Have you ever wondered about making fermented foods at home, and why it’s important to include these in your diet? You’ll find out here as well as learning the process of making these delicious and nutritious additions to your meals. I know from personal experience that including fermented foods with my meals adds a whole other dimension of flavor, color, texture and wholesomeness to my diet, and would encourage you to learn the simple techniques – it’ll be worth it! What about Supplements?
While taking the right probiotic supplements can be an effective and easy way of getting good bacteria into you, the BEST way to ensure you get optimal probiotics in your diet is to make your own fermented foods and drinks and consume these with your meals on a regular basis. Another option is to buy them from a reputable supplier – these do need to be the traditionally made products, raw and unpasteurized.Why not combine them?
This is what I do, taking a probiotic supplement as well as including cultured/fermented foods and drinks in my diet. For me this covers all bases, especially if I’m travelling, working away or simply forget one or the other. It also ensures that I get a larger dose of multi-strain probiotics. I would recommend doing this.Fermented
Foods and Your Gut
Consuming fermented foods and drinks is the best delivery system of good bacteria into your gut. Doing this is not only cost effective, it can also contain 100 times more probiotics than a supplement. Varying your cultured and fermented foods and drinks also ensures a much wider diversity of probiotics in your diet.
The benefits of this include:
ensuring you get essential nutrients such as vitamin K2 which is linked to cardiovascular health and bone strength
helping prevent heart disease
a greater diversity of bacteria in your gut, which translates to a stronger immune system
effective detoxification – probiotics are highly efficient at detoxifying, capable of clearing out many toxins and heavy metalsLacto-fermentation
We humans have been fermenting food for a long long time. The traditional method of fermentation is called lacto-fermentation, a process in which the naturally occurring probiotic bacteria gets to work converting sugars in food into lactic acid. The lactic acid is a natural preservative which also prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. The use of salt which forms a brine solution for the vegetables, creates an anaerobic (no oxygen) and acidic environment in which harmful bacteria cannot live, yet the good bacteria are able to thrive and flourish.
Making your own lacto-fermented vegetables is not difficult, and done right, a safe and extremely nutritious way of preserving food.Traditional vs Commercial
Traditionally fermented foods are raw and unpasteurized. This means that the probiotics in the product are alive and therefore effective in bestowing health benefits. Most commercially available pickled foods are preserved in vinegar, which is not necessarily beneficial if consumed in large amounts, and these don’t contain probiotics. There are also products that have been preserved with salt, however most of these have been been pasteurized, killing off any probiotics which may have been present.
Making cultured foods can easily be done in the comfort of your own home using the most basic utensils, equipment and ingredients. However for best results there are a few rules which are important to follow:Use Organic produce – I’m selective in what I use to make my cultured foods and drinks, and only use organic produce. Farming practice does effect the quality of food, and research shows that organic produce is higher in nutritional content without residues of pesticides and other harmful substances that would likely compromise the quality of the culture.If using water it needs to be filtered or glass bottled – chlorine and other elements in tap water can lead to spoilage.Use glass containers for fermenting – plastic and metal don’t mix well with these natural processes (it’s OK to use a plastic container during the first stages for mixing ingredients, and then transfer them before any fermentation starts).Sterilize your equipment before use – I use boiling water and heat glass containers in the oven (place containers in when the oven is cold to prevent cracking), this ensures any harmful bacteria which could cause spoilage, is eliminated.Make sure containers have cooled down before filling them with your prepared ingredients – we are making a raw product and don’t want to compromise this with any heat.Take your time– making cultured food and drink should be enjoyable and not rushed. That said the actual time it takes to prepare everything is relatively short. What takes time is the fermentation process itself, and this can vary depending on what it is you’re making.Don’t cook or heat your end product – this is important! The whole premise of eating/drinking cultured food/drinks is for the benefit of the probiotics. Cooking or heating them will destroy the good bacteria.Don’t give up – you may not get it right the first time. Fermenting food and drink is a skill there will definitely be a learning curve to go through.Have Fun, be Creative and Enjoy the process! If you’re not having fun and enjoying the process, you’re not doing it right….Equipment for Making Fermented VegetablesRemember, this can easily be done in your own kitchen and only needs basic equipment:
Making Fermented Vegetables – General Guidelines
Simply put, we are fermenting vegetables by submerging them in a salt solution and leaving at room temperature for some time. This allows the naturally occurring beneficial bacteria time to develop by the process of lacto-fermentation. This is my preferred method, although not the only way to make fermented vegetables.Stage 1
Depending on your preference, the vegetables can be fine or chunky, sliced, diced, grated or whole.
