New Year, new health goals right? Isn’t that how it goes?
Well this year, I’m rolling back to a former health goal. Something I started doing with gusto a few years ago but that took a back seat to busyness as I grew Poppy Soap Co. What is it you ask?
Fermentation. Yes, good old fashioned fermentation.
Fermenting foods the way our ancestors did is a lost art but one that has been making a huge comeback. Traditionally fermented foods like grass-fed cheese, kefir, miso, olives, pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh, and yogurt are some of the oldest and healthiest foods on the planet. The term “fermented” may sound unpalatable but this ancient preparation and preservation method, which involves breaking down carbohydrates and proteins using microorganisms such as bacteria, molds, and yeast, produces delicious food. More importantly, these foods contain probiotics that can be beneficial to your overall health.
Why did our family originally decide to incorporate traditionally fermented foods into our diet? Here is a short list outlining the benefits and the reasons why we keep a well-stocked refrigerator of various fermented foods and beverages.
- Fermented foods improve digestion. Fermenting our foods before we eat them is like partially digesting them before we consume them. According to Joanne Slavin, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota, “…sometimes people who cannot tolerate milk can eat yogurt. That’s because the lactose (which is usually the part people can’t tolerate) in milk is broken down as the milk is fermented and turns into yogurt.”
- Fermented foods restore the proper balance of bacteria in the gut. Do you suffer from lactose intolerance? Gluten intolerance? Constipation? Irritable bowel syndrome? Yeast infections? Allergies? Asthma? All of these conditions have been linked to a lack of good bacteria in the gut.
- Raw, fermented foods are rich in enzymes. Your body needs enzymes to properly digest, absorb, and make full use of your food. As you age, your body’s supply of enzymes decreases. This has caused many scientists to hypothesize that if you could guard against enzyme depletion, you could live a longer, healthier life.
- Fermenting food actually increases the vitamin content. Fermented dairy products consistently reveal an increased level of folic acid which is critical to producing healthy babies as well as pyroxidine, B vitamins, riboflavin and biotin depending on the strains of bacteria present.
- Eating fermented food helps us to absorb the nutrients we’re consuming. You can ingest huge amounts of nutrients, but unless you actually absorb them, they’re useless to you. When you improve digestion, you improve absorption.
- Fermenting food helps to preserve it for longer periods of time. Milk will go bad in the fridge but kefir and yogurt last a lot longer. Sauerkraut, pickles and salsa will keep for months. And if you’ve got a huge batch of produce in your garden that you don’t know how to use up — ferment it!
- Fermenting food is inexpensive. There’s nothing fancy required for this hobby. And many of the foods required to make these recipes are very cheap. You can use inexpensive cabbage to make sauerkraut, or get yourself a kombucha scoby and with just pennies’ worth of water, sugar and tea, you’ve got a health elixir slash soda pop.
- Fermenting food increases the flavor. There’s a reason humans enjoy drinking wine and eating stinky cheese. There’s a reason we like sauerkraut on our hot dogs and salsa on our tortilla chips. It tastes good!
I will admit, sometimes the smell and look of fermented foods does make them a little daunting to consume. However, for me, it is simply a mind over matter thing and I always end up liking them quite a bit. For others, consuming ferments may not be so easy. Here are a few ways in which I have to found to make ferments appealing to others (specifically my husband as my son always consumed ferments with gusto):
- When I serve ground meat or sausage, I discreetly pour a small amount of juice from lacto-fermented pickles, or sauerkraut onto the meat. Sometimes I also mix tiny, chopped dill pickles or other fermented veggies into our meat.
- If you enjoy pickles, make your own! The store version of pickles are not fermented. Yes, fermented pickles do have a “different” taste as vinegar is not used. However, once you perfect your recipe you will probably find that you enjoy fermented pickles quite a bit more. These are easy to make and very tasty. Everyone in our household loves my pickles.
- I make my own lacto-fermented ketchup. Yes, ketchup (and mustard, mayo, relish) and pretty much everything that goes on a hamburger or hot dog has its roots in a traditionally lacto-fermented condiment. These are easy to make at home. I will also sometimes mix store bought organic condiments with fermented ones. This “improves” the taste for my husband’s picky palate.
- I use yogurt, milk kefir and buttermilk to make smoothies.
- Gingered carrots are delicious and very palate pleasing. Again, if you can chop it very finely and mix it with cooked ground meat it can be much easier to present. This is also great topped on soup.
- I make all kinds of dips from yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, salsa, and guacamole (all homemade and all cultured). You can mix just about anything into these cultures to make wonderful dips that everyone will enjoy. I have even tackled a cultured hummus that was amazing!
- Water kefir and kombucha are both delicious, mineral-rich, fermented beverage that can be sweetened with a small amount of fruit juice. We drink tons of both around here. Beat kvass is another reall great probiotic drink. It is really tasty too.
- Unpasteurized soy sauce is a great condiment to sprinkle on something as simple as veggies and brown rice. This soy sauce is usually only available by special order, but try your local Asian market for Nama Shoyu.
- Traditional miso is a fermented food product that, when added to cooled broth, provides an excellent avenue for getting fermented foods into your diet. I make several soups with traditional miso and they never last long.
- I have recently begun making homemade crackers and have found that I can dehydrate various fermented veggies and add them into my cracker dough. It is a great way to incorporate ferments and no one is the wiser.
If you have young children, start them on fermented foods and beverages as early as you can. Their palates are less discerning and they will tend to enjoy the fermented foods quite a bit.
If you are not already making and consuming fermented foods, I suggest that you consider doing so. I absolutely cannot wait to get back at it!