weigh the cabbage down Once all the cabbage is packed into the mason jar, slip the chosen weight into the mouth of the jar and weigh the cabbage down under the fluid. This is important to create the anaerobic environment.
If you don’t have a weight, use one of the larger outer leaves you saved and press over the cabbage to keep it under the brine.
Close lid and make it airtight Keep about 2 cm of free space in the jar from the liquid to the lid. The gases that forms during fermentation will create pressure and can possibly leak out over your kitchen.
Press the cabbage every few hours and burp Over the next 24 hours, you need to release some gas to prohibit leaking and press down on the cabbage every so often to keep the cabbage under brine. As the cabbage releases its liquid, it will become more limp and compact and the liquid will rise over the top of the cabbage.
Ferment the cabbage for 6 to 10 days As it’s fermenting, keep the sauerkraut away from direct sunlight and at a cool room temperature — ideally 20-22 Celsius. Check it daily and press it down if the cabbage is floating above the liquid.
Start tasting it after 4 days — when the sauerkraut tastes good to you, remove the weight and refrigerate. You can also allow the sauerkraut to continue fermenting for 10 days or even longer. There’s no certain rule for when its done — go by how it tastes.
While it’s fermenting, you may see bubbles coming through the cabbage, foam on the top, or white scum. These are all signs of a healthy, happy fermentation process. The scum can be skimmed off the top either during fermentation or before refrigerating. If you see any mold, skim it off immediately and make sure your cabbage is fully submerged; don’t eat moldy parts close to the surface, but the rest of the sauerkraut is fine.
Store sauerkraut for several months This sauerkraut is a fermented product so it will keep for months if kept refrigerated. As long as it still tastes and smells good to eat, it will be.
Remember: eat a little probiotics everyday to keep the doctor away.