Making Fermented Foods to Support Gut Health
Fermentation is a process involving a group of microorganisms, primarily bacteria, known as Lactobacillus. These bacteria live in anaerobic environments and go through a metabolic process that converts sugars to lactic acid or alcohol. They are everywhere and humans have a symbiotic relationship with these bacteria known as the microbiome. As we act as an incubator for these bacteria, they make it possible to grow food, create wonderful new foods like breads and cheeses, and they assist our digestive system. Fermented foods are a delicious way to boost our good gut bacteria as well as deliver easily absorbed nutrients of many kinds.
What's so great about fermented foods?
- Fermentation preserves nutrients.
- Fermented foods will pre-digest food and help to release more of its available nutrients.
- Fermented foods can break down harmful nitrates and oxalates in the body.
- The prevalance of antibiotic use displaces gut flora. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics and helps to replenish the health of your digestive tract.
Why has fermentation been replaced with alternative preservation methods?
The transition to convenience foods
The industrial revolution marked a major turning point in history, where there was a transition to sustained economic growth supported by new manufacturing processes. People pursued employment in industry and started migrating to dense urban populations, often leaving the countryside as new agricultural machinery reduced the need for human labour. Urban dwellings did not come equipped with sufficient land to grow on, and so we began our silent contract with food manufacturers, becoming progressively more and more dependent.
Fast-forward a few years and the food industry has taken off. Now convenient, pre-packaged food has become mainstream and the use of faster chemical processes and preservatives more common.
Unhealthy fear of germs
We also live in an era of germ-phobia. With the upscaling of mass food production and an onus on food safety, the distinction between healthy and harmful bacteria has become blurred. Food that was traditionally cultured/fermented now has to be pasteurized, a practice involving heating food to a temperature that kills bacteria, both good and bad, to prevent spoilage and illness.
We have access to a vast selection of food at our fingertips and feel it’s easier to buy what is available at the grocery store than it is to prepare our own. But this comes at the cost of denying our digestive processes good nutritional material to work with. To support and maintain your gut flora, experiment with fermentation as a preservation method to support your health—even better, it's very easy to do!
Before you start fermenting, remember a couple tips to ensure the success of your ferment.
- Avoid using stainless steel—use ceramic or glass
- Use pickling salt—never iodized salt
- Sterilize your containers
- Ensure the ingredients are completely and constantly submerged under liquid/brine
- Ferments will take longer to ferment during the winter or in cooler climates
- Once the fermentation has matured to your taste, keep it sealed and refrigerated
Two simple fermented food recipes
- sauerkraut crock or large glass jars
- 2 medium green cabbage heads (approximately 5 lbs., cored and finely shredded)
- 4 Tbsp. sea salt (not iodized)
- 2 Tbsp caraway seeds
- Toss cabbage and salt together in a large mixing bowl and begin to squeeze the cabbage and salt together with your hands, kneading it thoroughly to break up the cellular structure of the shredded cabbage.
- When the cabbage has become limp and releases its juice, transfer it to a sauerkraut crock. Pack the salted cabbage into the container as tightly as you can, eliminating air bubbles.
- Continue packing the cabbage into the container until the cabbage is completely submerged by liquid. Weigh down the cabbage so it remains submerged under its own juice and cover with a towel. Allow it to sit at room temperature, undisturbed, for at least 1 week, testing the sauerkraut every few days until it is done to your liking.
As the fermentation takes place pressure will push liquid out of the container. Prepare a brine — 2 tablespoons of unrefined sea salt to 1 litre of filtered chlorine-free water. Stir it to ensure the salt has fully dissolved. Top up your container with brine as is needed for the cabbage to remain under liquid.
Transfer to the refrigerator or other cold storage where it should keep up to 6 months.
- 1.5 litre wide mouth glass container
- 14 small pickling cucumbers
- 2 bunches dill (preferably flowering heads)
- 1 large bulb of garlic
- 2 tbsp. pickling spice
- 2 tbsp. sea salt
- Handful of horseradish leaves/grapevine leaves
- Thoroughly soak the pickling cucumbers in chilly water. This is a very necessary step unless you picked your cucumbers that day as it helps to perk them up a bit before the fermentation begins.
- Make sure your pickling cucumbers are thoroughly scrubbed and clean.
- Peel each clove of garlic.
- Add the pickling cucumbers, garlic, dill, and pickling spice to the jar.
- Add a couple horseradish/grapevine leaves to the jar as well (it can be left whole). The leaf helps pickles to remain crisp when the lactic acid fermentation is complete.
- Prepare a brine of 2 tablespoons of unrefined sea salt to 1 litre of filtered, chlorine-free water. Stir it to ensure the salt has fully dissolved. Pour the brine over the pickling cucumbers until all of the ingredients are fully submerged.
- Use the remainder of the grapevines/horseradish leaves on top to ensure vegetables remain under the brine. Alternatively place a serialized weight on top. Cover with the mason jar lid and place on a tray.
- As the fermentation takes place, observe bubbles/gas/pressure in the jar. To release the pressure simply open the lid and close, a termed referred to as 'burping'. Top up with brine as is needed.
- Allow your ingredients to ferment for at least five days and up to a week. Fermentation is an inexact art; just taste them until they are soured to your liking. Once they’re done, simply place them in the fridge and enjoy.
*Originally published April 27, 2016