Place your prepared vegetables in a large mixing bowl, adding the salt in layers as you do so. This naturally extracts the juices from the vegetables which will form the brine solution.
In addition you can gently pound the vegetables with a wooden pounder (I use a rolling pin), in order to release more of the juices.
Leave covered for half an hour. This allows more time for the salt to do its’ job.Stage 2
Transfer the vegetable mixture to your jar (preferably wide mouthed), tightly compacting them with the rolling pin. This gets rid of any air pockets and helps keep the mixture submerged.
Press down firmly until the juices come to the top of the vegetables and add any remaining vegetable juice from your mixing bowl. The top of the vegetable mixture should be at least 2 centimeters below the top of the jar. This will allow for any expansion that will likely occur and as extra liquid is released during the beginning of the fermentation process. If you find there’s not quite enough liquid then by all means add some more filtered water.
I use tightly rolled up cabbage leaves, submerged and tightly packed at the top to make sure the vegetable mixture stays covered by the brine solution.
Cover tightly and leave at room temperature for a few days before transferring to cold storage. It normally takes 3 – 5 days before the vegetables are ready, although this does depend on temperature, if it’s colder it will take longer.
After a 3 -5 days you could taste your product. If you’d prefer it stronger, then leave a few days longer before transferring to cold storage.
When using whole vegetables, tightly pack these in your jar and cover with the brine solution. If using thick skinned vegetables like cucumber then prick the skins with the tip of your knife. This allows the brine to penetrate more quickly.Improves with Time…
The longer you leave your vegetables to ferment, the more sour they will become and also increase in probiotic content. These products really do improve with age, however the flavor can be an acquired taste, and may take some getting used to. So if you’re not used to eating fermented foods, or struggle with the taste, then start with just a little and increase as your palate adapts to the flavors. Your cultured/fermented product will also continue to ferment in cold storage, just at a slower pace. My experience is that the more mature my cultured food becomes, the better the flavor, and yes these products can last ages in the fridge – I still have a jar of garlic that I use from time to time, which I made over a year ago.
Not much salt is needed when fermenting food, in fact it’s possible to do this without it. Salt does however help prevent any undesired bacteria taking hold. It also draws out the liquid from the vegetables forming the brine solution and keeps them crunchy. A good ratio to follow would be approximately 1 tablespoon salt per kilogram of vegetables.
Starter Cultures & Whey
You could also include fresh whey or a starter culture when fermenting vegetables. It does introduce a higher quantity of lactobacillus at the beginning of the process and can give a more stable and predictable result. However this isn’t necessary and you can get consistently great results without it. If using whey then you should halve the amount of salt used. If you do decide to use a starter culture then simply add this when mixing your ingredients. Leftover liquid from previous batches of fermented vegetables can also be added to your new batch, kick-starting the fermentation process.Caution: there are products in the market that claim to contain live bacterial cultures; please be aware that these may be laden with bulking agents, sugars, sweeteners, flavoring and other substances that are not good for us. Especially the more commercially available ones. Most of these are highly processed and denatured products with probiotic cultures added to them, and even then the probiotic count can be low and limited in bacterial strain variation. In my view the benefits of these products is questionable, and they don’t come anywhere close to the quality and benefits of making your own.Health Warning: including fermented foods in your diet may greatly improve your health and well-being!
I’d love to hear from you, and what experience (if any) you’ve had with fermenting food at home, and especially the benefits you’ve experienced by doing this. Please comment below